Teacher effectiveness study likely to influence Kentucky’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System

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    The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, a three-year study designed to determine how to best identify and promote great teaching, has released its third and final report.

    According to the report, the project has demonstrated that it is possible to identify great teaching by combining three types of measures: classroom observations, student surveys, and student achievement gains. All three measures, in addition to several others, are included in Kentucky’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) for teachers.

    The study goes on to say that such systems should not only identify great teaching, but also provide the feedback teachers need to improve their practice and serve as the basis for more targeted professional development. These are major hallmarks of the Kentucky system which is based on continuous improvement.

    “Teachers have always wanted better feedback, and the MET project has highlighted tools like student surveys and observations that can allow teachers to take control of their own development. The combination of those measures and student growth data creates actionable information that teachers can trust,” said Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready – U.S. Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which funded the project.

    As is the case in Kentucky, the study will be useful for states and districts implementing new development and evaluation systems for teachers.

    The MET project involved collaboration between dozens of independent research teams and nearly 3,000 teacher volunteers from seven U.S. public school districts. The final report sought to answer important questions from practitioners and policymakers about how to identify and foster great teaching. Key findings from the report include:

    It is possible to develop reliable measures that identify great teaching. In the first year of the study, teaching practice was measured using a combination of student surveys, classroom observations, and student achievement gains. Then, in the second year, teachers were randomly assigned to different classrooms of students. The students’ outcomes were later measured using state tests and supplemental assessments designed to measure students’ conceptual understanding in math and ability to write short answer responses following reading passages. The teachers whose students did better during the first year of the project also had students who performed better following random assignment. Moreover, the magnitude of the achievement gains they generated aligned with the predictions. This is the first large-scale study to demonstrate, using random assignment, that it is possible to identify great teaching.

    The report describes the trade-offs involved when school systems combine different measures (student achievement gains, classroom observations, and student surveys). However, the report shows that a more balanced approach – which incorporates the student survey data and classroom observations – has two important advantages: ratings are less likely to fluctuate from year to year, and the combination is more likely to identify teachers with better outcomes on assessments other than the state tests.

    The report provides guidance on the best ways to achieve reliable classroom observations. Many school districts currently require observations by a single school administrator. The report recommends averaging observations from more than one observer, such as another administrator in a school or a peer observer.

    “If we want students to learn more, teachers must become students of their own teaching, said Tom Kane, Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and leader of the MET project. “This is not about accountability. It’s about providing the feedback every professional needs to strive towards excellence.”

    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has developed a set of guiding principles that Kentucky has used when developing its improvement-focused evaluation system. These principles are based on both the MET project findings and the experiences of the foundation’s partner districts over the past four years.

    The MET project’s first preliminary findings, released in December 2010, showed that surveying students about their perceptions of their classroom environment provides important information about teaching effectiveness as well as concrete feedback that can help teachers improve.

    The second set of preliminary findings, released in January 2012, examined classroom observations and offered key considerations for creating high-quality classroom observation systems.

    The MET project’s reports and publications are available on the project’s website at www.metproject.org.

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