Education News

Teacher Evaluation Panel Hashes Out First Set of Recommendations

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.

Education News

Extra Help On The Way For Teacher Eval Committee

With much of the country watching to see how Tennessee performs after winning a high-profile federal grant competition, the state Department of Education says it plans to hire an outside firm to guide a committee developing new teacher evaluations.

The firm would be assigned to keep the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee on-task as it attempts to develop new criteria for developing educators’ yearly job reviews.

“Very frankly, to do this well, it’s going to take a bit of money,” Erin O’Hara, policy adviser for the governor’s office of State Policy and Planning — who authored the winning “Race to the Top” application — told members of the committee last week.

State education officials plan to hire a firm this month.

The fifteen-member committee will spend several months devising strategies and developing criteria for a new method of grading teachers, an aspect of reform that officials say was critical to winning the $500 million in education funding.

Establishing new policies from the committee will be the first step toward implementing a slew of reform promised to the federal government to improve educational outcomes.

Dr. Tim Webb, education commissioner, called the new teacher evaluations the “cornerstone” of other reforms outlined in the state’s Race to the Top application. He declined to reveal which companies the state is considering to hire.

Officials say they plan to spend $200,000 to $250,000 for the firm to help with what promises to be complicated process over the next several months.

“We would be able to do the work anyway, but this just empowers us and makes the process more streamlined and more efficient,” he said.

He said an outside facilitator will be able to zero in on teacher evaluations without being distracted by the other pieces of the state’s Race to the Top application.

The firm would take over the committee’s scheduling, set deadlines, ensure subcommittees get the information they need and keep the board working toward the endpoint goal. Unlike state employees, who may have other responsibilities to juggle, Webb said a hired facilitator would only focus on the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee.

The committee expects to deliver its recommendations for the new yearly teacher evaluations to the state Board of Education by August. The plan — which gives student test scores a 50-percent weight on an educator’s evaluation — will be tested during the 2010-11 school year and fully implemented the next fall in all Tennessee public schools.

Tennessee was one of two states to win the Race to the Top federal grant competition that rewarded states that promised to deliver on innovative methods to improving education. Thirty-nine states were rejected but can reapply this spring for a second shot at a chunk of $4.35 billion in bonus federal funds.

The winners are expected to provide a model other states can copy to improve eduction locally.

That’s a tall order, said said Alice Johnson Cain, director of education for Hope Street Group, a bipartisan non-profit group focused on developing solutions to national problems to build a stronger national economy.

“No pressure, but the world is watching you guys and the stakes are really, really high,” she told members of the committee last Thursday.

The committee next meets April 29.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at

Press Releases

Bredesen Names ‘First to the Top’ Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, March 3, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen has appointed nine men and women to serve on the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee established by the recently enacted Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010.

“I am grateful to the individuals willing to serve in this capacity to help move Tennessee public education forward in bold, new ways,” said Bredesen. “I am confident that with the level of experience each of these Tennesseans brings to the table, we can accomplish this goal for teachers and their students across the state.”

The 15-member committee will develop and recommend to the State Board of Education guidelines and criteria for the annual evaluation of teachers and principals, including a local-level evaluation grievance procedure. The committee consists of the Commissioner of Education as chair, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, the Chairperson of the Education Committees of each house, a K-12 public school teacher appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a K-12 public school teacher appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, and nine members appointed by the Governor. Appointments made by the Governor include three public school teachers, two public school principals, one director of a school district and three members representing other stakeholder interests.

The appointments announced by Bredesen today include:

Public School Teachers

Kenny Lou Heaton, Carter County School System

Patty T. Kiddy, McNairy County School System

Judy Stewart, Franklin County School System

Public School Principals

Jimmy Bailey, Jackson-Madison County School System

Jill Levine, Hamilton County School System

Director of a School District

Jesse Register, Metro-Nashville School System

Other Members

Mike Edwards, Knox County

Darrell S. Freeman, Sr., Davidson County

Tomeka R. Hart, Shelby County