Jonathan Cetel is the founding executive director of PennCAN. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently concluded a three-year study, the Measuring Effective Teaching Project, focused on determining the most effective methods for measuring teacher performance.

The study affirms what PennCAN supported during the 2012 legislative session: that multiple measures of student achievement, in conjunction with classroom observations, provide the most valid method to measure teacher performance.

Perhaps more importantly, the study also revealed that a more robust evaluation system provides teachers with the meaningful feedback they need to grow and develop their craft.

In 2012, PennCAN supported a bill to reform teacher evaluations in Pennsylvania with the knowledge that classroom observations are typically unreliable.  As evidence, more than 99 percent of teachers in previous years have been rated as “satisfactory” by their principals, yet Pennsylvania is home to one of the largest achievement gaps in the country: a 38 percentage-point disparity between black and white eighth-graders in math proficiency.

Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, classroom observations will comprise 50 percent of a teacher’s total score. The other 50 percent will include multiple measures of student achievement: 15 percent from building-level data, or the overall results of a teacher’s school, 15 percent on teacher-specific data, and the remaining 20 percent will come from elective data, which can differ from district to district but can be comprised of student surveys, AP scores, and portfolios among other measures.

I am grateful that the Gates study confirms what we have long suspected: to accurately assess the effectiveness of teachers you must have an evaluation system that includes BOTH classroom observations AND multiple measures of student achievement. While there will inevitably be a steep learning curve in Pennsylvania as districts, schools, principals and teachers learn the new evaluation system, we are convinced that it will boost teacher performance and result in higher quality education for all of Pennsylvania’s students.


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