Grading the teachers

a.jpgFull disclosure, if it matters: My wife taught 4th grade for five years and is just starting her job as a librarian.  She may or may not agree with all of this.

Theobromophile had a good post on teachers that got me thinking about how we evaluate and compensate them.  This is not about whether they are under- or over-paid in general, but how to determine what raises they should get and how their performance is assessed.  Considering that teachers evaluate students with precise numerical scores in objective and subjective ways, it is ironic that unions resist compensation models that would consider that some teachers are doing a better job than others. 

Many jobs in business are challenging to evaluate, yet we do it anyway with a mix of  measures.  Is it perfect?  No.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

Most evaluation systems have some version of a 5-point scale: Outstanding, exceeds expectations, meets expectations, need improvement, and “You’re fired.”  The finer points would be easy to iron out once the broader principles are in place.

Here’s my proposal, which some approximate figures.   

50% – average improvement on standardized tests – Each class should have an average incoming score. Teachers who increase the average by more than 1.0 (1.0 being an improvement of one grade level) would get higher ratings and/or bonuses.

For example, a lower performing class of students entering 4th grade might start the year with a 2.8 average and end up at 3.9, so the teacher would have done her part and more – an increase of 1.1 grade levels.  Another teacher might start with a class of 3.3 and end up with a 4.2, so the class would have improved by only 0.9 grades from year to year.

Is this a perfect measure?  No, there are all sorts of important influences such as parents and environment.  But if you have a critical mass of students the average should yield a fair rating.  If nothing else, you could compare it to peers.  A teacher with a longer term average of 1.2 must be doing something right, while a teacher with an average of .85 has work to do.

50% – a variety of categories such as preparation, administrative abilities, communication with parents, judgment, teamwork, etc.  The overall evaluation would be done by the Principal, though input would be gathered from Associate Principals and peers.   


  • More accountability – rewards better teachers and gives incentives for lower performing teachers
  • Fairness – doesn’t punish teachers who start with lower performing kids.
  • In theory, every teacher could get a high score if they raised their students’ achievement by more than 1.0 grade from year to year.
  • Relatively simple to administer – all these figures should be readily available.  Kids who start mid-year could have a weighted average impact to the score.
  • Not based solely on test scores, so teachers won’t just “teach to the test.”
  • Could be used to evaluate administrators as well.   
  • This is just a dream of mine, but perhaps schools would spend more time on things like math, science and English and less time on social engineering.  Just sayin’. 


  • Teacher unions won’t like it.  I have two words for them:  Boo-hoo.  (Or is that one word?)

How would you compensate teachers – purely on experience, or on performance as well?

21 thoughts on “Grading the teachers”

  1. More disclosure: I have an education degree and taught for one year. I am a teacher no longer.

    One thought: The problem with this sort of evaluation is that all classrooms are not created equal. Some schools have students with more problems, less parental support, poverty, homelessness or other factors. It’s a bit unfair to “grade” and pay teachers who teach at the hardest schools more poorly because they’re taking on the harder situation.

    Not disagreeing with the notion of teacher accountability at all, just making a note.


  2. I think the idea has merit, but it would probably only work for lower grade teachers. Here’s why:

    Assume that every teacher gets on board and succeeds. Well, the teachers at the lower grades will raise the grade levels of their students — who will then promote to a newer grade with a higher starting level. If the next teacher manages to increase the grade level, then the next teacher will have an even more difficult task. Theoretically, kids could enter 9th or 10th grade already at a 12th grade level. So the 12th grade teacher would really have her work cut out for her! (Another reason to aspire to be an elementary grade teacher.)

    Although, in theory, there is no limit on knowledge, in reality both kids and teachers will likely hit some kind of ceiling, if not just the limit of the test used to assess them.

    Isn’t it odd that we all know good teachers when we see them, yet we cannot figure out how to quantify that so that we can reward the good ones and eliminate the bad ones?


  3. I think your idea has some degree of merit, Neil, but Vance hit on something I was thinking while reading your post. Teachers have a responsibility to make sure the kids graduate to the next grade level. Vance is correct in stating that a plateau, or ceiling, exists that a teacher cannot overcome.

    If, for example, a teacher has students that are at 3.4 and has a responsiblility to get the class to 4.0. Then obviously, the students at 3.4 are way ahead of the game. Does the teacher even have the resources to get these students to 4.4 – or higher? Probably not.

    The problem, I think, is probably the reverse. Teachers get students who should be at 3.0 at the beginning of the year, but instead are at something like 2.4 – ouch! Why are these students being passed? The parents of these kids many times “demand” that the student move on to the next grade level and the school caves instead of standing firm and saying “no – your son must repeat the second grade.”

    Why do schools buckle like this? Because parents threaten to sue the school to get the “genius” passed. The case goes to court and the parents win!!?!? Unbelievable! If the courts let this happen then the schools’ hands are tied.

    I like the idea of grading teachers on performance, but I’m not sure there’s a good way to do it – especially under these circumstances.

    A better idea is to test the teachers on the material they’ll be teaching. If they can’t score above 98% then they get a pay cut. Period. Then, of course, they’ll start suing the school, too. sigh…


  4. I think those are good criteria Neil, although Vance and Mark bring up interesting points.

    As I always say, I think the key is school choice and decentralization of our school system. With these in place it can be up to the parents to have the decision of what exactly a “good teacher” is.

    Now, where your post comes in is that I think this is great criteria. However, with less government involvement, you could work for these things in your own school as opposed to getting something passed through Congress. I think the former would be much easier.


  5. “Why are these students being passed?”

    It’s a different topic, but briefly, because research shows that holding kids back does little to help them succeed. Rather, other strategies have had better success, from a strictly research point of view.

    This is one reason I’m cautious about politician-designed Education “reforms…”/tinkering – because they (politicians) don’t always have access or have made time to read the latest research and may not be as informed.


  6. Dan

    Does this “research” also measure the affect these students have on the rest of the class? How much are these students (that would normally be held back) holding back the rest of the students? If the teacher is spending time helping “Johnny” learn what he should already know then the rest of the class obviously suffers! I don’t need some rediculous research to tell me what is obvious.

    I guarantee these “other strategies” that had better success involved tutoring “Johnny” during off time so that he caught up to the rest of the class! What other strategy could there be?

    As you can see – it’s not Johnny’s success that I’m so much concerned with – it’s the success of the majority of the students that concerns me. These are the students going through the “normal” steps of progression through the school system. If Johnny needs extra help – fine. Let him get it and – when he’s ready – he can join the rest of the students.

    I’m not sure where you were headed with the last comment about the politician-designed education system. I’m concerned that politicians are sticking there noses where they don’t belong, sure. But I’m more concerned with these goodie-too-shoes “researchers” doing “reasearch” with overly Politically Correct results. Results that completely defy common sense. I don’t know for sure, but at first glance this research to which you are referring sounds bogus.


  7. Why the hostility towards “researchers”? It’s this sort of behavior that gets many so-called conservatives tagged with the label of being anti-intellectuality and anti-science.

    I mean, should we blindly accept your criticism of the research because it “sounds” bogus to you? And the authority on which you speak is…? You’ve spent how many years researching the subject? Are you even a parent?

    But we’re off-topic. Sorry Neil, didn’t intend to raise a different argument, just answering a question. I’ll go away.


  8. Dan, it’s called Common Sense for a reason. I think my statements stand well enough on their own. No explanation is necessary if they are read completely.


  9. Mark said, “Why are these students being passed? ”

    Dan said, “It’s a different topic, but briefly, because research shows that holding kids back does little to help them succeed. Rather, other strategies have had better success, from a strictly research point of view.

    I do see Dan’s point in that it is important to look at what research shows considering how to deal with lagging students. I also see Mark’s point in how even 1 student can drag the rest of the class down.

    I infer from Dan’s statement that “not passing” a kid is not the answer, but I don’t really see an alternative. You can’t just send a kid on to a higher grade if they don’t understand their current level of education. Passing 5th grade implies that you understand 5th grade stuff to some level. I could have misunderstood Dan’s statement though. However, I could see alternatives to being held back, such as taking summer school, retaking a test, etc…


  10. Good afternoon all!

    I have yet to see eye to eye with Dan on various topics, but feel compelled to support him in this thread. In doing so, all I ask of Dan is to not tag all of us conservatives as anti-intellectual and anti science. 😉 I am a conservative, and I’m not sure just how intellectual I am, but I do enjoy a medical career that also encompasses biomedical research. In the interest of full disclosure, I also come from a family of educators.
    Mark, with all do respect, your criticisms of Dan’s offering are off base. Perhaps you would have been better off asking for the reference article(s) that Dan was referring to. Instead you write a grammatical and syntax error filled post that leaves one with the impression that you are the “Johnny” in question.
    Reading is fundamental! Please re-read Dan’s offering, he respectfully provides a possible answer your question. In doing so, he readily acknowledges that this was off topic. Furthermore, in providing an answer, he did not render an opinion one way or the other of the study, and firmly stated that the results were ” a strictly research point of view”.
    In closing, it has been my experience – and no, I am not an authority – but common sense is not that common. I believe that it eluded your post as well.
    Neil, that you for the indulgence.


    ***Any and all spelling, syntax, and/or grammatical errors contained within the above post are strictly those of the author and should not be attributed to the past teachers, parents, sibling, or wife of the author.***


  11. Hi Neil,
    I tought 8+ years in Texas, have tutored and am homeschooling our children, as well as teaching some classes for the local homeschool coop. (Taught now about 13 years, total.)
    The state of Texas has a system very similar to the one that yoiu have come up with. It is called the PDAS. Professional Development and Accountability System. It includes the school score on the TAKS test, the implementation of professional development taken that year, the quality of teaching and classroom management of the teacher by obesrvations throughout the year, extra curricular duties performed, school drop out rate, campus leadership and mentoring by the teacher, use of technology in the classroom, etc. At first it wasn’t well liked by the faculty, but when they realized that they began at “proficient” and had input into their total evaluation, rather the one shot classroom evaluation as before, I think things set better. Any way, I liked it much better!
    BTW- I enjoy your blog.


  12. I can’t believe I’m going to say this either but I completely agree with what Joseph just said in regards to Dan and Mark and their comments.

    Neil, interesting post. You pointed it out in your post already but my main concern would be that testing doesn’t always accurately measure how much a student as learned and schools much to often teach to the tests – just as you stated. Other than that this could be an interesting way to do this. I do agree with some of the other comments that it would probably work best in elementary school and may be more difficult in middle school or high school.


  13. Joseph

    Your post must be satire. You said, “Instead you write a grammatical and syntax error filled post that leaves one with the impression that you are the “Johnny” in question.”

    If, in fact, it was satire. Thanks. It got good laughs from me. If not, I suggest you read your post again, for you are in the glass house.

    Now to the point of your post, since some here agree with you. I don’t need to ask for links to the articles Dan references because there is only one good solution. That is to get the students who fall behind up to the level required to move on to the next grade. This can only be accomplished by extra teaching (tutoring, summer school, after school studies, etc.) This is the *only* viable “other strategy” to which Dan suggests. Advancing the student when they are not ready hurts both the student in question and the rest of the class. The study may be worthwhile, as you say. However, if it suggests advancing these students to the next grade, as Dan suggests, merely because it does little to help them succeed, then it is bogus.


  14. Hi all – thanks for the discussion. One general thought: Let’s avoid grammar / syntax comments on other comments.

    Elisa – thanks for visiting and commenting! Great to have you. We live in Texas so many of those terms sounded familiar. I guess the next step would be taking the ratings and applying them to the compensation model somehow.

    Re. some of the valid critiques of my proposal: I realize there are limitations but I think the law of large numbers should help out there. Elementary teachers often have morning and afternoon classes and have a total of at least 40 kids.

    I’ll let someone else tackle the topics of how/when to hold kids back (lots of issues there!) and the impact of slow learners on the rest of the class.


  15. I agree with Chance about school choice and decentralization.

    I also agree that some kind of evaluation for teachers is needed.

    However, I don’t think we can solve our education problems as long as we expect the government to do it. I really can’t think of too many things that the government does manage to do well, so I don’t know why we should expect them to be able to educate our children.


  16. Full disclosure: My wife is a special needs teacher.

    I see two major problems with your ideas. First is that it assumes all classes are created equal. Special needs students learn at a MUCH slower pace than regular students. By current law, these students have to be in regular schools. Yet their ability to learn will never compare to regular students. “Grading” their teacher the same way simply isn’t fair. The opposite effect is seen on some “gifted” students. These students learn so easily, that any teacher could teach them.

    The second problem I see is the potential for corruption. In cases I have seen, teachers have been caught helping students on the standardized tests. When you tell a teacher his/her paycheck depends on this test, they see the test differently. Someone already mentioned the fact that teachers begin to teach to the test. This happened in my state and when the new test was introduced, close to 1/4 of the school year was geared towards the test.

    One more note that’s not popular in my house. I disagree that teachers aren’t paid enough. I’m a big fan of the law of supply and demand. Right now, the supply of teachers is meeting the demand. Oh but what of the teacher shortage – you ask? How many teaching jobs go unfilled? If you think your school doesn’t have enough teachers, is that because they didn’t have budget or couldn’t find them?

    That’s off-topic, but it’s my $0.02 worth.


  17. SST – good points. re. gov’t. That would make another good post – why on earth does the Federal Gov’t have to be involved in the education process?

    Randy – I’m with you on the supply and demand thing. In the interest of maintaining popularity in our respective homes let’s make that our little secret.

    Re. your first objection – seems like those could be tweaked as well – i.e., maybe a group that is lower than average only needs to grow by 0.9 grades (though that reminds me of something Bart Simpsons said when he was demoted once: “Let me get this straight – we’re behind, so we’re going to catch up by going more slowly?” (or something like that))

    Re. the 2nd – I think the corruption angle is already there. Teachers have tons of pressure for their kids to pass the state test here, but it is less formulaic than what I’m describing. They can get fired or moved where they don’t want to be if test scores are low. It isn’t that they don’t care, it is that the compensation model doesn’t tie rewards to performance as well as it could. Right now there is zero correlation (at least in Texas).


  18. my two senses are not much, except that I do like the idea, though, as someone said early on, not all classes are created equal… but if there was a way to weight it…

    evil grin. Think what I could do to my teachers when I get to college…


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