Proposed Changes to Teacher Evaluation Process OK’d

The Tennessee State Board of Education approved a streamlining adjustment Friday in the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

The shift would allow two observations of teachers to be conducted in one block of time.

Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman proposed the changes to the controversial teacher-effectiveness rating procedures (pdf), which were heavily discussed in a workshop by the board at the Tennessee School Boards Association offices in Nashville on Thursday and voted on in a meeting at Legislative Plaza on Friday.

“I think it’s important that we make these changes,” Fielding Rolston, chairman of the board, said Friday. “But I think it’s also important that we continue to assess what’s happening out there and what kind of results we are getting and work toward improving these models, as appropriate.”

The original system calls for teachers to be observed by principals, assistant principals and others trained to do the observations in four areas: planning, environment, professionalism and instruction. Tenured teachers are to be observed four times, while non-tenured teachers are observed six times.

But education officials have heard substantial negative feedback about how time-consuming the original set of evaluations have been. Huffman’s proposal approved Friday calls for school districts to have the ability to opt into a system where observations in two different areas could be combined, such as conducting the instructional and environmental observations in one block of time. This would also reduce the number of pre- and post-conference meetings involved. It does not decrease the number of observations.

“Principals have noted this would significantly reduce the amount of time required and would also give them much greater flexibility,” Commissioner Huffman said at Thursday’s workshop.

By combining two observations into one period, it could give the feeling there were fewer observations, Huffman said. He said he believed most school districts would allow the principals to adhere to the changes available.

“We’ve heard from directors and principals and teachers that the number of observations in many cases is causing folks to have real challenges around time management,” Sara Heyburn, a policy advisor for the Department of Education, said at the board meeting Friday.

“So what this would do is not change the number of required observations so much as allow several of the discreet observation activities to be conducted in one classroom observation. Specifically, that would mean that a principal could observe the instruction domain in conjunction with either the planning or environment.”

A separate change approved by the board Friday will have the Department of Education publish an anticipated range of evaluation results then monitor scores to enforce consistent application of standards. Districts where evaluation scores are deemed out of line with expectations would receive additional training and could not be approved to use alternative evaluation models.

The changes were approved on a voice vote, with no objections.

Heyburn told the board Friday that members could expect more reports and updates on what is going on in the field in the evaluation process.

The teacher evaluation system has the subject of great controversy, as legislators heard in a House Education Committee hearing this week. Teachers have expressed concern about how the process is going, and there remains considerable skepticism about a part of the plan that calls for evaluations based on data that does not apply to some specific teachers.

Under the overall system, 50 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation is based on observation data, 35 percent on student growth as determined by value-added scores and the other 15 percent from other achievement information.

The evaluations are part of the state’s First to the Top initiative, launched from Tennessee’s victory in acquiring $500 million in the federal Race to the Top competition in 2010. That initiative called for yearly teacher evaluations.

“I think it’s terribly important that we listen and see if there are changes that can be made,” Rolston said Friday. “The feedback that I get is everybody is supportive of the need for the evaluation. It’s just getting the process perfected, so it works the way we would like for it to work.”