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Teacher evaluation methods in question

Gov. Phil Bredesen was in the Tri-Cities last week to announce that he will exercise his authority to call for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly focusing on education, including both K-12 and higher education.
 At the heart of the session is Bredesen’s recommendation for a new way of evaluating teachers in Tennessee – a method that would use students’ test results as the main form of measuring educators’ success in the classroom.
The special session starts today, coinciding with the start of the regular legislative session.
Local educators are anxiously awaiting the decisions that come out of those meetings.
Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes called the test score method of evaluating teachers’ effectiveness “absurd.”
“Unfortunately, we have come to live and die by standardized testing,” he said. “How successful a student becomes is based on many things. They are with other influences 17 hours of the day while teachers are with them for only seven hours. It is absurd to base the effectiveness of teachers on that one day of testing.
“Teachers do no fear accountability, but they do fear having their accountability and effectiveness measured by inaccurate methods.”
David Crockett High School Principal Carmen Bryant said she welcomes a “more rigorous curriculum and standardization across the state so that parents and students know what is expected.”
But, she warned, using testing data as the main method of evaluation for teachers, “just isn’t good practice.”
Bredesen’s determination to affect change quickly in Tennessee’s educational system appears to hinge on the federal government’s Race to the Top competition where states will compete for a share for more than $4 billion in Recovery Act funds. Race to the Top applications are due on Jan. 19. The U.S. Department of Education has said the states that will be the most competitive will be those that already have policy changes in place at the time of application.
 In order to be competitive for those funds, Bredesen is advocating more vigorous use of student performance databases for teacher evaluation. In order to be in the running for a share of the federal Race to the Top money, the data would need to account for about 50 percent of the evaluation standards, he said.
The compilation of student performance data in grades K-12 was part of the “Value Added Assessment” system, which started in 1992 to try to measure, through standardized testing, the academic gains of students in every classroom.
However, in the past, and as a compromise with the Tennessee Education Association, the statute barred the use of the data as a means for evaluating teachers.
“The way the state evaluates a teacher’s performance right now is the TVAAS assessment – Tennessee Value Added Assessment System,” Bryant said. “When students take an end of course test, there is a score they are expected to get. If they are expected to get a 40, but they only score a 35, which may be passing, this will not score well for the teacher.
“But in other cases, a student who is expected to score a 30 may score a 50. And that is so far above what was expected, that it gives the teacher more points.”
Bryant called the current evaluation system “complicated and confusing” and said she believes a variety of factors lead to a student’s success. While Bryant agreed the current evaluation methods could use some work, “using the results of standardized tests is not a true indicator of how a teacher is doing,” she said.
“For instance, we have a lot of students coming up to the high school that are performing well below their grade level,” Bryant says. “Let’s say they’re performing at a 5th grade level when they get to the 9th grade, but by the end of the year, the teacher has brought them up to a 7th or 8th grade level. That is making wonderful progress, but that won’t be reflected in a standardized test. The standards aren’t a true test.”
Terry Crowe, Jonesborough Middle School principal, agreed that the 50 precent test score evaluation is unbalanced and suggested tracking student progress for at least three years.
“That way you can get a truer view of the student academic progress and all responsibility for their performance won’t land on one teacher,” he said.
Still, Bredesen is saying the time is right to bring student performance back to the table for teacher evaluation — a move, he says, which will offer Tennessee the opportunity to get its share of federal funds.
“Tennessee is really the envy of the national education community because we have one of the oldest and most robust databases of student performance anywhere in the country,” Bredesen said. “What we don’t do, however, is effectively use that information to help improve teacher quality and drive changes in the classrooms.”
The Bredesen administration is in negotiations with TEA to decide how much the data will be factored into teacher evaluation.

Bredesen’s plan:
K-12
–Use student performance data among the factors in deciding whether to grant tenure.
–Require student performance data to be used in evaluating teachers, accounting for at least half of the evaluation criteria.
–Require annual performance assessment of teachers.