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November 13, 2017

NIET Notes: Your Teachers Are Not Equitably Distributed. How Do You Know? What Can You Do?

The Education Trust's report "Tackling Gaps in Access to Strong Teachers: What State Leaders Can Do" shows states are working to identify and analyze data on the distribution of effective and highly effective teachers. However, there are clearly major challenges to identifying effective teachers, and this lack of relevant, useful data on teacher practice underlies the lack of specificity in what many states are doing to change this distribution.

The data most states are using to measure teacher effectiveness is "years of experience" and whether a teacher is teaching "out of field"—measures required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015. While ESSA uses these input measures, the law added a powerful third measure: whether a teacher is "ineffective," which could specifically focus on looking at a teacher's impact in the classroom.

This step is important because closing gaps in access to effective teachers and leaders cannot be done without a clear, valid and commonly agreed upon definition of what strong teaching looks and sounds like in the classroom.

dodson branch tennessee equ

Dodson Branch School in rural Jackson County, Tennessee

NIET's approach

NIET has worked for more than 18 years with districts and states to put in place systems that provide accurate, timely, consistent and reliable data on teacher effectiveness, along with a school-based infrastructure of support for improvement.

NIET has learned that it is nearly impossible to help teachers to improve their practice if there is no common language, no agreement on what strong teaching looks like and what the key elements are to strong practice in any particular skill or indicator. This clarity is provided by a clear description or "rubric" of teaching practice, along with training for teachers and those that evaluate, coach and support teacher learning. Educator improvement is enhanced when states or districts ensure that those providing feedback are certified to do so, which supports individualized, common language support for every teacher.

Yet many states are defining "ineffective teaching" not as a measure of the impact of classroom instruction, but as a proxy for another existing input measure such as licensure or credentials. Without creating a meaningful definition of ineffective teaching, many states will be basing their plan for ensuring equitable access to effective teaching to strategies for reducing the number of novice teachers and reducing the number of out-of-field teachers. This is a previously tried plan with known shortcomings.  

Action plans

Tennessee, South Carolina and other states have created standards for teaching that define a more meaningful and accurate definition of what ineffective, effective or highly effective teaching looks like in a classroom. These standards should align to efforts that increase equitable access to effective teaching.

With more accurate data on teacher effectiveness with students in their classroom, states and districts are able to develop strategies—like the ones highlighted in The Education Trust report—to ensure that the most effective teachers and principals are working with the highest-need students, and that every teacher is provided with relevant and useful feedback for improvement. 

By building a common understanding and language around strong teaching, and a support system for improvement, states and districts can identify gaps in access to strong teaching and close those gaps so that larger percentages of teachers and principals evaluated at the highest levels of performance serve high-need students. In short, gaps will only be tackled by changing our business-as-usual approaches, and ensuring that teacher effectiveness is not limited to inputs like years of service and credentials, but rather focused on outputs like improved practices. 

RELATED: 5 Practices Principals Can Use to Ensure Equitable Access to Effective Teachers