A Teacher Explains The New Evaluation System
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Teacher Evaluation has been a very “hot topic” in my school and surrounding schools. Everyone is on pins and needles and at very high stress levels. These high stakes evaluations link student-performance data to salary, tenure, and firing decisions.

We all agree that teachers need to perform to high standards. Is relying on fifty percent of our evaluations being linked to student-performance outcomes the best way to represent a teacher’s ability? Furthermore, the same rubric should not be used for teachers ranging from K-12.

In order to understand how teacher evaluations came about, we need to first look at “Race to the Top”. Under the leadership of Governor Phil Bredesen, Tennessee lawmakers had to change education laws to be eligible to compete for a federal stimulus grant. This grant consisted of a 102-page application. Within the application each state had to present how they would handle several education reforms. Out of the application total of 100%, 28 percent of the total scoring was based on a reform of attracting, developing, and keeping effective teachers. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, ”a state’s performance in the teacher’s section will “make or break” their application”(Zelinski, 2010). If the state could come up with a rigorous evaluation program to keep and develop quality teachers they would be a shoe-in for receiving grant money. The proposal called for teachers and principals to be evaluated annually. The legislation formed the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Council (TEAC) to develop and recommend the criteria for teacher and principal evaluations. Out of this proposal the new Teacher Evaluation was conceived.

The annual evaluations primary purpose is to identify and support instruction that will help the students achieve high academic performance. Also, the evaluations are supposed to guide individual and group professional plans, hiring of quality teachers, grade assignment, promotion, tenure and dismissal, and compensation. Out of all of these, where does the compensation component fall?

So how are we evaluated? The evaluation rubric that was developed for our individual evaluations is based on five effectiveness groups. These groups are: significantly above expectations (5), above expectations (4), at expectations (3), below expectations (2), and significantly below expectations (1). Although, the ratings for 4’s and 2’s are left up to interpretation since they are not spelled out explicitly like the other three ratings. All tenured teachers are required to have a minimum of four observations of which one of the following domains would be covered: Planning, Environment, Professionalism, and Instruction. Out of these four, two observations are to be announced while the other two are unannounced. Apprentice teachers have to complete six observations (Huffman). The rubrics for Planning, Environment, and Professionalism are the shortest consisting of one page as compared to the four page Instruction Rubric. Although, we were encouraged to have full-blown lesson plans to attach to the rubric whenever we were being observed. Along with this, we had to comprise a lesson plan that would try to cover all sections of the rubric. Therefore, the paperwork and time that went into trying to cover everything on the rubrics became very time consuming for one lesson.

Furthermore, these evaluations only comprise fifty percent of our score. So where does the other fifty percent come from? Thirty-five percent will come from student growth scores while the other fifteen percent will come from student achievement data. This gets tricky for educators with non-tested areas. Therefore, this is an area that is still being worked on for the upcoming school year.

So what are some of the problems that have risen from the new evaluation system? According to some reports, the observation scores given by principles in various districts vary greatly. For example, my school district came under fire for giving out too many fives for nearly half of the teachers. Therefore, the teachers that had observations after this report were under more scrutiny. We were told upfront not to be expecting fives. Although, from the very beginning we were told that they way the rubric was set up and the training models we watched/evaluated; most teachers would probably receive threes. Even within my school, our two evaluators differ in his/her expectations when evaluating us. Therefore, this evaluation is still left up to interpretation by the individual evaluator.

Governor Haslam asked the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) to look at where improvements could be made. The following is a list of recommendations that they have comprised (Kumari, 2012):
#1- Make sure all current and prospective teachers and leaders receive thorough training in the evaluation system.
#2- Link the evaluation feedback to training to improve teaching instruction.
#3- Address the gaps in the qualitative measures for teachers that are not tested. One such proposal is for the option of temporarily increasing the percentage of the teacher evaluation portion until other accountability measures are enforced.
#4- Support school and district leaders capable of assessing and developing effective teachers and hold them accountable.
#5- We need to re-engage educators in districts where the first year of evaluating has faltered in its first year of implementation.
#6- We need to integrate the new Common Core Standards with the evaluation system.
#7- Teachers and leaders need to pursue continuous improvement in the evaluation system to maximize its impact on student achievement.

The first year of evaluations has seemed to be a learning experience for everyone involved. Since Haslam is committed to the evaluation system, we know that it is not going away. Therefore, we must make certain that our voices are heard and that hopefully recommendations for changing the current system will be implemented. As stated by Gere Summerfield of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), “ Just as we say we don’t need a one-size-fits-all system for children, we don’t need a one-size-fits-all measurement tool for assessing teachers and instructional practice”(Kumari, 2012).

References

Kumari, C. (Writer) (2012). Report offers 7 steps to improve
teacher evaluation [Television series episode]. In WSMV
Channel 4. Nashville, TN: WSMV Meridith Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.wsmv.com /story/18753083/teacher-evaluation-report

Zelinski, A. (2010, January 11). [Web log message]. Retrieved
from http://tnreport.com/blog/2010/01/11/breaking-down-
Optional web link (URL) to additional information
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