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New Teacher Evaluation Criteria Coming This Summer

A panel of educators, public policy officials and business executives say they will devise a plan for implementing new teacher and principal evaluations by August.

Members of the panel charged with reforming the job evaluation processes for thousands of Tennessee teachers and principals are aiming to establish those new guidelines by August.

The Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee will decide exactly what factors will matter under a new set of teacher evaluations lawmakers approved in a special session earlier this year as part of the governor’s push for federal “Race to the Top” education grant monies.

Stronger emphasis will now be placed on student test scores — about 50 percent of a teacher’s yearly job evaluation will be based on the achievement data. Prior to the Legislature adopting the new system earlier this year, it was illegal for school officials to track individual student testing trends to rate a teacher’s job performance.

Now, per the wishes of the governor and a solid bipartisan majority of lawmakers, 35 percent of a teacher’s yearly evaluation must rely on standardized test-based Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, also known as TVAAS. That data shows student growth from year to year.

Another 15 percent would come from other types of student data, including other test scores.

The rest hasn’t been decided — and that’s what the teachers, superintendents, business owners, public policy officials and politicians who make up the panel will have to figure out. They’ll also have to decide how to evaluate teachers who can’t be measured by test scores, such as art or music teachers, kindergarten and first grade teachers, and principals.

That’s actually a pretty tight turnaround for the 15-member committee, Al Mance, executive director for the Tennessee Education Association, said of the August deadline.

“I hope they won’t be discouraged,” said Mance, adding that he’s concerned about the number of decisions the committee members will have to make within the next few months.

The group will also need to devise a way to inform and train educators across the state on how to perform the new yearly evaluations.

“We want our evaluations to mean something,” said Kenny Heaton, who teaches Family and Consumer Sciences at Cloudland High School in Roan Mountain. “It’s got to have teeth.”

Lawmakers decided to redo the current evaluation system to help polish the state’s application for the Obama Administration’s push to “help prepare America’s students to graduate ready for college and career, and enable them to out-compete any worker, anywhere in the world.”

“America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters,” the president declared last summer. “I am issuing a challenge to our nation’s governors and school boards, principals and teachers, businesses and non-profits, parents and students: if you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments; if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom; if you turn around failing schools – your state can win a Race to the Top grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential.”

The program rewards states for using innovative ways to improve education and included an emphasis on using student data.

Earlier this year the feds announced that Tennessee had earned a spot among 16 finalists for a cut of $4.35 billion in bonus education dollars. State education officials testified in Washington this month about dedicating itself to reforms — such as the new teacher evaluations — hoping to convince decision makers to send the money their way.

A final decision from Washington is due out in April, although the U.S. Department of Education hasn’t said how many states it will offer the grant to. If Tennessee is not chosen, it can reapply in June.

Tennessee’s new teacher evaluations will go into effect for the 2011 school year, whether or not the state wins the federal grant money.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com.

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