- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Most states now require that teachers be evaluated, at least in part, on student test scores - a move that’s drawn fierce criticism from teachers’ unions.

A comprehensive state-by-state analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality shows 42 states and the District of Columbia require student growth and achievement be considered in teacher evaluations. That’s up sharply from six years ago when only 15 states linked scores and teacher reviews. The report was released Wednesday.

The Washington-based think tank has been tracking teacher policy for a decade. Over that time, the report said, “no policy has seen such a dramatic transformation as teacher evaluation.”

A majority of states adopted performance-based teacher evaluations as part of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, which has awarded $4 billion in grant money to states that promised reforms such as linking test scores to teacher reviews and adopting higher academic standards such as Common Core.

Other states have been pushed to adopt reforms in exchange for waivers the administration has been approving, giving states a pass on some of the requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law. More than 40 states have received waivers since 2012.

“The bottom line of teaching is whether or not students are learning,” said Sandi Jacobs, the council’s senior vice president of state and district policy. “If you stand up in front of a classroom every day and deliver great lesson after great lesson but no one in the class is gaining anything, then something is off.”

For 18 states, including Colorado and Connecticut, student growth is the overriding factor in teacher evaluations.

But Jacobs says no state considers student achievement as the sole criteria for judging teachers. Other measures are at play, such as classroom observations, peer evaluations and student surveys. Still, 28 states say teachers with “ineffective ratings are eligible for dismissal,” according to the report.

States bucking the national trend on linking student performance to teacher reviews were California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont. The report said those states have no formal state policy requiring teacher evaluations consider student achievement.

Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas have policies that exist on paper, in the form of waivers granted by the Education Department. But Jacobs says the council’s research turned up little evidence those states are implementing teacher ratings linked to student achievement.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, says most states recognize that how students are doing in the classroom is a critical part of the teacher’s role.

“There were many factors that led to this shift - federal policy, state policy, however, the most basic reason for this shift was to make sure students are at the center of these conversations with teachers,” said Minnich.

Teachers’ unions say there’s too much emphasis on test scores.

“Student outcomes should be determined in a far more robust way than mainly using test scores, such as through student grades, projects, other student work and regular observations,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said after the report was released. “Rather than test-and-punish systems, we need teacher evaluations that will help support and improve teaching and learning.”

According to the report, principals also are getting grades on student performance. The report said 18 states and Washington D.C. use student growth as the key measure of how well their school chiefs are doing.

In three states, Georgia, New Jersey and Ohio, the weight of student growth in principal evaluations is usually larger than in teacher evaluations, said the report. In New Jersey, for example, the weight of student growth counts for 50 percent of principal ratings. For teachers, the range is 30-50 percent.

For its report, the council sent research summaries to all 50 states and Washington D.C. for review. Only Montana, Nevada and North Dakota did not respond to the council.

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