Tennessee’s education commissioner says it’s unjustified for critics of the new teacher evaluation system to suggest the department is favoring principals’ feedback over teachers’.
“I actually don’t think that’s fair. We’ve actually talked to thousands of teachers across the state,” Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Wednesday after speaking before a legislative committee about the evaluations.
“Just in the last two months, people on my staff have talked to nearly 2,000 teachers in different forums where they’ve had feedback from lots and lots of teachers,” he told TNReport.
The department began using a new evaluation system this school year that requires school officials to observe and grade teachers four times a year. The system also factors in student scores on standardized tests, which accounts for 35 percent of the teacher’s rating. This has frustrated some teachers in subjects like history and music, which are not tested, because they will be evaluated on scores they have no control over.
Teachers are rated on a scale from 1 to 5, and persistently low scores can mean no tenure or be cause for dismissal.
Some teachers say they’ve been told it’s nearly impossible to score a 4 or 5 on their evaluation.
Huffman told lawmakers on Capitol Hill the department is likely to continue to tweak the system, but has so far decided that administrators should be able to lump two of those observations together in one sitting to save time.
The evaluations are based on a formula lawmakers approved in 2010 to qualify for $500 million in education funds from the federal Race to the Top grant.
“Often times, very good ideas in theory don’t work out in their execution and implementation,” Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said.
“It appears to me that we’ve addressed some of the concerns the principals had, and you said you’re going to tweak this, but if we can make it a better system, and not so burdensome on teachers and let teachers teach, I think we’ll be better off in the long run,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, told the committee.
Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said in a news release Wednesday work on other fronts, such as asking the state to let Tennessee opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind standards, prove the DOE is “actively listening to advice and working to find solutions to ensure fairness in how our education system is evaluated under the federal law.”
“There never will be a perfect evaluation system,” Huffman countered to lawmakers. “If we try to aspire to have a perfect evaluation system, we will never get there.”