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Vanderbilt University research reveals race and gender gap in Tennessee teacher evaluations

Researchers said that Black and male teachers in Tennessee have received lower observation scores than White and female teachers every year since the system started.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that Black men consistently received lower scores compared to White women in teacher evaluations, across every observation system and school level in Tennessee. They found that White women score, on average, around 0.3 points higher than Black men and a scale of 1 to 5.

"I think what we're hoping to do with this research is spark a conversation about fairness and equity in teacher evaluations," said one researcher.

Their study says certified evaluators, who are usually principals or assistant principals, use one of the state's approved observation rubrics to evaluate teachers. The most common one is the TEAM rubric, used to evaluate more than 80% of teachers each year.

It has four categories: instruction, planning, environment and professionalism. The first three are scored from classroom observations throughout the year, which the fourth is scored at the end of the school year. Categories also contain several indicators evaluators are meant to use when assigning a score from 1 to 5.

The study analyzed administrative data from the Tennessee Department of Education from all school years from 2011 through 2019, including information about educator demographics. Through this analysis, researchers said they found several gaps related to race and gender in the system.

Most male teachers earned a cumulative, average final score of 3.7 in their evaluations in 2012. However, women teachers received around a 3.9 final score that same year.

The trend continued, with a gap of around 0.2 points between men and women teachers. A similar trend was found between White and Black teachers.

"I thought that I was doing a really good job," said one Black teacher in Knoxville. "But that wasn't as reflected in the observation scores as I thought they should be."

Black teachers earned around 3.75 as a final score in 2012, and around 3.95 as a final score in 2019. However, White teachers earned around 3.9 in 2012 and around 4.1 in 2019.

The study also found that Black and male teachers received lower observation scores than White and female teachers, even when they have similar qualifications and their students achieved similar test scores.

Researchers said that the racial gap in Black teacher evaluations could partly be caused by differences in the type of schools most teach in. They said 71% of students in a typical Black teacher's school were eligible for free and reduced lunch, compared to around 50% in a typical White teacher's school.

"If serving students in poverty affects teachers' observation scores, Black teachers' tendency to be in schools with higher community poverty could lower their scores," the study says.

State policy says that the number of times a teacher is observed for scoring purposes varies according to their licensure status and prior-year performance, according to the researchers.

The scores can also be used to inform how much teachers are paid, their retention, placement and other personnel decisions.