Study: teacher performance measures may penalize Black educators

December 10, 2020

Washington, December 10, 2020--By not adjusting for school and classroom factors outside the control of educators, classroom observation scores for Black teachers in Chicago Public Schools unfairly penalize them for being more likely to teach in schools in low-income neighborhoods with students who are academically disadvantaged, according to a study published today in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

VIDEO:
Watch the authors discuss study findings and implications

The study found that the typical Black teacher in Chicago ranked at the 37th percentile in classroom observation scores, compared to the 55th percentile for the typical White teacher. Once the researchers controlled for differences in school and classroom factors, including student poverty, misconduct rates, and incoming academic achievement, the gap statistically disappeared. This race gap in scores is important because the evaluation of teacher performance through classroom observations is a common practice in schools across the country, often paired with other measures of teaching effectiveness, such as those based on student test scores. Teachers' classroom observation scores are used by school districts nationwide to determine teacher tenure and promotion decisions.

The study, conducted by Matthew P. Steinberg of George Mason University and Lauren Sartain of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, analyzed student data from Chicago Public Schools for academic years 2013-14 and 2014-15, the first two years of a newly implemented teacher evaluation system. More than 5,500 K-5 teachers from 411 CPS elementary schools were examined.

The study found that 89 percent of the explained Black-White gap in classroom observation scores was driven by differences between the characteristics of schools where Black and White educators typically worked, such as the proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch or average student achievement on end-of-year standardized exams. The other 11 percent of the explained gap was related to classroom-level differences within individual schools, including student poverty, misconduct, and academic achievement. None of the race gap was explained by differences in teachers' measured effectiveness in improving student achievement, by school culture, or by the race of the teachers' evaluators.

"Our findings indicate that these classroom observation scores do not equitably compare the performance of teachers who taught in very different classroom and school settings," said Steinberg, an associate professor of education policy at George Mason University. "The race gap in teacher scores does not reflect real differences in teacher performance."

"Left unadjusted, these scores may lead to disproportionate and incorrect identification of Black teachers for remediation and dismissal, and may have serious implications for the diversity of the teacher workforce," Steinberg said. "Our study, which focused on Chicago, raises questions about how classroom observation scores are being analyzed and used by school leaders across the United States. School leaders everywhere need to account for the potential impact of school and classroom factors on teacher scores."

The authors noted that policymakers and school leaders should encourage the type of teacher sorting that increases opportunities for minority students to be exposed to minority teachers, but that minority teachers might not seek out teaching assignments in some of the country's most economically and racially segregated schools if they believe their evaluation ratings will suffer.

"Across school districts in the United States, and in particular, urban school districts, there is a widening demographic and racial gap between teachers and their students," said Steinberg. "At the same time, prior evidence shows that minority students experience both short- and long-term educational benefits when taught by minority teachers. The potential labor market consequences which we observe in the context of Chicago's teacher evaluation system should be of concern to students, families, and school and policy leaders nationwide."

"Our findings underscore the importance of policymakers refining personnel evaluation systems in ways that ensure greater equity and improve the educational circumstances of teachers and students in the most disadvantaged schools," Steinberg said.

The authors noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, how teachers are evaluated, particularly in remote environments, is top of mind for school districts and unions.

"While it is perhaps more important than ever that teachers receive feedback on their practice in order to best serve students in these less-than-ideal classroom contexts, teachers raise valid concerns about how observations and student test scores will be used to judge their effectiveness," said Sartain, an assistant professor of education at UNC-Chapel Hill. "The issues raised in our study may be of even greater concern now, in light of COVID-19, when some of the inequities in students' home environments are even more relevant."
-end-
Sartain received funding from the Spencer Foundation in support of this research.

Study citation: Steinberg, M. P., & Sartain, L. (2020). What explains the race gap in teacher performance ratings? Evidence from Chicago Public Schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Prepublished December 10, 2020.
http://doi.org/10.3102/0162373720970204

About AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.
Find AERA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

American Educational Research Association

Related Academic Achievement Articles from Brightsurf:

Potential impact of COVID-19 school closures on academic achievement
A study published today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, provides preliminary projections of the impact of COVID-19-related school closures in spring 2020 on student learning.

Cut chores and kill chill time: new advice to boost children's academic achievement
Determining a child's best daily balance of sleep, activity and relaxation can be a challenge, but if you're hoping to improve their academic results, then it's time to cut back on chores and chill time, according to new research from the University of South Australia.

Academic achievement is influenced by how pupils 'do' gender at school
Pupils' achievements at school are often shaped by the way that they 'act out' specific gender roles, according to a new study which warns against over-generalising the gender gap in education.

Weighing more than your twin at birth may predict better achievement at school
Research has shown that children who are born at a low birthweight are less likely to do well in school and more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods as adults.

Study finds relationship between racial discipline disparities and academic achievement gaps in US
An increase in either the discipline gap or the academic achievement gap between black and white students in the United States predicts a jump in the other, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Teacher incentive programs can improve student achievement
Teacher incentive pay programs with a hybrid structure involving both individual and group incentives can have good results.

Citations show academic and non-academic researchers 'win' when they collaborate
Findings in new PNAS paper indicate that when academics work with business, government, and/or NGO partners they produce more cited, higher impact research.

Kindergarten difficulties may predict academic achievement across primary grades
Identifying factors that predict academic difficulties during elementary school should help inform efforts to help children who may be at risk.

University choice and achievement partly down to DNA
Research from King's College London has shown for the first time that genetics plays a significant role in whether young adults choose to go to university, which university they choose to attend and how well they do.

Personel management - when self-doubt misjudges achievement
Individuals who have a pervasive sense that their reputations are not justified by their achievements may suffer from impostor syndrome.

Read More: Academic Achievement News and Academic Achievement Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.