Exploring A New Feature in Educator Evaluation

Karen Shakman, lead researcher for the Regional Educational Laboratory-Northeast and Islands (REL-NEI) Northeast Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance (NEERA), has nearly 20 years of experience in educational nonprofits and schools. Karen just completed a study of New Hampshire’s pilot educator evaluation system and is in the early phases of a study that will examine links between educator evaluation and professional development in a large district. In this post, she discusses NEERA's work and shares information about the role that student learning objectives are beginning to play in educator evaluation systems.  

For almost two years, I’ve been providing research support to the REL-NEI’s Northeast Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance (NEERA). Coordinated by the REL-NEI, NEERA is one of eight research alliances that are developing and implementing coherent research agendas related to four regional priorities. Most of the members of the research alliance are leading the development and implementation of educator effectiveness systems for their states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont). The group also includes other key stakeholders, such as school district leaders, teacher union representatives, and members of the higher education community.

NEERA’s goal is to provide research to support states’ and districts’ educator evaluation systems and to build states’ and districts’ capacity to evaluate their own systems. To advance this goal, we are providing research and technical assistance that supports examination of the features and measures of these systems; exploration of issues of implementation; and investigation of the relationship between new evaluation systems and teacher practice. In our work, we are finding that many of these new systems utilize student learning objectives or “SLOs”  as one measure of student growth.

A teacher, a group of teachers, or a school can develop SLOs. For example, Ms. Robinson, a mathematics teacher, decides she wants to see an increase in students’ understanding of complex numbers. Throughout the year, Ms. Robinson collects and analyzes data on her students, measures their progress toward the SLO, reflects on the effectiveness of her instruction, and makes adjustments in her teaching as needed. At the end of the year, she must demonstrate her students’ growth in understanding of complex numbers to her evaluator.

What role are student learning objectives playing in states’ educator evaluation systems? Although there is growing interest in SLOs, incorporating this approach into new educator evaluation systems is uncharted territory. States across the country are in the early phases of implementation of student learning objectives in evaluation systems or are just beginning to design systems that may include SLOs. The approach requires intensive professional development and support for teachers and leaders alike. As is true of the members of NEERA, many state leaders are looking for effective approaches to implementing SLOs and are eager to learn from each other’s experiences. 

With my colleagues at the REL-NEI, I’ve just completed a study of the implementation of a new educator evaluation system in a sub-set of schools in New Hampshire. The report from that study will be available on the REL-NEI’s website—it contains some useful findings for NH and for other states that are implementing new evaluation systems. Related to student learning objectives, the study's findings suggest the need for ongoing training of principals and teachers to support effective implementation of the approach.