In this video, Lyndsey Nelson, a Stand intern and graduate student at the University of Washington’s Masters in Education Policy program, visits Seattle schools and talks with teachers and principals about their perspectives on how the new performance evaluations are affecting their teaching, how the evaluations are affecting student learning and what challenges they expect as the school district fully implements the new system. 


In the 2010-11 school year, select Seattle teacher and principals began piloting a promising new teacher evaluation system using the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching and new measures of performance. The pilot program was the result of contract negotiations between the Seattle Education Association (SEA) and Seattle Public Schools (SPS). Starting in the fall of 2012, all Seattle teachers will begin using the new performance evaluations. 


There is plenty of research to show that teachers are the single most important factor in a student’s learning.[i] But the research also shows that previous evaluations weren’t giving teachers the feedback they need to refine and improve their teaching.[ii] 

Previous evaluations in Seattle were based on a two-tiered system of unsatisfactory or satisfactory, with over 99% of teachers labeled satisfactory .[iii], [iv]  As a result, the evaluations were of little significance and weren’t taken seriously.

Recognizing that they could do better, Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Education Association all made a commitment to design stronger performance evaluations to provide more useful feedback to foster teachers’ professional growth and improve student learning.

The danielson framework

The new evaluations use a common language and framework to identify teachers’ and principals’ strengths and weaknesses. By using a common language, the evaluations become a collaborative tool to facilitate conversations between professionals about teaching and learning.  

The new evaluations are based on Charlotte Danielson’s nationally respected Framework for Teaching. The Danielson Framework is composed of four domains: 1) Planning and Preparation, 2) Classroom Environment, 3) Instruction, and 4) Professional Responsibilities. Each domain is sub-divided into 22 smaller components that illustrate effective practice.


Principals observe teachers in the classroom and then use the Danielson framework to rank each aspect of their practice as either Unsatisfactory, Basic, Proficient or Innovative. Teachers also set student performance goals in consultation with their administrators. Throughout the year, teachers and principals monitor progress on these goals and teachers are evaluated on whether their goals were met at the end of the year.

Last year, Seattle also began incorporating student growth measures on standardized math and reading tests, making Seattle one of the first districts in Washington to evaluate teachers, in part, on how much students are learning in the classroom. The school district and the teachers union worked together to create this model for measuring student growth. Learn more about Seattle’s student growth model.


All of the teachers and principals interviewed agreed that the new evaluations are a step in the right direction.

Having a common language inside and across schools makes it easier to talk with peers and supervisors about best practices. The common language of the Danielson Framework also allows better understanding of expectations and goal setting, which improves collaboration between the central office, building leaders, and teachers.

The Danielson Framework more clearly defines the professional roles of teachers and principals. This clear role definition helps educators pinpoint areas for improvement so they can seek specific help and professional development. Better teachers beget better students – as teachers improve their practice with more meaningful professional development, these better teachers will help students achieve better results.


The previous system for evaluating principals suffered from the same problems that plagued the old teacher evaluation system, and the Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools and Seattle Public Schools agreed to tackle the problem in their most recent contract. Like teacher evaluations, new principal evaluations will also be based on a common framework for leadership and will use student growth as one measure of performance.


While the new performance evaluation system has many strengths, Seattle teachers and principals are concerned about the workload. Educators time is already consumed with instructional and managerial tasks.

Adding meaningful evaluations requires teachers and principals to invest more time, especially as the system is first implemented. Principal and teacher buy-in is also a challenge, as practitioners need to learn and trust the new system.


The evaluations provide meaningful information to support and recognize teachers. Teachers who receive unsatisfactory or basic ratings can receive professional development funds and training tailored to improving their practice.  Teachers with Innovative ratings receive positive recognition for their efforts, and are eligible for leadership opportunities, such a becoming mentors, as well as receiving additional compensation if they are teaching in low-performing (level 1) school. 

Under SB 5895, passed in 2012 by the state legislature, the school district will soon start considering evaluations when making staffing and placement decisions.


Seattle has been designing and piloting its new evaluation system parallel to other efforts across the state to build better teacher and principal performance evaluations.

In 2010 and 2012, the Washington State Legislature required school districts to work with educators on developing evaluations that provide more useful feedback to teachers and principals and include measures of student learning.

Because of the collaboration between the school district and the teachers union on their pilot project, Seattle is starting off ahead of the curve. Recent legislation may require the Seattle school district to tweak its system, but many of the key elements are already in place.

Learn More

Learn more about Stand's work on SB 5895

Learn more about Washington's teacher & principal performance evaluations at


[i] Gordon, Kane, and Staiger. Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job. (The Brookings Institute, 2006).

[ii] Weisberg, Sexton, Mulhern, and Keeling. The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness (The New Teacher Project, 2009).

[iii] The National Council on Teacher Quality’s Human Capital in Seattle Schools: Rethinking How to Attract, Develop, and Retain Effective Teachers (2009).

[iv] Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Washington State School District Teacher and Prin­cipal Evaluation Survey Results, 2009-10 (2011).


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