The Gates Foundation’s Expensive ($335 Million) Teacher Evaluation Missteps

The header of an Education Week article released last week (click here) was that “[t]he Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s multi-million-dollar, multi-year effort aimed at making teachers more effective largely fell short of its goal to increase student achievement-including among low-income and minority students.”

An evaluation of Gates Foundation’s Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative funded at $290 million, an extension of its Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project funded at $45 million, was the focus of this article. The MET project was lead by Thomas Kane (Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard, former leader of the MET project, and expert witness on the defendant’s side of the ongoing lawsuit supporting New Mexico’s MET project-esque statewide teacher evaluation system; see here and here), and both projects were primarily meant to hold teachers accountable using their students test scores via growth or value-added models (VAMs) and financial incentives. Both projects were tangentially meant to improve staffing, professional development opportunities, improve the retention of the teachers of “added value,” and ultimately lead to more-effective teaching and student achievement, especially in low-income schools and schools with higher relative proportions of racial minority students. The six-year evaluation of focus in this Education Week article was conducted by the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research, and the evaluation was also funded by the Gates Foundation (click here for the evaluation report, see below for the full citation of this study).

Their key finding was that Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching district/school sites (see them listed here) implemented new measures of teaching effectiveness and modified personnel policies, but they did not achieve their goals for students.

Evaluators also found (see also here):

  • The sites succeeded in implementing measures of effectiveness to evaluate teachers and made use of the measures in a range of human-resource decisions.
  • Every site adopted an observation rubric that established a common understanding of effective teaching. Sites devoted considerable time and effort to train and certify classroom observers and to observe teachers on a regular basis.
  • Every site implemented a composite measure of teacher effectiveness that included scores from direct classroom observations of teaching and a measure of growth in student achievement.
  • Every site used the composite measure to varying degrees to make decisions about human resource matters, including recruitment, hiring, placement, tenure, dismissal, professional development, and compensation.

Overall, the initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation, especially for low-income and racial minority students. With minor exceptions, student achievement, access to effective teaching, and dropout rates were also not dramatically better than they were for similar sites that did not participate in the intensive initiative.

Their recommendations were as follows (see also here):

  • Reformers should not underestimate the resistance that could arise if changes to teacher-evaluation systems have major negative consequences.
  • A near-exclusive focus on teacher evaluation systems such as these might be insufficient to improve student outcomes. Many other factors might also need to be addressed, ranging from early childhood education, to students’ social and emotional competencies, to the school learning environment, to family support. Dramatic improvement in outcomes, particularly for low-income and racial minority students, will likely require attention to many of these factors as well.
  • In change efforts such as these, it is important to measure the extent to which each of the new policies and procedures is implemented in order to understand how the specific elements of the reform relate to outcomes.


Stecher, B. M., Holtzman, D. J., Garet, M. S., Hamilton, L. S., Engberg, J., Steiner, E. D., Robyn, A., Baird, M. D., Gutierrez, I. A., Peet, E. D., de los Reyes, I. B., Fronberg, K., Weinberger, G., Hunter, G. P., & Chambers, J. (2018). Improving teaching effectiveness: Final report. The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching through 2015–2016. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

States’ Teacher Evaluation Systems Moving in the “Right” Direction

Last week, a technical report that one of my current and one of my former doctoral students helped me to research and write, was published by the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Education Policy Center (NEPC). While you can navigate to and read the press release here, as well as download and read the full report here, I thought I would summarize the report’s most interesting facts in this post, for the readers/followers of this blog who are likely more interested in the findings pertaining to states’ revised teacher evaluation systems, post the federal passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

In short, we collected and analyzed for purposes of this study the 51 (i.e., 50 states plus Washington DC) revised teacher evaluation plans submitted to the federal government post ESSA (i.e. spring/summer of 2017) We found, again as specific only to states’ teacher evaluation systems, three key findings:

— First, the role of growth or value-added models (VAMs) for teacher evaluation purposes is declining. That is, the number of states using statewide growth models or VAMs has decreased from 42% to 30% since 2014. This is certainly a step in the “right,” defined as research-informed, direction. See also Figure 1 below (Close, Amrein-Beardsley, & Collins, 2018, p. 13).

— Second, because ESSA loosened federal control of teacher evaluation, many states no longer have a one-size-fits-all teacher evaluation system. This is allowing local districts to make more choices about models, implementation, execution, and the like, in the contexts of the schools and communities in which schools exist.

— Third, the rhetoric surrounding teacher evaluation has changed: language about holding teachers accountable for their value-added effects, or lack thereof, is much less evident in post-ESSA plans. Rather, new plans make note of providing data to teachers as a means of supporting professional development and improvement, essentially shifting the purpose of the evaluation system away from summative and toward formative use.

We also set forth recommendations for states in this report, as based on the evidence noted above (and presented in much more detail in the full report). The recommendations that also directly pertain to states’ (and districts’) teacher evaluation systems are that states/districts:

  1. Take advantage of decreased federal control by formulating revised assessment policies informed by the viewpoints of as many stakeholders as feasible. Such informed revision can help remedy earlier weaknesses, promote effective implementation, stress correct interpretation, and yield formative information.
  2. Ensure that teacher evaluation systems rely on a balanced system of multiple measures, without disproportionate weight assigned to any one measure as allegedly “superior” than any other. If measures contradict one another, however, output from all measures should be interpreted judiciously.
  3. Emphasize data useful as formative feedback in state systems, so that specific weaknesses in student learning can be identified, targeted and used to inform teachers’ professional development.
  4. Mandate ongoing research and evaluation of state assessment systems and ensure that adequate resources are provided to support [ongoing] evaluation [efforts].
  5. Set goals for reducing proficiency gaps and outline procedures for developing strategies to effectively reduce gaps once they have been identified.

We hope this information helps, especially the states and districts still looking to other states to see what is trending. While we note in the title of this blog post as well as the title of the full report that all of this represents “some steps in the right direction,” there is still much work to be done. This is especially true in states, for example like New Mexico (see my most recent post about the ongoing lawsuit in this state here) and other states which have yet to give up on the false promises and limited research of such educational policies established almost one decade ago (e.g., Race to the Top; Duncan, 2009).


Close, K., Amrein-Beardsley, A., & Collins, C. (2018). State-level assessments and teacher evaluation systems after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act: Some steps in the right direction. Boulder, CO: Nation Education Policy Center (NEPC). Retrieved from

Duncan, A. (2009, July 4). The race to the top begins: Remarks by Secretary Arne Duncan. Retrieved from

Identifying Effective Teacher Preparation Programs Using VAMs Does Not Work

A New Study [does not] Show Why It’s So Hard to Improve Teacher Preparation” Programs (TPPs). More specifically, it shows why using value-added models (VAMs) to evaluate TPPs, and then ideally improving them using the value-added data derived, is nearly if not entirely impossible.

This is precisely why yet another, perhaps, commonsensical but highly improbable federal policy move to imitate great teacher education programs and shut down ineffective ones, as based on their graduates’ students test-based performance over time (i.e., value-added) continues to fail.

Accordingly, in another, although not-yet peer-reviewed or published study referenced in the article above, titled “How Much Does Teacher Quality Vary Across Teacher Preparation Programs? Reanalyzing Estimates from [Six] States,” authors Paul T. von Hippel, from the University of Texas at Austin, and Laura Bellows, a PhD Student from Duke University, investigated “whether the teacher quality differences between TPPs are large enough to make [such] an accountability system worthwhile” (p. 2). More specifically, using a meta-analysis technique, they reanalyzed the results of such evaluations in six of the approximately 16 states doing this (i.e., in New York, Louisiana, Missouri, Washington, Texas, and Florida), each of which ultimately yielded a peer-reviewed publication, and they found “that teacher quality differences between most TPPs [were] negligible [at approximately] 0-0.04 standard deviations in student test scores” (p. 2).

They also highlight some of the statistical practices that exaggerated the “true” differences noted between TPPs in each of these but also these types of studies in general, and consequently conclude that the “results of TPP evaluations in different states may vary not for substantive reasons, but because of the[se] methodological choices” (p. 5). Likewise, as is the case with value-added research in general, when “[f]aced with the same set of results, some authors may [also] believe they see intriguing differences between TPPs, while others may believe there is not much going on” (p. 6). With that being said, I will not cover these statistical/technical issue more here. Do read the full study for these details, though, as also important.

Related, they found that in every state, the variation that they statistically observed was greater among relatively small TPPs versus large ones. They suggest that this occurs, accordingly, due to estimation or statistical methods that may be inadequate for the task at hand. However, if this is true this also means that because there is relatively less variation observed among large TPPs, it may be much more difficult “to single out a large TPP that is significantly better or worse than average” (p. 30). Accordingly, there are
several ways to mistakenly single out a TPP as exceptional or less than, merely given TPP size. This is obviously problematic.

Nonetheless, the authors also note that before they began this study, in Missouri, Texas, and Washington, that “the differences between TPPs appeared small or negligible” (p. 29), but in Louisiana and New York “they appeared more substantial” (p. 29). After their (re)analyses, however, their found that the results from and across these six different states were “more congruent” (p. 29), as also noted prior (i.e., differences between TPPs around 0 and 0.04 SDs in student test scores).

“In short,” they conclude, that “TPP evaluations may have some policy value, but the value is more modest than was originally envisioned. [Likewise, it] is probably not meaningful to rank all the TPPs in a state; the true differences between most TPPs are too small to matter, and the estimated differences consist mostly of noise” (p. 29). As per the article cited prior, they added that “It appears that differences between [programs] are rarely detectable, and that if they could be detected they would usually be too small to support effective policy decisions.”

To see a study similar to this, that colleagues and I conducted in Arizona, and that was recently published in Teaching Education, see “An Elusive Policy Imperative: Data and Methodological Challenges When Using Growth in Student Achievement to Evaluate Teacher Education Programs’ ‘Value-Added” summarized and referenced here.

Bias in VAMs, According to Validity Expert Michael T. Kane

During the still ongoing, value-added lawsuit in New Mexico (see my most recent update about this case here), I was honored to testify as the expert witness on behalf of the plaintiffs (see, for example, here). I was also fortunate to witness the testimony of the expert witness who testified on behalf of the defendants – Thomas Kane, Economics Professor at Harvard and former Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies. During Kane’s testimony, one of the highlights (i.e., for the plaintiffs), or rather the low-lights (i.e., for him and the defendants), in my opinion, was when one of the plaintiff’s attorney’s questioned Kane, on the stand, about his expertise in the area of validity. In sum, Kane responded that he defined himself as an “expert” in the area, having also been trained by some of the best. Consequently, the plaintiff’s attorney’s questioned Kane about different types of validity evidences (e.g., construct, content, criterion), and Kane could not answer those questions. The only form of validity evidence with which he was familiar, and which he could clearly define, was evidence related to predictive validity. This hardly made him the expert he proclaimed himself to be minutes prior.

Let’s not mince words, though, or in this case names.

A real expert in validity (and validity theory) is another Kane, who goes by the full name of Michael T. Kane. This Kane is The Samuel J. Messick Chair in Test Validity at the Educational Testing Service (ETS); this Kane wrote one of the best, most contemporary, and currently most foundational papers on validity (see here); and this Kane just released an ETS-sponsored paper on Measurement Error and Bias in Value-Added Models certainly of interest here. I summarize this piece below (see the PDF of this report here).

In this paper Kane examines “the origins of [value-added model (VAM)-based] bias and its potential impact” and indicates that bias that is observed “is an increasing linear function of the student’s prior achievement and can be quite large (e.g., half a true-score standard deviation) for very low-scoring and high-scoring students [i.e., students in the extremes of any normal distribution]” (p. 1). Hence, Kane argues, “[t]o the extent that students with relatively low or high prior scores are clustered in particular classes and schools, the student-level bias will tend to generate bias in VAM estimates of teacher and school effects” (p. 1; see also prior posts about this type of bias here, here, and here; see also Haertel (2013) cited below). Kane concludes that “[a]djusting for this bias is possible, but it requires estimates of generalizability (or reliability) coefficients that are more accurate and precise than those that are generally available for standardized achievement tests” (p. 1; see also prior posts about issues with reliability across VAMs here, here, and here).

Kane’s more specific points of note:

  • To accurately calculate teachers’/schools’ value-added, “current and prior scores have to be on the same scale (or on vertically aligned scales) for the differences to make sense. Furthermore, the scale has to be an interval scale in the sense that a difference of a certain number of points has, at least approximately, the same meaning along the scale, so that it makes sense to compare gain scores from different parts of the scale…some uncertainty about scale characteristics is not a problem for many applications of vertical scaling, but it is a serious problem if the proposed use of the scores (e.g., educational accountability based on growth scores) demands that the vertical scale be demonstrably equal interval” (p. 1).
  • Likewise, while some approaches can be used to minimize the need for such scales (e.g., residual gain scores, covariate-adjustment models, and ordinary least squares (OLS) regression approaches which are of specific interest in this piece), “it is still necessary to assume [emphasis added] that a difference of a certain number of points has more or less the same meaning along the score scale for the current test scores” (p. 2).
  • Related, “such adjustments can [still] be biased to the extent that the predicted score does not include all factors that may have an impact on student performance. Bias can also result from errors of measurement in the prior scores included in the prediction equation…[and this can be]…substantial” (p. 2).
  • Accordingly, “gains for students with high true scores on the prior year’s test will be overestimated, and the gains for students with low true scores in the prior year will be underestimated. To the extent that students with relatively low and high true scores tend to be clustered in particular classes and schools, the student-level bias will generate bias in estimates of teacher and school effects” (p. 2).
  • Hence, if not corrected, this source of bias could have a substantial negative impact on estimated VAM scores for teachers and schools that serve students with low prior true scores and could have a substantial positive impact for teachers and schools that serve mainly high-performing students” (p. 2).
  • Put differently, random errors in students’ prior scores may “tend to add a positive bias to the residual gain scores for students with prior scores above the population mean, and they [may] tend to add a negative bias to the residual gain scores for students with prior scores below the mean. Th[is] bias is associated with the well-known phenomenon of regression to the mean” (p. 10).
  • Although, at least this latter claim — that students with relatively high true scores in the prior year could substantially and positively impact their teachers’/schools value-added estimates — does run somewhat contradictory to other claims as evidenced in the literature in terms of the extent to which ceiling effects substantially and negatively impact their teachers’/schools value-added estimates (see, for example, Point #7 as per the ongoing lawsuit in Houston here, and see also Florida teacher Luke Flint’s “Story” here).
  • In sum, and as should be a familiar conclusion to followers of this blog, “[g]iven that the results of VAMs may be used for high-stakes decisions about teachers and schools in the context of accountability programs,…any substantial source of bias would be a matter of great concern” (p. 2).

Citation: Kane, M. T. (2017). Measurement error and bias in value-added models. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service (ETS) Research Report Series. doi:10.1002/ets2.12153 Retrieved from

See also Haertel, E. H. (2013). Reliability and validity of inferences about teachers based on student test scores (14th William H. Angoff Memorial Lecture). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service (ETS).

New Evidence that Developmental (and Formative) Approaches to Teacher Evaluation Systems Work

Susan Moore Johnson – Professor of Education at Harvard University and author of another important article regarding how value-added models (VAMs) oft-reinforce the walls of “egg-crate” schools (here) – recently published (along with two co-authors) an article in the esteemed, peer-reviewed Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. The article titled: Investing in Development: Six High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools Implement the Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation Policy can be downloaded here (in its free, pre-publication form).

In this piece, as taken from the abstract, they “studied how six high-performing, high-poverty [and traditional, charter, under state supervision] schools in one large Massachusetts city implemented the state’s new teacher evaluation policy” (p. 383). They aimed to learn how these “successful” schools, with “success” defined by the state’s accountability ranking per school along with its “public reputation,” approached the state’s teacher evaluation system and its system components (e.g., classroom observations, follow-up feedback, and the construction and treatment of teachers’ summative evaluation ratings). They also investigated how educators within these schools “interacted to shape the character and impact of [the state’s] evaluation” (p. 384).

Akin to Moore Johnson’s aforementioned work, she and her colleagues argue that “to understand whether and how new teacher evaluation policies affect teachers and their work, we must investigate [the] day-to-day responses [of] those within the schools” (p. 384). Hence, they explored “how the educators in these schools interpreted and acted on the new state policy’s opportunities and requirements and, overall, whether they used evaluation to promote greater accountability, more opportunities for development, or both” (p. 384).

They found that “despite important differences among the six successful schools [they] studied (e.g., size, curriculum and pedagogy, student discipline codes), administrators responded to the state evaluation policy in remarkably similar ways, giving priority to the goal of development over accountability [emphasis added]” (p. 385). In addition, “[m]ost schools not only complied with the new regulations of the law but also went beyond them to provide teachers with more frequent observations, feedback, and support than the policy required. Teachers widely corroborated their principal’s reports that evaluation in their school was meant to improve their performance and they strongly endorsed that priority” (p. 385).

Overall, and accordingly, they concluded that “an evaluation policy focusing on teachers’ development can be effectively implemented in ways that serve the interests of schools, students, and teachers” (p. 402). This is especially true when (1) evaluation efforts are “well grounded in the observations, feedback, and support of a formative evaluation process;” (2) states rely on “capacity building in addition to mandates to promote effective implementation;” and (3) schools also benefit from spillover effects from other, positive, state-level policies (i.e., states do not take Draconian approaches to other educational policies) that, in these cases included policies permitting district discretion and control over staffing and administrative support (p. 402).

Related, such developmental and formatively-focused teacher evaluation systems can work, they also conclude, when schools are lead by highly effective principals who are free to select high quality teachers. Their findings suggest that this “is probably the most important thing district officials can do to ensure that teacher evaluation will be a constructive, productive process” (p. 403). In sum, “as this study makes clear, policies that are intended to improve schooling depend on both administrators and teachers for their effective implementation” (p. 403).

Please note, however, that this study was conducted before districts in this state were required to incorporate standardized test scores to measure teachers’ effects (e.g., using VAMs); hence, the assertions and conclusions that authors set forth throughout this piece should be read and taken into consideration given that important caveat. Perhaps findings should matter even more in that here is at least some proof that teacher evaluation works IF used for developmental and formative (versus or perhaps in lieu of summative) purposes.

Citation: Reinhorn, S. K., Moore Johnson, S., & Simon, N. S. (2017). Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 39(3), 383–406. doi:10.3102/0162373717690605 Retrieved from

The More Weight VAMs Carry, the More Teacher Effects (Will Appear to) Vary

Matthew A. Kraft — an Assistant Professor of Education & Economics at Brown University and co-author of an article published in Educational Researcher on “Revisiting The Widget Effect” (here), and another of his co-authors Matthew P. Steinberg — an Assistant Professor of Education Policy at the University of Pennsylvania — just published another article in this same journal on “The Sensitivity of Teacher Performance Ratings to the Design of Teacher Evaluation Systems” (see the full and freely accessible, at least for now, article here; see also its original and what should be enduring version here).

In this article, Steinberg and Kraft (2017) examine teacher performance measure weights while conducting multiple simulations of data taken from the Bill & Melinda Gates Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies. They conclude that “performance measure weights and ratings” surrounding teachers’ value-added, observational measures, and student survey indicators play “critical roles” when “determining teachers’ summative evaluation ratings and the distribution of teacher proficiency rates.” In other words, the weighting of teacher evaluation systems’ multiple measures matter, matter differently for different types of teachers within and across school districts and states, and matter also in that so often these weights are arbitrarily and politically defined and set.

Indeed, because “state and local policymakers have almost no empirically based evidence [emphasis added, although I would write “no empirically based evidence”] to inform their decision process about how to combine scores across multiple performance measures…decisions about [such] weights…are often made through a somewhat arbitrary and iterative process, one that is shaped by political considerations in place of empirical evidence” (Steinberg & Kraft, 2017, p. 379).

This is very important to note in that the consequences attached to these measures, also given the arbitrary and political constructions they represent, can be both professionally and personally, career and life changing, respectively. How and to what extent “the proportion of teachers deemed professionally proficient changes under different weighting and ratings thresholds schemes” (p. 379), then, clearly matters.

While Steinberg and Kraft (2017) have other key findings they also present throughout this piece, their most important finding, in my opinion, is that, again, “teacher proficiency rates change substantially as the weights assigned to teacher performance measures change” (p. 387). Moreover, the more weight assigned to measures with higher relative means (e.g., observational or student survey measures), the greater the rate by which teachers are rated effective or proficient, and vice versa (i.e., the more weight assigned to teachers’ value-added, the higher the rate by which teachers will be rated ineffective or inadequate; as also discussed on p. 388).

Put differently, “teacher proficiency rates are lowest across all [district and state] systems when norm-referenced teacher performance measures, such as VAMs [i.e., with scores that are normalized in line with bell curves, with a mean or average centered around the middle of the normal distributions], are given greater relative weight” (p. 389).

This becomes problematic when states or districts then use these weighted systems (again, weighted in arbitrary and political ways) to illustrate, often to the public, that their new-and-improved teacher evaluation systems, as inspired by the MET studies mentioned prior, are now “better” at differentiating between “good and bad” teachers. Thereafter, some states over others are then celebrated (e.g., by the National Center of Teacher Quality; see, for example, here) for taking the evaluation of teacher effects more seriously than others when, as evidenced herein, this is (unfortunately) more due to manipulation than true changes in these systems. Accordingly, the fact remains that the more weight VAMs carry, the more teacher effects (will appear to) vary. It’s not necessarily that they vary in reality, but the manipulation of the weights on the back end, rather, cause such variation and then lead to, quite literally, such delusions of grandeur in these regards (see also here).

At a more pragmatic level, this also suggests that the teacher evaluation ratings for the roughly 70% of teachers who are not VAM eligible “are likely to differ in systematic ways from the ratings of teachers for whom VAM scores can be calculated” (p. 392). This is precisely why evidence in New Mexico suggests VAM-eligible teachers are up to five times more likely to be ranked as “ineffective” or “minimally effective” than their non-VAM-eligible colleagues; that is, “[also b]ecause greater weight is consistently assigned to observation scores for teachers in nontested grades and subjects” (p. 392). This also causes a related but also important issue with fairness, whereas equally effective teachers, just by being VAM eligible, may be five-or-so times likely (e.g., in states like New Mexico) of being rated as ineffective by the mere fact that they are VAM eligible and their states, quite literally, “value” value-added “too much” (as also arbitrarily defined).

Finally, it should also be noted as an important caveat here, that the findings advanced by Steinberg and Kraft (2017) “are not intended to provide specific recommendations about what weights and ratings to select—such decisions are fundamentally subject to local district priorities and preferences. (p. 379). These findings do, however, “offer important insights about how these decisions will affect the distribution of teacher performance ratings as policymakers and administrators continue to refine and possibly remake teacher evaluation systems” (p. 379).

Related, please recall that via the MET studies one of the researchers’ goals was to determine which weights per multiple measure were empirically defensible. MET researchers failed to do so and then defaulted to recommending an equal distribution of weights without empirical justification (see also Rothstein & Mathis, 2013). This also means that anyone at any state or district level who might say that this weight here or that weight there is empirically defensible should be asked for the evidence in support.


Rothstein, J., & Mathis, W. J. (2013, January). Review of two culminating reports from the MET Project. Boulder, CO: National Educational Policy Center. Retrieved from

Steinberg, M. P., & Kraft, M. A. (2017). The sensitivity of teacher performance ratings to the design of teacher evaluation systems. Educational Researcher, 46(7), 378–
396. doi:10.3102/0013189X17726752 Retrieved from

The “Widget Effect” Report Revisited

You might recall that in 2009, The New Teacher Project published a highly influential “Widget Effect” report in which researchers (see citation below) evidenced that 99% of teachers (whose teacher evaluation reports they examined across a sample of school districts spread across a handful of states) received evaluation ratings of “satisfactory” or higher. Inversely, only 1% of the teachers whose reports researchers examined received ratings of “unsatisfactory,” even though teachers’ supervisors could identify more teachers whom they deemed ineffective when asked otherwise.

Accordingly, this report was widely publicized given the assumed improbability that only 1% of America’s public school teachers were, in fact, ineffectual, and given the fact that such ineffective teachers apparently existed but were not being identified using standard teacher evaluation/observational systems in use at the time.

Hence, this report was used as evidence that America’s teacher evaluation systems were unacceptable and in need of reform, primarily given the subjectivities and flaws apparent and arguably inherent across the observational components of these systems. This reform was also needed to help reform America’s public schools, writ large, so the logic went and (often) continues to go. While binary constructions of complex data such as these are often used to ground simplistic ideas and push definitive policies, ideas, and agendas, this tactic certainly worked here, as this report (among a few others) was used to inform the federal and state policies pushing teacher evaluation system reform as a result (e.g., Race to the Top (RTTT)).

Likewise, this report continues to be used whenever a state’s or district’s new-and-improved teacher evaluation systems (still) evidence “too many” (as typically arbitrarily defined) teachers as effective or higher (see, for example, an Education Week article about this here). Although, whether in fact the systems have actually been reformed is also of debate in that states are still using many of the same observational systems they were using prior (i.e., not the “binary checklists” exaggerated in the original as well as this report, albeit true in the case of the district of focus in this study). The real “reforms,” here, pertained to the extent to which value-added model (VAM) or other growth output were combined with these observational measures, and the extent to which districts adopted state-level observational models as per the centralized educational policies put into place at the same time.

Nonetheless, now eight years later, Matthew A. Kraft – an Assistant Professor of Education & Economics at Brown University and Allison F. Gilmour – an Assistant Professor at Temple University (and former doctoral student at Vanderbilt University), revisited the original report. Just published in the esteemed, peer-reviewed journal Educational Researcher (see an earlier version of the published study here), Kraft and Gilmour compiled “teacher performance ratings across 24 [of the 38, including 14 RTTT] states that [by 2014-2015] adopted major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems” as a result of such policy initiatives. They found that “the percentage of teachers rated Unsatisfactory remains less than 1%,” except for in two states (i.e., Maryland and New Mexico), with Unsatisfactory (or similar) ratings varying “widely across states with 0.7% to 28.7%” as the low and high, respectively (see also the study Abstract).

Related, Kraft and Gilmour found that “some new teacher evaluation systems do differentiate among teachers, but most only do so at the top of the ratings spectrum” (p. 10). More specifically, observers in states in which teacher evaluation ratings include five versus four rating categories differentiate teachers more, but still do so along the top three ratings, which still does not solve the negative skew at issue (i.e., “too many” teachers still scoring “too well”). They also found that when these observational systems were used for formative (i.e., informative, improvement) purposes, teachers’ ratings were lower than when they were used for summative (i.e., final summary) purposes.

Clearly, the assumptions of all involved in this area of policy research come into play, here, akin to how they did in The Bell Curve and The Bell Curve Debate. During this (still ongoing) debate, many fervently debated whether socioeconomic and educational outcomes (e.g., IQ) should be normally distributed. What this means in this case, for example, is that for every teacher who is rated highly effective there should be a teacher rated as highly ineffective, more or less, to yield a symmetrical distribution of teacher observational scores across the spectrum.

In fact, one observational system of which I am aware (i.e., the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement) is marketing its proprietary system, using as a primary selling point figures illustrating (with text explaining) how clients who use their system will improve their prior “Widget Effect” results (i.e., yielding such normal curves; see Figure below, as per Jerald & Van Hook, 2011, p. 1).

Evidence also suggests that these scores are also (sometimes) being artificially deflated to assist in these attempts (see, for example, a recent publication of mine released a few days ago here in the (also) esteemed, peer-reviewed Teachers College Record about how this is also occurring in response to the “Widget Effect” report and the educational policies that follows).

While Kraft and Gilmour assert that “systems that place greater weight on normative measures such as value-added scores rather than…[just]…observations have fewer teachers rated proficient” (p. 19; see also Steinberg & Kraft, forthcoming; a related article about how this has occurred in New Mexico here; and New Mexico’s 2014-2016 data below and here, as also illustrative of the desired normal curve distributions discussed above), I highly doubt this purely reflects New Mexico’s “commitment to putting students first.”

I also highly doubt that, as per New Mexico’s acting Secretary of Education, this was “not [emphasis added] designed with quote unquote end results in mind.” That is, “the New Mexico Public Education Department did not set out to place any specific number or percentage of teachers into a given category.” If true, it’s pretty miraculous how this simply worked out as illustrated… This is also at issue in the lawsuit in which I am involved in New Mexico, in which the American Federation of Teachers won an injunction in 2015 that still stands today (see more information about this lawsuit here). Indeed, as per Kraft, all of this “might [and possibly should] undercut the potential for this differentiation [if ultimately proven artificial, for example, as based on statistical or other pragmatic deflation tactics] to be seen as accurate and valid” (as quoted here).

Notwithstanding, Kraft and Gilmour, also as part (and actually the primary part) of this study, “present original survey data from an urban district illustrating that evaluators perceive more than three times as many teachers in their schools to be below Proficient than they rate as such.” Accordingly, even though their data for this part of this study come from one district, their findings are similar to others evidenced in the “Widget Effect” report; hence, there are still likely educational measurement (and validity) issues on both ends (i.e., with using such observational rubrics as part of America’s reformed teacher evaluation systems and using survey methods to put into check these systems, overall). In other words, just because the survey data did not match the observational data does not mean either is wrong, or right, but there are still likely educational measurement issues.

Also of issue in this regard, in terms of the 1% issue, is (a) the time and effort it takes supervisors to assist/desist after rating teachers low is sometimes not worth assigning low ratings; (b) how supervisors often give higher ratings to those with perceived potential, also in support of their future growth, even if current evidence suggests a lower rating is warranted; (c) how having “difficult conversations” can sometimes prevent supervisors from assigning the scores they believe teachers may deserve, especially if things like job security are on the line; (d) supervisors’ challenges with removing teachers, including “long, laborious, legal, draining process[es];” and (e) supervisors’ challenges with replacing teachers, if terminated, given current teacher shortages and the time and effort, again, it often takes to hire (ideally more qualified) replacements.


Jerald, C. D., & Van Hook, K. (2011). More than measurement: The TAP system’s lessons learned for designing better teacher evaluation systems. Santa Monica, CA: National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). Retrieved from

Kraft, M. A, & Gilmour, A. F. (2017). Revisiting the Widget Effect: Teacher evaluation reforms and the distribution of teacher effectiveness. Educational Researcher, 46(5) 234-249. doi:10.3102/0013189X17718797

Steinberg, M. P., & Kraft, M. A. (forthcoming). The sensitivity of teacher performance ratings to the design of teacher evaluation systems. Educational Researcher.

Weisberg, D., Sexton, S., Mulhern, J., & Keeling, D. (2009). “The Widget Effect.” Education Digest, 75(2), 31–35.

Observational Systems: Correlations with Value-Added and Bias

A colleague recently sent me a report released in November of 2016 by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) division of the U.S. Department of Education that should be of interest to blog followers. The study is about “The content, predictive power, and potential bias in five widely used teacher observation instruments” and is authored by affiliates of Mathematica Policy Research.

Using data from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies, researchers examined five widely used teacher observation instruments. Instruments included the more generally popular Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) and Danielson Framework for Teaching (of general interest in this post), as well as the more subject-specific instruments including the Protocol for Language Arts Teaching Observations (PLATO), the Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI), and the UTeach Observational Protocol (UTOP) for science and mathematics teachers.

Researchers examined these instruments in terms of (1) what they measure (which is not of general interest in this post), but also (2) the relationships of observational output to teachers’ impacts on growth in student learning over time (as measured using a standard value-added model (VAM)), and (3) whether observational output are biased by the characteristics of the students non-randomly (or in this study randomly) assigned to teachers’ classrooms.

As per #2 above, researchers found that the instructional practices captured across these instruments modestly [emphasis added] correlate with teachers’ value-added scores, with an adjusted (and likely, artificially inflated; see Note 1 below) correlation coefficient between observational and value added indicators at: 0.13 ≤ r ≤ 0.28 (see also Table 4, p. 10). As per the higher, adjusted r (emphasis added; see also Note 1 below), they found that these instruments’ classroom management dimensions most strongly (r = 0.28) correlated with teachers’ value-added.

Related, also at issue here is that such correlations are not “modest,” but rather “weak” to “very weak” (see Note 2 below). While all correlation coefficients were statistically significant, this is much more likely due to the sample size used in this study versus the actual or practical magnitude of these results. “In sum” this hardly supports the overall conclusion that “observation scores predict teachers’ value-added scores” (p. 11); although, it should also be noted that this summary statement, in and of itself, suggests that the value-added score is the indicator around which all other “less objective” indicators are to revolve.

As per #3 above, researchers found that students randomly assigned to teachers’ classrooms (as per the MET data, although there was some noncompliance issues with the random assignment employed in the MET studies) do bias teachers’ observational scores, for better or worse, and more often in English language arts than in mathematics. More specifically, they found that for the Danielson Framework and CLASS (the two more generalized instruments examined in this study, also of main interest in this post), teachers with relatively more racial/ethnic minority and lower-achieving students (in that order, although these are correlated themselves) tended to receive lower observation scores. Bias was observed more often for the Danielson Framework versus the CLASS, but it was observed in both cases. An “alternative explanation [may be] that teachers are providing less-effective instruction to non-White or low-achieving students” (p. 14).

Notwithstanding, and in sum, in classrooms in which students were randomly assigned to teachers, teachers’ observational scores were biased by students’ group characteristics, which also means that  bias is also likely more prevalent in classrooms to which students are non-randomly assigned (which is common practice). These findings are also akin to those found elsewhere (see, for example, two similar studies here), as this was also evidenced in mathematics, which may also be due to the random assignment factor present in this study. In other words, if non-random assignment of students into classrooms is practice, a biasing influence may (likely) still exist in English language arts and mathematics.

The long and short of it, though, is that the observational components of states’ contemporary teacher systems certainly “add” more “value” than their value-added counterparts (see also here), especially when considering these systems’ (in)formative purposes. But to suggest that because these observational indicators (artificially) correlate with teachers’ value-added scores at “weak” and “very weak” levels (see Notes 1 and 2 below), that this means that these observational systems might “add” more “value” to the summative sides of teacher evaluations (i.e., their predictive value) is premature, not to mention a bit absurd. Adding import to this statement is the fact that, as s duly noted in this study, these observational indicators are oft-to-sometimes biased against teachers who teacher lower-achieving and racial minority students, even when random assignment is present, making such bias worse when non-random assignment, which is very common, occurs.

Hence, and again, this does not make the case for the summative uses of really either of these indicators or instruments, especially when high-stakes consequences are to be attached to output from either indicator (or both indicators together given the “weak” to “very weak” relationships observed). On the plus side, though, remain the formative functions of the observational indicators.


Note 1: Researchers used the “year-to-year variation in teachers’ value-added scores to produce an adjusted correlation [emphasis added] that may be interpreted as the correlation between teachers’ average observation dimension score and their underlying value added—the value added that is [not very] stable [or reliable] for a teacher over time, rather than a single-year measure (Kane & Staiger, 2012)” (p. 9). This practice or its statistic derived has not been externally vetted. Likewise, this also likely yields a correlation coefficient that is falsely inflated. Both of these concerns are at issue in the ongoing New Mexico and Houston lawsuits, in which Kane is one of the defendants’ expert witnesses in both cases testifying in support of his/this practice.

Note 2: As is common with social science research when interpreting correlation coefficients: 0.8 ≤ r ≤ 1.0 = a very strong correlation; 0.6 ≤ r ≤ 0.8 = a strong correlation; 0.4 ≤ r ≤ 0.6 = a moderate correlation; 0.2 ≤ r ≤ 0.4 = a weak correlation; and 0 ≤ r ≤ 0.2 = a very weak correlation, if any at all.


Citation: Gill, B., Shoji, M., Coen, T., & Place, K. (2016). The content, predictive power, and potential bias in five widely used teacher observation instruments. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from

The Tripod Student Survey Instrument: Its Factor Structure and Value-Added Correlations

The Tripod student perception survey instrument is a “research-based” instrument increasingly being used by states to add to state’s teacher evaluation systems as based on “multiple measures.” While there are other instruments also in use, as well as student survey instruments being developed by states and local districts, this one in particular is gaining in popularity, also in that it was used throughout the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s ($43 million worth of) Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies. A current estimate (as per the study discussed in this post) is that during the 2015–2016 school year approximately 1,400 schools purchased and administered the Tripod. See also a prior post (here) about this instrument, or more specifically a chapter of a book about the instrument as authored by the instrument’s developer and lead researcher in a  research surrounding it – Ronald Ferguson.

In a study recently released in the esteemed American Educational Research Journal (AERJ), and titled “What Can Student Perception Surveys Tell Us About Teaching? Empirically Testing the Underlying Structure of the Tripod Student Perception Survey,” researchers found that the Tripod’s factor structure did not “hold up.” That is, Tripod’s 7Cs (i.e., seven constructs including: Care, Confer, Captivate, Clarify, Consolidate, Challenge, Classroom Management; see more information about the 7Cs here) and the 36 items that are positioned within each of the 7Cs did not fit the 7C framework as theorized by instrument developer(s).

Rather, using the MET database (N=1,049 middle school math class sections; N=25,423 students), researchers found that an alternative bi-factor structure (i.e., two versus seven constructs) best fit the Tripod items theoretically positioned otherwise. These two factors included (1) a general responsivity dimension that includes all items (more or less) unrelated to (2) a classroom management dimension that governs responses on items surrounding teachers’ classroom management. Researchers were unable to to distinguish across items seven separate dimensions.

Researchers also found that the two alternative factors noted — general responsivity and classroom management — were positively associated with teacher value-added scores. More specifically, results suggested that these two factors were positively and statistically significantly associated with teachers’ value-added measures based on state mathematics tests (standardized coefficients were .25 and .25, respectively), although for undisclosed reasons, results apparently suggested nothing about these two factors’ (cor)relationships with value-added estimates base on state English/language arts (ELA) tests. As per authors’ findings in the area of mathematics, prior researchers have also found low to moderate agreement between teacher ratings and student perception ratings; hence, this particular finding simply adds another source of convergent evidence.

Authors do give multiple reasons and plausible explanations as to why they found what they did that you all can read in more depth via the full article, linked to above and fully cited below. Authors also note that “It is unclear whether the original 7Cs that describe the Tripod instrument were intended to capture seven distinct dimensions on which students can reliably discriminate among teachers or whether the 7Cs were merely intended to be more heuristic domains that map out important aspects of teaching” (p. 1859); hence, this is also important to keep in mind given study findings.

As per study authors, and to their knowledge, “this study [was] the first to systematically investigate the multidimensionality of the Tripod student perception survey” (p. 1863).

Citation: Wallace, T. L., Kelcey, B., &  Ruzek, E. (2016). What can student perception surveys tell us about teaching? Empirically testing the underlying structure of the Tripod student perception survey.  American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1834–1868.
doiI:10.3102/0002831216671864 Retrieved from

New Article Published on Using Value-Added Data to Evaluate Teacher Education Programs

A former colleague, a current PhD student, and I just had an article released about using value-added data to (or rather not to) evaluate teacher education/preparation, higher education programs. The article is titled “An Elusive Policy Imperative: Data and Methodological Challenges When Using Growth in Student Achievement to Evaluate Teacher Education Programs’ ‘Value-Added,” and the abstract of the article is included below.

If there is anyone out there who might be interested in this topic, please note that the journal in which this piece was published (online first and to be published in its paper version later) – Teaching Education – has made the article free for its first 50 visitors. Hence, I thought I’d share this with you all first.

If you’re interested, do access the full piece here.

Happy reading…and here’s the abstract:

In this study researchers examined the effectiveness of one of the largest teacher education programs located within the largest research-intensive universities within the US. They did this using a value-added model as per current federal educational policy imperatives to assess the measurable effects of teacher education programs on their teacher graduates’ students’ learning and achievement as compared to other teacher education programs. Correlational and group comparisons revealed little to no relationship between value-added scores and teacher education program regardless of subject area or position on the value-added scale. These findings are discussed within the context of several very important data and methodological challenges researchers also made transparent, as also likely common across many efforts to evaluate teacher education programs using value-added approaches. Such transparency and clarity might assist in the creation of more informed value-added practices (and more informed educational policies) surrounding teacher education accountability.