A new report released this week by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation confirms what most of us have suspected for quite some time: Test scores alone are not enough to measure a teacher’s true performance and effectiveness in the classroom.

In fact, the report says tests should not represent more than half the total teacher evaluation score.

The three-year project, Measures of Effective Teaching, identified great teaching by combining three types of measures. In the first year of the study, teaching practice was measured using a combination of student surveys, classroom observations, and student achievement gains.

Then, in the second year, teachers were randomly assigned to different classrooms of students. The students’ outcomes were later measured using state tests and supplemental assessments. The teachers whose students did better during the first year of the project also had students who performed better following random assignment. Moreover, the magnitude of the achievement gains they generated aligned with the predictions, according to the foundation.

The report shows that a more balanced approach — which incorporates the student survey data and classroom observations — has two important advantages: ratings are less likely to fluctuate from year to year, and the combination is more likely to identify teachers with better outcomes on assessments other than the state tests.

One of the new conclusions of the report is that having a second person, other than the principal, evaluate a teacher greatly enhances reliability.

“If we want students to learn more, teachers must become students of their own teaching. They need to see their own teaching in a new light,” Tom Kane, professor of Education and Economics at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and leader of the MET project, said in a release. “This is not about accountability. It’s about providing the feedback every professional needs to strive toward excellence.”

Of course, good feedback is only one element in identifying and ensuring effective teaching practices. Equally important is using that feedback for more targeted professional development to help teachers improve.

A recent opinion piece in the New York Daily News summed it up best:

“Evaluation alone doesn’t make teachers better. It is what school leaders do with that information to provide educators with better training that will make the difference. We must concentrate our efforts in this area now. If not, we risk having an evaluation system that prioritizes accountability but leaves teachers without the support they need to grow and improve.”

That’s according to Dave Levin, cofounder of KIPP charter schools, and Tim Daly, president of TNTP, an organization that helps recruit and train teachers.

They conclude that, “With teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluation in the spotlight, the focus on accountability needs to be augmented by a reinvigorated and re-imagined effort to invest in the development and success of our educators. Our children will realize their potential when we help our teachers realize theirs.”

We couldn’t agree more.

— The Brattleboro (Vt.) Reformer