Despite the clear link between quality instruction and student achievement, Minnesota schools generally do a mediocre job evaluating how well instruction is being delivered.

That's in part because Minnesota is among about half the states that do not require annual evaluations for tenured teachers. That means many educators stop receiving regular appraisals after just three years on the job.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute all recently gave Minnesota a D on its teacher evaluation systems.

And one of the reasons the state missed out on Race to the Top federal funds was because of poor instructor assessments.

That must change.

To improve instruction, teachers must receive regular, meaningful assessments and support to help them improve. They should also be rewarded for excellence and counseled out of their jobs if they prove ineffective.

Pending legislative proposals would wisely address those issues. One Republican-sponsored bill would require annual teacher evaluations that are at least 40 percent based on student growth.

Teachers would be rated based on effectiveness, and those confidential ratings would determine whether they received bonuses or kept their jobs. Another proposal from House DFLers is less prescriptive, but still calls for regular reviews.

Legislators can find room to compromise on a plan that requires annual reviews based to some degree on student performance. Fair, multiple-measure evaluations should be used to inform decisions about promotion, compensation, improvement plans or dismissal.

Minnesota isn't alone on this front.

In 2009, the New Teacher Project studied teacher evaluation systems in four states and 12 school districts nationally.

Their "Widget Effect" report found that assessment practices are broken; they tend to treat all teachers the same -- whether or not students learn. The study said too many evaluations fail to provide teachers with the support they want and need to improve their performance.

In its examination of Minneapolis, the project found similar problems. About two-thirds of Minneapolis teachers and 96 percent of principals supported regular evaluations and said they were essential to building and maintaining effective teaching teams.

In addition, surveys of administrators and teachers show that even many of those who do complete reviews don't find them useful. Both supervisors and the staff members they evaluate say they often leave performance review sessions without a strong sense of where they stand or clear direction about how to improve.

In addition to the GOP and DFL plans, the state Chamber of Commerce, the MinnCAN education reform advocacy group, the Education Minnesota teachers union and Gov. Mark Dayton have recommendations for a state approach to teacher evaluation.

There is wide agreement that the state needs a better system of assessing teachers.

So as lawmakers work out the details of the K-12 bill in conference committee, they should follow the example they set earlier this session when they approved alternative teacher licensing and find common ground on an effective evaluation system.

* * *

To offer an opinion considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please fill out this form. Follow us on Twitter @StribOpinion and Facebook at