TN Teacher Evals Discussed in WSJ

Two Memphis music teachers and Tennessee’s top education official are featured in a Wall Street Journal story today tracking teacher evaluation efforts across the country.

The story looks at the challenge of using tests in evaluating educators when standardized tests don’t generally cover social studies or science, focusing instead on reading and math. There’s also the potential for parent revolt, as in the case of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ failed attempt to test every single kindergartner one at a time.

Here’s the Tennessee connection:

Memphis music teacher Jeff Chipman is part of a small group of teachers piloting the new assessment based on student portfolios, and he acknowledges the district’s challenges.

“We are about teaching kids to perform and experience art, and that cannot be measured with a pencil-and-paper test,” he said. “We want to be evaluated on how we help kids grow, but we don’t want to turn the arts program into a testing machine.”

The story carries a photo of another Memphis music teacher, Anthony Q. Richardson, at the piano against the backdrop of instructional posters on rhythm, and Tennessee’s education commissioner chimes in to put a positive spin on the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

“No system is perfect, but the question is whether the one we have now is better and more fair than the previous one,” Commissioner Kevin Huffman tells the Journal. “And the answer is, indisputably, yes.”

Last year Tennessee adopted a plan for more frequent evaluations of teachers tied to student test scores along with a lengthier process to attain tenure. The policies stem directly from the state’s winning $501 million in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition.

The state’s major teachers union – winded after a serious blow to its power last year – has continued to push back against the new system. Tennesseans, meanwhile, are withholding judgment.