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New REL Study Explores Relationship Between Teacher Demographics and Evaluation Ratings

Posted by Jessica Bailey on October 20, 2016

New, high-stakes educator evaluation systems have become increasingly popular in recent years; yet little is known about the link, if any, between evaluation ratings and teacher demographic characteristics.

A large, urban district in the REL Northeast & Islands Region approached the Northeast Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance for help exploring this issue. Some members of the public had expressed concern that racial and ethnic minority teachers might be more likely than other teachers to be identified for possible dismissal as a result of their evaluation ratings. District officials saw a need for an independent group to investigate in order to inform the district’s consideration of policy and system revisions.

The result is a new REL Northeast & Islands publication from the Institute of Education Sciences: “Teacher Demographics and Evaluation: A Descriptive Study in a Large Urban District.” In this report, my REL colleagues Candice Bocala, Karen Shakman, Jacqueline Zweig, and I present findings from a study we conducted on the relationship between teacher demographic characteristics, such as race, age, and gender, and their evaluation ratings.

Using data provided by the district, we specifically undertook descriptive analyses of teachers who received “below proficient” summative performance ratings in each year from 2012/13 to 2014/15. We looked at whether variation existed in the teachers’ ratings by race/ethnicity, age, and gender; we also looked at whether the teachers’ improvement in performance from 2012/13 to 2014/15 varied by these same characteristics. Our major findings include the following:

  • A disproportionately large percentage of Black teachers, older teachers, and male teachers were rated below proficient compared to the percentage of those demographics in the overall population of teachers with summative performance ratings.
  • In all three years of data analyzed by the study, the percentage of teachers with below proficient summative performance ratings was higher for Black teachers and teachers age 50 and older than for their White and younger counterparts.
  • The percentage of teachers who improved their rating during all three year-to-year comparisons did not vary by race/ethnicity, age, or gender.

These findings confirm the district’s concerns that motivated this study. Since we shared the results with the district officials who advised us on this work, they have reflected upon the findings’ implications.

“Our research partnership with REL Northeast & Islands has provided key evidence to support our early—and continuing—efforts to ensure the most equitable evaluation process for our teachers,” a district leader said. “Such efforts have included the embedding of implicit bias training for evaluators, as well as a Racial Equity Impact Assessment focused on the performance evaluation process, anticipated to be undertaken in the current school year.”

The district has more work to do, such as examining the root cause of these disproportionalities and considering which programs or policies aimed specifically at those teachers and their evaluators may increase the teachers’ chances for improvement as well as help to reduce the rating gaps. Still, this study was a first step toward better understanding the links in one district between teacher characteristics and evaluation ratings. REL Northeast & Islands is honored to work in partnership with districts like this one in order to bring empirical evidence to bear on important concerns and questions.

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