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Teacher Evaluation and Retention: What the Research Shows

Research has identified teacher effectiveness as the most important driver of student achievement. That makes the retention of good teachers a high priority for school districts. Two recent studies explore the role of teacher evaluation in retaining good teachers. And a meta-analysis contributes to the understanding of why teachers stay or leave.

In Is Effective Teacher Evaluation Sustainable?, Thomas Dee of Stanford University, Jessalynn James of Brown University, and Jim Wyckoff of the University of Virginia, found that after a decade, the IMPACT teacher evaluation system in the District of Columbia is encouraging some low-performing teachers to leave the school district and prompting others to improve their performance. In a related study, Teacher Evaluation and Teacher Turnover, James and Wyckoff find that D.C.’s relatively high rate of teacher turnover is largely the result of these low performers leaving. Their departure leads to better student achievement.

A recent meta-analysis, synthesizing data from 120 studies, bears out that finding, reporting that teacher performance evaluations do not appear to negatively affect teacher attrition but may improve the workforce by keeping the most effective teachers and removing the most ineffective teachers. In  The Factors of Teacher Attrition and Retention: An Updated and Expanded Meta-Analysis of the Literature,. Tuan Nguyen of Kansas State University, Lam Pham and Michael Crouch of Vanderbilt University, Mathew Springer of the University of North Carolina also found that average teacher turnover rate has climbed to 15 percent in recent years. That trend is negatively associated with student achievement, even for students whose teachers did not leave.

The meta-analysis also reported that many teachers leave because of personal reasons, particularly for higher paying jobs. Attrition is higher among teachers in STEM fields or specialty courses because they have more access to better jobs. Job satisfaction plays a key role, too. Attrition is lower when teachers are satisfied with effective disciplinary systems, administrative support, professional development, and adequate teaching materials.