In a new Education Sector Chart You Can Trust, I show that Washington’s motto as “The Evergreen State” applies not just to an abundance of evergreen coniferous trees, but also to the state’s school districts, which almost never identify low-performing employees. Across all districts statewide, only a minuscule number of employees were deemed unsatisfactory: 0.92 percent of teachers, 1.42 percent of principals, 1.02 percent of superintendents, and 2.1 percent of school support staff like janitors and librarians. The vast majority of schools failed to identify a single low-performing teacher, and 239 out of 261 districts did not identify a single low-performing principal.
Parts of this story have been told before, starting with TNTP’s 2009 Widget Effect report, and since replicated in Florida and Tennessee. Beyond adding another state to the list, my paper uses a unique dataset to add several new elements to the story. One, my paper is the first to include not just teachers but also principals, superintendents, librarians, and janitors. The data show that districts have trouble evaluating their employees across the board, not just for teachers. Two, I had access to the actual words and terms that districts use to label their performance categories. Washington school districts have about twice as many terms for positive than negative performance, which suggests that districts struggle even to create labels for poor performance, let alone place an individual employee in one of the low-performing categories.
Washington has enacted a series of legislative and regulatory reforms improving district evaluation systems. They’ve mandated that districts use four-level rating evaluation systems instead of simple either/or determinations that three out of four districts had been using. And they’ve introduced new elements like requiring them to use a high-quality evaluation rubric and to factor student growth into their ratings of teachers and principals. While these are undoubtedly positive steps, the lessons of other states suggest that merely tweaking old evaluation systems is not sufficient to change a culture that doesn’t value performance.
Read the full analysis here.
Photo Credit: Woods & Things Tree Farm