By Amy Auletto
There are a number of factors that influence how satisfied teachers are with their jobs. Working conditions, such as school facilities, support from administrators, and class size, are important factors that teachers take into consideration when deciding where to work. Other important factors that predict teacher job satisfaction include job security, quality of colleagues, the amount of autonomy teachers have, and whether or not there is opportunity for career advancement.
A new study has found that teacher evaluation policies also have an impact on how satisfied teachers are with their jobs. Researchers recently looked at the impact of Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system on teacher job satisfaction. Using a statistical technique called regression discontinuity (to be described in more detail below), they found that higher effectiveness ratings lead teachers to have more positive perceptions of their jobs. Teachers in Tennessee are assigned one of five effectiveness ratings based on their job performance: Significantly Above Expectation, Above Expectation, At Expectation, Below Expectation, and Significantly Below Expectation. In the spring, after learning what their effectiveness rating was for the prior school year, teachers were asked to indicate their level of agreement with 10 statements capturing their general satisfaction with teaching as well as their satisfaction in their current position. This study found a positive relationship between higher effectiveness ratings and all survey items about satisfaction. Four of these items had particularly strong positive or negative relationships with the effectiveness ratings teacher received:
- Teaching in this school is not worth the stress (negatively associated with effectiveness ratings).
- Teacher believes the staff is satisfied at this school (positively associated with effectiveness ratings).
- Teacher likes how the things are run at this school (positively associated with effectiveness ratings).
- Teacher would like to transfer to another school (negatively associated with effectiveness ratings).
A Brief Lesson in Regression Discontinuity
At first glance, the findings from this study may not seem too surprising. After all, it makes sense that teachers who are receiving higher evaluation scores are probably also happier with their work. The key to this study, however, is the use of regression discontinuity. Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system uses a 0-500 point system to assign teachers their effectiveness ratings. The total points a teacher receives is based a combination of measures, such as classroom observation scores and student test scores. There are cut points for each of the five effectiveness ratings:
- Significantly Below Expectation: less than 200 points
- Below Expectation: 200-274 points
- At Expectation: 275-349 points
- Above Expectation: 350-424 points
- Significantly Above Expectation: 425-500 points
This means that two teachers with nearly the same number of points might end up receiving different effectiveness ratings. For example, one teacher might receive 275 points and therefore be labeled “At Expectation,” while her colleague across the hall received 274 points and is deemed “Below Expectation.” Chances are the performance of these two teachers is really not that different, but because of the cut points assigned to different effectiveness ratings, these teachers are given very different messages about how successful they are in their careers.
Regression discontinuity looks at teachers like these who are right on the cusp between two effectiveness ratings and compares how satisfied they are with their jobs. The idea is that in a scoring system that ranges from 0 to 500 points, there probably isn’t anything all that different about a teacher who scores, say, 348 versus 350 points, or 422 versus 425 points. This means that researchers can attribute any differences in teachers’ levels of satisfaction to the news of their effectiveness ratings as opposed to something about how well they actually perform their jobs.
Implications for Teacher Retention
This study presents some interesting implications for teacher retention. Previous research has shown that job satisfaction is linked to teacher retention. When teachers are unhappy in their positions, they are more likely to quit. When one teacher receives 274 points and is told she is “Below Expectation,” her job satisfaction will be negatively impacted and she will be more likely to quit than her colleague who received 275 points and an “At Expectation” label, despite the fact that these teachers are more or less equal.
As states place more emphasis on formalized teacher evaluation systems with labels such as those used by Tennessee, there may be some unintended consequences for teacher retention. Some teachers who are right on the cusp between two ratings may believe their performance to be weaker, or stronger, than it actually is. School leaders will need to proceed with caution as these teacher evaluation systems are implemented and remain mindful of how they are providing feedback and sharing teacher evaluation outcomes with their teachers.
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