Panel Paper: The Malleability of Teacher Practice in Response to Information and Performance Incentives

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 2:05 PM
Aztec (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Melinda Adnot, University of Virginia
Proponents of teacher evaluation systems often cite their potential for improving teaching practice by providing teachers with new information on their performance and increasing accountability.  Indeed, two recent studies offer initial evidence in support of this hypothesis, finding that some teachers receiving a rigorous evaluation are able to substantially improve their performance in the following year (Dee and Wyckoff, 2013; Taylor and Tyler, 2012).

Yet we don’t have a strong understanding of which dimensions of teaching practice are the most malleable in the presence of evaluation and performance incentives and which are more fixed.  The answer to this question has potentially important implications for districts’ hiring, evaluation, and professional development efforts: if some attributes of classroom practice are highly correlated to student outcomes but appear to be fixed, this may suggest that districts prioritize these competencies during selection or explore new strategies to help teachers develop these skills.  Due to the lack of available data on classroom performance to this point, this question has yet to be addressed empirically.

Using a unique three-year panel of data from DCPS’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system, this study explores how teacher practice changes in response to high-stakes evaluation.  I obtain causal estimates from a regression discontinuity (RD) design on the aspects of teaching that appear most malleable when teachers are under threat of dismissal or eligible for a large financial reward.  Preliminary findings indicate that teachers subject to strong incentives are able to significantly improve some aspects of practice but not others, and that the dimensions of practice where we  can detect effects are starkly different for low- and high- performing teachers. 


Dee, T., & Wyckoff, J. (2013).  Incentives, selection, and teacher performance: Evidence from IMPACT. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, no. 19529.

Taylor, E.S, & Tyler, J.H. (2012). The Effect of Evaluation on Teacher Performance. American Economic Review, 102(7), 3628-3651