By Tony Gonzalez, The Tennessean
Tennessee's new way of evaluating classrooms "systematically
failed" to identify bad teachers and provide them more training,
according to a state report published Monday.
Tennessee Department of Education found that instructors who got
failing grades when measured by their students' test scores tended to
get much higher marks from principals who watched them in classrooms.
State officials expected to see similar scores from both methods.
are telling teachers they exceed expectations in their observation
feedback when in fact student outcomes paint a very different picture,"
the report states. "This behavior skirts managerial responsibility."
The data revealed:
More than 75 percent of teachers received scores of 4 or 5 - the
highest possible - from their principals, compared with 50 percent
scoring 4 or 5 based on student learning gains measured on tests.
• Fewer than 2.5 percent scored a 1 or 2 when observed, while 16 percent scored a 1 or 2 when judged by learning gains.
• Of teachers who received the learning gains score of 1, the average observational score was, on average, 3.6.
In this first state review of evaluations - launched last summer - the education
department suggests some principals will need to be trained again on
how to observe teachers. It's one of numerous recommendations in a
45-page report that captures thousands of teacher and administrator
responses to the evaluation program.
The State Board of Education will consider revisions July 27. Some require General Assembly approval.
federal Race to the Top grant spurred Tennessee to create an evaluation
system tied, in part, to student test scores. Every teacher is
evaluated every year, receiving a score between 1 and 5. Teachers can be
denied tenure, or lose it, if they score score 1s or 2s for two
consecutive years. Some educators criticized the system
as being unfair, time-consuming and rushed into place, and they
unsuccessfully pushed for the first year's results to be considered a
Half of each evaluation is based on observations. The
other half comes from standardized tests and other measures of student
But almost two-thirds of instructors don't teach
subjects that show up on state standardized tests, so for those teachers
- including in kindergarten through second grade, and in subjects like
art and foreign languages - a score is applied based on the entire
school's learning gains, which the state calls its "value-added score."
report recommends relying less on the schoolwide scores, which many
teachers fault for failing to capture their individual work. The state
suggests bringing in other types of tests to measure these teachers.
suggestion drew the most praise from Carol Schmoock, assistant
executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, which has
repeatedly advocated for fairness in the new evaluation system.
also applauded a recommendation that principals be allowed to spend
less time evaluating teachers who scored well and more time with
teachers who need more training.
But Schmoock took issue with the suggestion that too many teachers received passing marks when observed by principals.
quite an indictment of teachers," she said. "There's a suggestion that
the data from the (test) scores is superior to the data from the
observations, and we're not at all sure that is true."
education department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said it's reasonable to
expect teachers who do well on observations to also post high
"If we don't have the tough conversations and
help teachers who may be struggling, they won't get the training that
they need," she said.
Schmoock contested the report's suggestion
that Tennessee has more low-performing teachers than demonstrated in
observations. "It just could be that all the processes we have in place
of preparing teachers may be working," she said.
The state is also
pushing for ways to make sure districts across the state evaluate
teachers consistently, although the report doesn't say exactly how to do
this beyond increasing training for evaluators.
During the school
year, state officials who reviewed ongoing evaluations approached some
districts to question when principals awarded a high percentage of
scores of 4 and 5.
Williamson County Schools Director Mike Looney,
for example, had to answer questions when county principals rated 97
percent of teachers a 3 or higher. Monday's data wasn't broken down by
The state had predicted the best districts would rate, at
most, 85 percent of teachers at 3s or higher. No district that submitted
midpoint data hit all of the state's predicted ranges.
confident that the observation scores and the evaluation scores are
reflective of the hard work our teachers did here this year," Looney
said. He praised the state education department for gathering school
district leaders' opinions.
"On the surface, it appears the department has listened to some feedback," he said.
state is also looking for clarity regarding when officials can
intervene in districts with a wide gap between value-added and
Fifteen percent of a teacher's overall score
is derived by a measure of his or her choosing, with options including
ACT scores and graduation rates. Teachers tended to choose the method
that would most help their scores, the state found.
The report outlines numerous other changes, and anticipates what could be annual tweaks.
first year drew feedback that included conversations with every school
district superintendent, 7,500 conversations with teachers and 17,000
teacher and administrator surveys.
Educators wanted ways to
streamline the evaluation process. Principals found their time consumed
by class visits, with some responsible for as many as 36 teachers, but
they may get a break.
High-scoring teachers may get the chance to
undergo fewer observations and to choose to use their value-added scores
for 100 percent of their overall scores.
Commissioner Kevin Huffman has said the evaluation system would likely
be reviewed annually. He was not available Monday.
"No one thinks that work is done," Gauthier said. "But I think we're moving in the right direction."