The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA — the main federal education law) was signed into law at the end of 2015, but schools and districts have until the 2017-2018 school year to begin implementing their plans to comply with it.

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How it addresses teacher professional growth and evaluation, and as schools and districts prepare to implement it, it is worth understanding how they may make the best use of their existing investments in those areas.

This brief, which draws on data from a large survey of secondary school teachers and principals conducted by MDRC in the spring of 2016, discusses how existing evaluation and support systems could be better used to realize the new law’s vision of teacher improvement.

The data from the survey suggest that if districts wish to move toward the type of continuous growth opportunities for teachers that ESSA envisions, they could do so by investing in additional training for school leaders; such training would be intended to help them use existing teacher evaluation systems to identify teachers’ needs and connect them with professional development opportunities.

Professional Development: ESSA states that professional development should be a sustained endeavor that is embedded in teachers’ jobs and that is part of a broader school or district improvement plan.
Teacher Evaluation: While NCLB itself did not explicitly require teacher evaluations, federal initiatives during the NCLB era, including Race to the Top and NCLB waivers — gave states and districts strong incentives to revamp their teacher evaluation systems.

Overall, this survey of secondary school principals and teachers suggests that these districts have achieved the evaluation goals established over the last several years by a variety of education policies. They do have robust evaluation systems in place and the majority of administrators feel prepared to use them. However, they are not necessarily making full use of teacher evaluations as opportunities for teachers to grow.

Districts could do more to build on their existing systems and to use evaluations to guide teachers’ professional develop- ment, fostering a cycle of continual improvement like that envisioned by ESSA. Specifically, districts could provide additional assistance to school leaders to ensure that evaluations yield concrete suggestions for how teachers can improve their practice.

There is evidence to suggest when principals are trained to provide suggestions to teachers based on structured observations, students do better.

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