This study examines validity evidence of a state policy-directed teacher evaluation system implemented in Arizona during school year 2012-2013. The purpose was to evaluate the warrant for making high stakes, consequential judgments of teacher competence based on value-added (VAM) estimates of instructional impact and observations of professional practice (PP). The research also explores educator influence (voice) in evaluation design and the role information brokers have in local decision making. Findings are situated in an evidentiary and policy context at both the LEA and state policy levels.
The study employs a single-phase, concurrent, mixed-methods research design triangulating multiple sources of qualitative and quantitative evidence onto a single (unified) validation construct: Teacher Instructional Quality. It focuses on assessing the characteristics of metrics used to construct quantitative ratings of instructional competence and the alignment of stakeholder perspectives to facets implicit in the evaluation framework. Validity examinations include assembly of criterion, content, reliability, consequential and construct articulation evidences. Perceptual perspectives were obtained from teachers, principals, district leadership, and state policy decision makers. Data for this study came from a large suburban public school district in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona.
Study findings suggest that the evaluation framework is insufficient for supporting high stakes, consequential inferences of teacher instructional quality. This is based, in part on the following: (1) Weak associations between VAM and PP metrics; (2) Unstable VAM measures across time and between tested content areas; (3) Less than adequate scale reliabilities; (4) Lack of coherence between theorized and empirical PP factor structures; (5) Omission/underrepresentation of important instructional attributes/effects; (6) Stakeholder concerns over rater consistency, bias, and the inability of test scores to adequately represent instructional competence; (7) Negative sentiments regarding the system's ability to improve instructional competence and/or student learning; (8) Concerns regarding unintended consequences including increased stress, lower morale, harm to professional identity, and restricted learning opportunities; and (9) The general lack of empowerment and educator exclusion from the decision making process. Study findings also highlight the value of information brokers in policy decision making and the importance of having access to unbiased empirical information during the design and implementation phases of important change initiatives.