Improving teacher quality is a leading public policy concern. In recent years using student test scores as part of teachers’ evaluations has become an increasingly popular idea. A new report from experts at the Brookings Institution for Education Next explores another critical tool for improving teacher effectiveness: classroom observations.

For all the popularity of including student test scores, only a relative handful of students are assessed each year depending on the subject and grade level. However, study authors caution that not all classroom observations are created equal. Want to get teacher observations right? Study authors recommend:

Moving from one to two observations increases both the stability and predictive power of observation scores. However, three observations provide as much predictive power as do five, so the researchers recommend two to three annual classroom observations per teacher.

Observations conducted by in-building administrators, such as principals, have less predictive power than observations conducted by evaluators who come from outside the building, such as central administration staff members. As a result, the authors recommend at least one annual observation be conducted by “a trained observer from outside the teacher’s school without substantial prior knowledge of, or conflict of interest with respect to, the teacher being observed.”

The study’s lead author, Russ Whitehurst notes that “the move toward meaningful teacher evaluation is to assure greater equity in students’ access to good teachers,” and concludes that this research “provides reasons for optimism that new, meaningful evaluation systems can be designed and implemented by individual districts.”

Helping teachers improve through classroom observations is good for teachers and students, and is a sensible way to raise effectiveness year after year, while nurturing talent within schools.