Pennsylvania policymakers made an important leap forward in the quest to improve our public schools. They adopted a state-of-the-art, data-driven system to recognize teachers’ success in the classroom.

For years, we’ve used a blunt instrument to assess teachers’ performance: simply giving them a “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” rating, with little attention paid to how much their students are really learning. This thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach resulted in 99 percent of teachers being deemed effective enough to stay in the classroom, which we know just can’t be true in a state where only 38 percent of our eighth-graders are proficient readers.

Beginning in the 2013–2014 school year, teachers will finally be evaluated under a system that acknowledges what everyone knows: teachers perform across a variety of skill levels.

That’s why our state plans to evaluate teachers according to four tiers—distinguished, proficient, needs improvement and failing—with 50 percent of the final rating accounting for multiple measures of student achievement, such as performance on state assessments, learn- ing growth, graduation rates and progress on individualized education plans. This new approach treats teachers like professionals and right-fully places student learning at the top of our priorities when considering a teacher’s success.

But this system is only the foundation. Now that we can more accurately identify great teachers, we must use this data to do everything we can to reward them and keep them in the classroom. That means making sure that when a principal is forced to lay off their staff in tough economic times, they are given the flexibility to keep the best performers even if they are not the most senior employees. Using this data wisely also means making tenure a career step that signals true professional excellence, not just time on the job.

Our children’s future—and Pennsylvania’s economy—depends on teachers, and we should value them accordingly. Check out our research on how PA can Reward Excellence: Keeping & Rewarding Pennsylvania’s Best Teachers.

Publish date: March 2013 Number of pages: 13