How to Assess Teacher Quality: What We Have Learned Over the Last Decade

There is general agreement that the key to student learning success is the quality of a teacher’s instructional skills, combined with the teacher’s ability to understand their students as individuals with diverse needs, backgrounds, behavioral issues, social skills, and learning styles. But while there is general agreement on the teacher’s role in their student’s success, there is considerable disagreement on how to measure the quality of a teacher’s skills and abilities.  

Teacher education reform, specifically in the area of quality testing for teachers involved in elementary and secondary education systems, has been a subject of interest to educators, politicians, policymakers, and parents in countries around the world for some years. Let’s examine what we have learned over the last decade or so.

For example, in 2011, both the United States (US) and Australia published plans/standards for improving the quality of their nation’s teachers.  Our Future, Our Teachers the Obama Administration’s Plan for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement (Obama’s Plan) was issued by the U.S. Department of Education in September 2011. This comprehensive plan outlined actions to support and encourage effective teaching to ensure every child had the opportunity to have an excellent teacher.

Also in 2011, the Australian government first published standards for teachers under the name National Professional Standards for Teachers. The standards were renamed the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in 2012 and were implemented throughout Australia’s states and territories at different times throughout 2013. The purpose of the standards was similar to Obama’s Plan. They were designed to outline teacher quality standards to improve and ensure success for students.

In 2014, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a report called Assessing and Evaluating Teacher Preparation Programs. Their report summarized three common methods for assessing teacher performance:  “value-added assessments of student achievement, standardized observation protocols, and surveys of teacher performance.” The report suggested that the effectiveness of teacher education programs should be measured by well-established scientific methods that focused on behavior. And, it encouraged quality teaching measures to be developed in partnerships with teacher education programs, school districts, and states. Whether the APA’s recommendations have been put into practice is not clearly known.

However what is known is that about five years after the implementation of standards in the US and Australia to improve and measure teacher quality, “The evidence base for how teaching quality and impact may be defined and demonstrated is weak.” This was the key finding of a report entitled, Review of the Research Literature on Defining and Demonstrating Quality Teaching and Impact in Higher Education. To explain further, the report found the literature contained mostly opinion pieces and concluded there was a lack of empirical evidence.

The report was commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Higher Education Academy (HEA) and published by RAND Europe in 2016. The purpose of the report was to discover how quality teaching was defined and validated at institutions teaching education.

The report reached two main recommendations:

  1. More research is needed to test, measure, and monitor new quality teaching methods.
  2. But first, “…there needs to be more consensus in the discourse on how ‘quality teaching’ may be measured or evaluated.”

Although the HEA is a UK national body, the literature search was comprehensive. The search included literature published since 2012 and was published in ERIC, Education Abstracts, the HEER database, and Web of Science. What the report revealed is that as recent as 3 years ago there was no agreement on how to test for teacher quality. If the search were repeated today, looking at literature published since 2016, I suspect the results would be about the same.

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