The Year 1 Report on implementation of Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system makes some noteworthy observations and recommendations, including the following statement:
“Most teachers in Tennessee are performing at a high level as measured by their impact on student achievement. The majority of teachers in the state are not simply adequate, but exceed expectations against high standards.”
TEA applauds the report’s recognition of the need to identify additional growth measures for teachers of grades and subjects not currently tested by the state, as well as of the importance of providing professional development tailored to individual teacher needs as identified through classroom observations.
At the same time, TEA has reservations about the report’s over-emphasis on—and preference for—TVAAS data compared to observation data. When the First to the Top Act was developed and approved by the legislature in 2010, the intent was to create a robust evaluation system based on multiple measures of teacher effectiveness. To accomplish this, a balance was struck between qualitative data (observations, for example) and quantitative data (measures of student achievement) with each type of data to be weighted equally (at 50 percent). At the same time, the quantitative data was intended to be based on more than one measure of student achievement.
With this in mind, among the recommendations in the report which TEA finds troubling are:
- The suggestion that the number of options for the 15 percent student achievement data should be limited or removed entirely as a component of the evaluation system represents a lack of understanding of its purpose and an unwillingness to do the hard work of thoughtfully developing this into a meaningful measure worthy of including in the evaluation system.
- The recommendation to change the law so as to end the prohibition on including test scores from special education students in individual teacher value-added scores also represents an overly simplistic solution to a very complex problem. We must find an equitable and effective means for measuring growth of students with special needs. Because of the tremendous variation among such students, a much more nuanced solution must be found than the one-size-fits-all approach of simply including their test scores along with the scores of all other students in calculating individual teacher value-added scores.
Finally, TEA believes the report makes a serious omission when it fails to address the principal evaluation system or make any recommendations for its improvement. The role of principals as instructional leaders—and the potential for the evaluation system to help them improve in this critical function—should not be overlooked as it can have a significant impact on student achievement in Tennessee’s schools and classrooms.
Educators and education stakeholders have learned a great deal about educator evaluation during the first year of implementation of Tennessee’s new teacher and principal evaluation system. As we refine the system moving forward, students and teachers will be best served if we avoid quick and simple solutions to vexing problems in favor of solutions which are carefully developed and research-based.