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Polls Give Mixed Scores to Teacher Evaluation Reforms

Almost half of Tennesseans questioned in a recent poll say they have no clue whether the state’s teacher evaluations help or hurt education. Some lawmakers and political onlookers say it’s simply too early to tell.

As education experts dig through piles of feedback from teachers and administrators on the state’s teacher evaluation system, the public is split on whether it is good for education, according to a recent survey.

Roughly half of Tennesseans surveyed said they don’t know whether the new evaluations are helping or hurting education, according to a poll Middle Tennessee State University released last week.

“The number one factor of a student’s success is effective teaching in the classroom,” said Jamie Woodson, CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education and one of the original drivers behind mandatory teacher evaluations. “The impact won’t be seen overnight.”

The MTSU poll found 18 percent of the 512 people surveyed thought the new evaluation requirements increase the quality of education.

Another 16 percent said the evaluations decrease education quality, and 19 percent said it makes no difference. But almost half — 48 percent — said they didn’t know what they thought.

“It’s brand new. We’ve gone through one year of it,” said House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville. “A lot of people were very nervous, very apprehensive because it is something brand new. It’s totally different from what they’ve experienced before.”

Leading House Democrat Craig Fitzhugh says the fact that most are uncertain about the new evaluation system is evidence the state threw it into play too quickly.

“I think we got a little ahead of ourselves. We got in too big a hurry, and we threw this evaluation system together and made it … effective to use, before we looked through it all. And now after the fact, we’re taking time to look at it,” said the Ripley lawmaker.

Gov. Bill Haslam asked SCORE to analyze the new teacher evaluation system and report back to him by June 1 with recommendations for whether or how to improve it.

Since then, the collaborative has assembled two of eight regional roundtable discussions with educators across the state, started soliciting feedback online and reached out to various education associations looking for suggestions.

Woodson, a former state senator from Knoxville, declined to detail exactly what she’s hearing from teachers and administrators and what aspects of the evaluations educators are most concerned about, adding “we’re trying diligently to be listeners to the process.”

Another poll found different results. A survey commissioned by the national nonprofit StudentsFirst found that 73 percent of Tennessee voters surveyed were “totally positive” toward evaluating teachers four times a year and basing half the evaluation on whether test scores improved.

StudentsFirst was founded by national education reformer Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools. The organization has emerged as a significant player in contributing to Tennessee political campaigns, according to the the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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