Common Core, Teacher Effectiveness, and Data Systems, Oh My!
This guest blog post is written by Paige Kowalski, director of state policy initiatives at the Data Quality Campaign. Ms. Kowalski supports state policymakers in their efforts to develop and use P–20 statewide longitudinal data systems to improve student achievement. In this post, she discusses the vital need for states to build a data system that will accurately inform teacher evaluation and assessment policies as states implement the Common Core State Standards.
Many states are seeking to implement various policies around common core assessments, teacher evaluation, and data systems with some tackling all of these at once! Scared yet? The yellow brick road that states must follow to reach Oz (and not find themselves under a house) is to understand how their policy efforts are dependent upon one another for success and how comparable data will factor into eventual policy outcomes.
Let’s take common core assessments first. Statewide assessments required under NCLB provided educators and policymakers alike a common benchmark to better understand student success across school and district boundaries. For the first time, states had comparable data on their students to inform policy and practice. To realize more benefits from state assessments, the federal government is funding two consortia to develop assessments to better measure student success on the common core standards. The assessment consortia federal application tells us that:
- States working together in consortia benefit from increased assessment resources and expertise and, thus, can develop assessments that are of higher quality than assessments developed by an individual State working on its own.
- The development of common assessments will enable the production of comparable data that can be used to identify and promote effective instructional strategies and practices more reliably across States.
It is, therefore, expected that upon implementation we will have higher quality assessments that deliver comparable data to states to better inform their college and career ready policies. At the same time, states are relying on these assessments to measure and develop their educator workforce and to better understand the pathways that prepare effective teachers.
Now follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, me to teacher evaluation. Although states delivering common core assessments will have reliable comparable data about students, they may not have comparable teacher data to which they can link. Districts are charged with linking teachers with students to capture the complex relationships and assignments between teachers and students. However, without clear definitions and guidance from states to ensure that all districts are linking in the same manner, districts will inevitably send data (i.e., the teacher/student link) to states that are anything but comparable. For example, District A may define teacher of record as “the teacher who assigns the grade” while District B defines as “an educator who is responsible for at least 25% of a student’s learning”. In this state, District B can capture team teaching while District A cannot.
Finally, for me, there’s no place like home: data systems. When educators are linked to students’ common core assessment scores, the state will have information to send back to districts for local decision making, but the state will be left without the comparable data that hold so much promise for state education reform policies. Specifically, states will be unable to answer questions critical to the successful implementation of both teacher effectiveness policies and common core standards/assessments:
- Who is teaching the common core standards well?
- Which teacher preparation programs are effectively training teachers to succeed with common core standards?
- Which districts are successfully implementing the common core standards based on teacher performance?
- What type and how much professional development are needed to bring the state’s teachers up to speed to effectively teach the common core standards?
States are making progress in developing high quality teacher/student data linkages but have much work to do in implementing best practices. Without high-quality and comparable student AND teacher data, policymakers will not have the information they need to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement.
It won’t be easy. We will need the wits of the Scarecrow, courage of the Lion, and heart of the Tin Man. But the bottom line is this: the stakes are too high to get this wrong, and we need the best data possible to get it right.