• Print

    Study: De-emphasize test scores for most Tennessee teachers

    The Commercial Appeal -

    Teaching is improving across Tennessee with the introduction of new evaluation methods, and it will continue improving with the adoption of a set of recommended changes, a Nashville-based education reform group said Monday.

    Many teachers aren't sold on the process, conceded the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a group founded by former U.S. senator Bill Frist and headed by former state Senate Education Committee chair Jamie Woodson.

    Some teachers contacted during the five-month, privately funded study of the system, requested by Gov. Bill Haslam, said the system left them feeling "reduced to a number" and up against expectations that are impossible to meet.

    Using school-wide student progress data to count for 35 percent of the evaluations of teachers for whom individual student progress records are not available, teachers said, is not fair.

    SCORE took the complaints seriously, including among its recommendations that without sufficient quantitative data available for most Tennessee teachers -- Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System data -- there should be heavier reliance on qualitative data, such as the results of classroom observations by principals.

    The recommendation went to the heart of an ongoing concern among Memphis teachers who don't have value-added data available, said Memphis Education Association executive director Ken Foster.

    The MEA, however, objects to the value-added system's effort to project future performance by students, suggesting that in lieu of valued-added data a better measure of success would be pre- and post-course testing.

    Foster said SCORE's first two recommendations -- to make sure current and prospective teachers and leaders receive sufficient training in the evaluation system and link feedback that teachers receive with high-quality professional development -- also address prominent teacher concerns.

    "Our position from the beginning was that since principals received training, had to pass a test and had to go back various times to do what they're were supposed to do, but teachers were never really trained on it like principals, that was wrong," Foster said.

    Overall, however, SCORE reported a lot of positive feedback on the evaluation system across the state.

    Educators understand better what constitutes effective teaching, SCORE concluded. They're getting better feedback on their performance and engaging in more self-reflection and collaboration. Their principals and other evaluators feel that the system is raising student achievement.

    But there is plenty of room for improvements, SCORE officials said, also listing:

    Support for school and district leaders to become strong instructional leaders capable of assessing and developing effective teaching.

    Re-engaging educators in districts where implementation of the teacher evaluation system has faltered during its first year.

    Continuous improvement of the teacher evaluation system at the state, district, and school levels.

    "I appreciate SCORE's work in traveling the state and listening to feedback from educators on teacher evaluations," Haslam said. "We will review these recommendations along with the state Department of Education's internal review of the process, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

    -- Michael Kelley: (901) 529-2785