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Evaluating Teachers

February 29, 2012

If you’re not a Tennessee educator, you may not be aware of the enormous changes that recently were brought to teacher evaluations in my state.  As part of our winning Race to the Top application, the state committed to re-vamping the manner in which teachers are evaluated in Tennessee.

I have recently had the opportunity to speak and write about the strengths and opportunities of the new system.  Below is a response to Representative Mike Stewart after a listening session he held back in December concerning this evaluation system (it should be noted that Rep. Stewart is a staunch opponent of the evaluation system).

First of all:  I am in favor of effective teaching.  Therefore, I support meaningful teacher evaluations.

In my opinion, the rubric is a major strength of this system.  It is a useful tool for professional development, as it effectively and explicitly outlines the major areas of effective teaching.  It is overwhelming at first glance, but given time and support to comprehend, the rubric can be a rich resource for teachers to improve their practice.

The part of this process that needs to be improved is the consistency of implementation.  In my experience, the consistency of evaluators’ expectations is the biggest problem.  There are also issues around the consistency of expectations from school to school and district to district.  If this is a system that will be used to compare teachers throughout the state, it MUST be implemented consistently.

The idea that effective teachers improve student achievement is central to this evaluation model.  Therefore, it makes sense to have 50% of the teacher’s evaluation score be rooted in student growth and achievement. However, as a teacher, I am concerned for the implementation of this in coming years.  Tennessee has committed to implementing the Common Core standards next year, but has not developed an assessment for these new standards.  I will be expected to teach my students one set of standards, while having them perform on a test based on old standards.  We will teach one thing, but my effectiveness will be related to an antiquated assessment.  Please consider how this will be addressed.

Now, there’s a double-edged sword of sorts with this system, as well.  When I heard about the development of the system, I was excited about the frequent and meaningful interactions with school leaders.  However, in practice, this has become a huge burden for administrators.  I do not believe that this means the number of interactions should be decreased.  These interactions and conversations about teaching are the single most valuable element of this evaluation system.  They are also the most burdensome.

Here’s a solution I would propose:  outsource one to two of the observations for each teacher.  Have an outside evaluator (who are hired and managed by the state of Tennessee) come in to the school and complete an evaluation for each teacher.  This gives the teacher some outside feedback and a new perspective that could be very valuable.  It would also increase the level of consistency throughout the state, while significantly reducing the burden on building administrators.

I am also in favor of making this year a state-wide pilot of this system.  It is not ready to be used for decisions on employment status.

Thank you again for your time and I look forward to seeing how teacher evaluations are improved in Tennessee!

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