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Teacher Evaluation Panel Hashes Out First Set of Recommendations

Teachers and state officials are beginning to draft up a broad set of recommendations to the Board of Education outlining how educators will be evaluated under a new system triggered by the federal Race to the Top grant.

The committee revamping the evaluation processes for teachers in the state is expected to submit its recommendations to the Tennessee Board of Education later this month.

Currently under review are a number of changes in how Tennessee teachers are graded. The overhaul is part of the state’s first official step in implementing the education reforms called for by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant.

The biggest snag in the drafted proposal concerns the newly revamped job evaluations that will soon happen every year with every teacher.

Members of the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee said Thursday during a teleconference they are worried that principals — who now observe and evaluate beginning teachers annually during their first three years and tenured educators once every five years — will find the new system time consuming. The draft proposal includes a provision that they sit in on at least four classes per teacher a year.

“I’m not sure there’s enough hours in the day,” said Rep. Mark Maddox, a Dresden Democrat and technology coordinator for Weakley County Schools. The state may need to shorten the amount of time a principal is required to observe in a classroom or “we’re going to have a nice revolt.”

What the committee needs to do is change the definition of “observation” so educators at all levels are no longer expected to sit through full class periods during each visit, he said.

The drafted proposal is still being negotiated within the 15-member advisory committee, although Thursday’s teleconferenced meeting attracted only seven members.

The body — made up of appointed teachers, principals, businessmen and public officials — hopes to come to a consensus on the recommendations July 22.

The proposal comes six months after the Tennessee Legislature, at the urging of Gov. Phil Bredesen, revised the teacher grading process in order to better position Tennessee to snatch up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding dangled before the states to entice them into embracing education reforms favored by the Obama administration.

The state also promised to take over poorly performing schools and assign them new management teams and focus specifically on teaching science, technology, engineering and math in schools across the state.

As part of the legislation lawmakers approved in January — which won a $501 million award from the feds — the new process will require that 50 percent of an educator’s evaluation rely on data gleaned off standardized tests. Of that, 35 percent will come from achievement-tracking data derived from the state’s Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System which follows students each year.

The other 50 percent may consist of a combination of classroom observations, personal conferences, a review of prior evaluations or surveys from supervisors, peers and students.

Members generally seemed to like the proposal but also took issue with a fundamental piece of of legislation requiring the use of student-growth data to evaluate educators such as librarians, gym teachers or those who instruct kindergarten, first and second grade pupils who lack sufficient student growth data.

“There’s so much concern over this in trying to quantify the progress of a music student or an art student,” said Jill Levine, principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet School in Chattanooga.

Evaluating educators in difficult-to-measure subjects is “tricky,” she said, and “far too complicated” to do fairly when evaluating every teacher every year.

Under the proposal, educators instructing non-traditionally measured subjects will have 35 percent of their evaluation rest on the school-wide TVAAS outcomes.

Sixty percent of educators fall into that difficult-to-measure category, according to Gera Summerford, the newly elected president of the Tennessee Education Association. The group also includes school psychologists.

“Once you apply it to all teachers in the building, it’s just logically impossible to do,” she said. “I’m a little concerned they’re going to roll out a model for the pilot program without those measures in place.”

The state plans to launch a test run based off TEAC’s recommendations in August and refine the policy throughout the fall and spring semesters by cleaning up what doesn’t work and adding additional specifics to the aspects that do.

The State Board of Education, which is charged with approving final recommendations, plans to adopt final polices next Spring.

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