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Lauren Sartain-led project wins AERA award

Team evaluated educators’ perceptions of Chicago’s teacher evaluation system

A study led by faculty member Lauren Sartain has won an award from the American Educational Research Association.

The study, in which a team led by Sartain studied educators’ perceptions of a teacher evaluation system used in Chicago Public Schools, has been chosen as the first place winner for AERA Division H’s Outstanding Publication in the category Assessment and Accountability.

Division H — Research, Evaluation and Assessment in Schools — will present the award during an upcoming online ceremony.

The award recognizes the study “Teacher Evaluation in Chicago Public Schools: Analysis of the REACH Educator Evaluation and Support System Five Years In,” which was published in March 2020 as a research brief by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

Sartain, an assistant professor, came to the School of Education in 2019 from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, where she had worked as a researcher since 2008. Sartain has studied a range of topics around policies and practices that affect teaching in schools, with a focus on work related to equitable access to quality public education.

She has published and presented on a wide range of topics, including teacher quality, school choice and school quality, and discipline reform. Recent work also includes examinations of affirmative action policies aimed at helping diversify student populations within selective high schools and the effects of school closures on the populations of teachers within school districts.

Sartain, L.; Zou, A.; Gutierrez, V.; Shyjka, A.; Hinton, E.; Brown, E.R. & Easton, J.G. Teacher evaluation in CPS: Perceptions of REACH implementation, five years in. UChicago Consortium Research Brief. March 2020.

Studying REACH

Under a legislative mandate, Chicago Public Schools adopted a program called Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago’s Students — or REACH, — which was launched in the 2012-13 school year. Replacing a 45-year-old evaluation system that relied on a once-a-year observation, REACH employs a detailed rubric used by principals and assistant principals to observe and rate teacher practice during multiple classroom observations.

The Sartain-led study, which was funded with grants from the Spencer Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, was drawn from surveys of teachers and administrators on their perceptions of the REACH evaluation system.

The report included these overall observations about the REACH evaluation system:

    • Most teachers and administrators reported that REACH improved instructional practice and student learning.
    • Of all the elements of the REACH evaluation system, administrators and teachers felt that observation scores most accurately captured teacher effectiveness.
    • Teachers and administrators had very different views on whether or not evaluation ratings should influence personnel decisions.
    • About 60% of teachers and 70% of administrators were satisfied with the REACH evaluation process as a whole.

While both teachers and administrators agreed that the evaluation system helped identify specific ways to improve practice, many teachers disagreed that REACH evaluations should be used to determine dismissal or tenure attainment. Only 15% of administrators disagreed.

Sartain has helped conduct additional research into the REACH system, including a paper published in December 2020 that found that lower performance ratings given to Black teachers in the REACH system can be almost entirely explained by the fact that those teachers are more likely to work in higher-poverty schools. The study, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, found that most of the difference in performance ratings between Black and White teachers could be explained by the characteristics of the schools in which teachers work.