The Future of Teacher Assessment

Today I attended a conference put together by the Alliance for Excellent Education and AACTE discussing a standards-based approach to improving teaching: teacher performance assessment consortium.

The panelists included:

  • Ms. Karen Balmer, Executive Director, Minnesota Board of Teaching
  • Mr. Peter McWalters, Consultant, Education Workforce Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Dr. Ray Pecheone, School Redesign Network, Stanford University
  • Dr. Charles Peck, Professor of Teacher Education and Special Education, University of Washington
  • Dr. Marcy Singer-Gabella, Professor of the Practice of Education, Vanderbilt University
  • Ms. Jennifer Wallace, Executive Director, Washington State Professional Education Standards Board

Based upon my previous posts about the national trend in education, is centered on teacher quality. As you may recall, I questioned how one could effectively measure teacher quality based upon current systems and approaches. Today’s discussion centered around the idea that improving the current system could lead to more powerful teaching.

A February 2011 policy brief put together by the Alliance for Excellent Education states that effective teachers can and do make a difference in the lives of students. “Analyses of longitudinal data files reveal that having an effective teacher versus having a less effective one can lead to enormous differences in achievement-test-score-gains among students within the same school” (p.1). The brief continues that if we expect to compete in a global knowledge economy, teacher preparation and instructional quality must improve.

SIDE NOTE: Before anyone comments on how testing is not the way we should measure a student’s achievement level, let me be clear: People want results. Before anyone subsidizes anything, or in order to fully invest in something, they want raw data to prove or demonstrate results. This process exists in the free market, and is also true in the education sector. Using the current measurement system to collect data for student achievement must exist until something else is created that generates and proves similar  results.

Today’s conference focused on Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium (TPAC), a rigorous assessment built upon two main questions: 1. What does effective teaching actually look like? 2. How do we build teacher success?

Dr. Ray Pecheone discussed the issue of building an assessment tool that is flexible, and one that actually assesses teacher performance on varying levels. For example, is it fair to use one generic model of scoring for an elementary school teacher and a high school physics teacher? It seems quite obvious that evaluations should not be based on a marginalized system. Dr. Pecheone talked about embracing the complexities of education by designing assessments that are adaptable based upon individual teaching expertise (including measurement procedure for teacher’s involved with special education classes), and that can also be applied to both district and state levels. He then described the measurements of effective teaching and what tasks teachers and administrators need to cater to. You can read results in the policy brief.


1. What does this mean for the future of education policy?

Peter McWalters briefly touched on the fact that it is necessary for state policy makers, board members, administrators and teachers to collaborate. Generally there has been attention on other ‘silver bullet’ answers to improving student performance, including how small classroom sizes, or more money directly affects student achievement. While those things provide pivotal research and discovery, the federal government will incentivize results. It is argued that the TPAC will give states the opportunity to develop their own in-house system that incorporates the elements of student performance.  Charles Peck also said that these systems would allow schools to be independent of political pressure, and that TPAC acts as a buffer so they can be more responsive to public need. When collaboration happens, and data can prove success, people are more motivated to change.

In this way, TPAC is the kind of measurement tool that doesn’t just focus on student testing measurements as a means of recording a teacher’s performance. This system is able to measure what teachers are doing that is effective, including pedagogical content knowledge and student/teacher perception.

Collaboration and communication between state legislators and educators is KEY!

2. My question was how TPAC will affect the teacher in the classroom? Will they experience a greater workload?

This was addressed by several panelists. In essence, this process is rigorous. The requirements for teachers will be demanding, but only for the first year. It was also mentioned that in the first year of teaching, there tends to be a lot of whining due to the fact that the teacher’s are new, and the panelists expect that it won’t be any different with this program. Once things get rolling, the assessment tool will provide results that separate weaker versus stronger teachers, and will generate credible measurements for teachers who step into the classroom for the first time. The rigor is worth it.

Read my working research: Overcoming the Challenges of Education Policy Implementation


I asked a couple of panelists and attendees about potential  challenges of implementing TPAC to other states.

  1. The pilot program rolled out to 20 states and has delivered successful results. It wasn’t challenging for states that were in search of something that would enable schools to gather input, but then also have the ability to gauge output. This effective approach required constant collaboration and communication between school boards and state policymakers. When asked if it was hard to get policymakers involved in these programs, the answer was adamantly “No, it was not hard at all because policymakers are concerned with teacher evaluation and assessment.” A challenge would be to communicate this program as effectively and transparently as possible to all parties. When there is a breakdown in communication, the desire to reach certain goals becomes limited.
  2. The only other concern is how to integrate teachers (who are training with this new assessment tool) into broken systems. Right now, this system is based purely around pre-service, so what is being taught to teachers in order for them to get their licensure. Once a teacher goes through a rigorous education program in order to be licensed, they are going to be sent into a school that doesn’t maintain those standards. TPAC covers one tier of a program, requiring movement in in-service and post-service opportunities. This is something they are developing, as well.
  3. The last challenge is trying to use TPAC as a standard for other online teaching forums. This isn’t something they have been able to approach yet, but is something they are moving toward.

Overall, the TPAC movement gives states the opportunity to shape human capital systems that “cements the connections between regulatory policies and effective teaching through the design of a performance-based system” (p. 11), and challenges state and federal state policies to develop solutions based upon creating standards and expectations for all education systems.


  1. If you like this performance assessment stuff, you should take a look at WGU, which is helping in this pilot, since performance assessment is a big part of what we do (in all majors, not just education).

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