Evaluating Teachers Based on Their Students’ Performance: How Do Teachers Respond?
Morgaen Donaldson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Connecticut

Primary Discipline

Teacher Education/Teaching and Learning
In recent years, policymakers have seized on teacher evaluation as a primary lever for improving schools. Spurred by Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waiver requirements, over 40 states have changed their laws to incorporate student achievement in teachers’ evaluations. Despite these changes, little published research examines how tying teacher evaluation to student performance influences teachers’ attitudes, behaviors, and effectiveness. Using data from New Haven, Connecticut, I will use my fellowship to conduct one of the first studies to examine how evaluating teachers based on their students’ performance influences teachers’ motivation and student achievement.New Haven Public Schools’ (NHPS) teacher evaluation system, TEVAL, has been cited as a model by diverse commentators, including President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In the study, I will use qualitative and quantitative methods to ask: According to teachers and administrators, how have NHPS teachers responded to TEVAL?Has it influenced their reported motivation? If so, how? Has it influenced their reported decisions regarding what courses, students, and content to teach? If so, how?Has student achievement in NHPS improved since the implementation of TEVAL?Prior research and motivation theory suggest varied ways that teachers could respond to TEVAL. Interviews with approximately 100 teachers and 25 school leaders and surveys of the population of these educators within NHPS will allow me to understand how, according to a sample of educators, teachers have responded to TEVAL’s mix of rewards, sanctions, and capacity-building (Research Question 1). Interviews will be conducted in a purposive sample of 10 NHPS schools, three of which are high schools. In each school, I will interview the principal, assistant principal(s), and approximately 25% of the teachers. Following the completion of the interviews, I will administer surveys to the population of teachers and school leaders in NHPS. The surveys will test the generalizability of interview participants’ views and investigate the components of motivation theory and possible perverse consequences of TEVAL.Examining student achievement before and after the adoption of TEVAL will suggest whether this policy has influenced teachers’ behaviors (Research Question 2). To explore this question, I will (1) compare trends in student achievement in NHPS against statewide trends and trends in comparable urban districts using a difference-in-differences design; and (2) examine achievement trends within teachers who were present in NHPS pre- and post-TEVAL implementation using teacher fixed effects.Although this study has limitations, it is one of the first of its kind on an important topic, and thus makes a critical contribution to the field. Given that heightened accountability may have a chilling effect on teacher motivation or produce perverse incentives, it is important to begin to develop an understanding of how such a policy influences teacher motivation, behavior, and student achievement. This study’s contribution to the field is further enhanced by its research site. An early implementer of teacher evaluation incorporating student performance measures, New Haven Public Schools provides an opportunity to test key assumptions. As an increasing number of states and districts implement teacher evaluation based on student performance, this study will provide early findings about how the people at the center of this reform—teachers—are responding to it. As such, this study may be a helpful resource for leaders across various levels of the educational system.
About Morgaen Donaldson
Morgaen L. Donaldson is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, a research affiliate at the University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, and a research associate at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard University. Morgaen’s teaching and research focus on educator quality, educator evaluation, school and district human capital development, and teachers unions. Her current research, much of it collaborative, examines: New Haven Public Schools’ efforts to develop human capital; the implementation of Connecticut’s new educator evaluation system; the effects of school organization and leadership on science achievement; and the trade-offs associated with different teacher evaluation instruments. Morgaen’s publications have appeared in American Educational Research Journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Educational Administration Quarterly, Teachers College Record, Educational Leadership, and other scholarly and practitioner journals. Her research has been funded by the National Academy of Education/MET Early Career Grant program, the Spencer Foundation, American Association of University Women, the Connecticut legislature, University of Connecticut, and Harvard University. A former public school teacher, Morgaen was a founding faculty member of the Boston Arts Academy, Boston’s public high school for the arts. Morgaen holds an Ed.D. and Ed.M. from Harvard Graduate School of Education and an A.B. from Princeton University.

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