Tennessee Teacher Evaluation System Report: SCORE Offers 7 Recommendations For Improvement

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) on Thursday released a report regarding Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system. The report comes five months after Republican Governor Bill Haslam asked SCORE to lead a statewide listening and feedback process independent of state government on the state’s evaluation system, which was implemented last year.

Beginning in January, SCORE gathered input from educators and other stakeholders across Tennessee through nine regional roundtables, an online questionnaire for educators, a work team of educators throughout the state, in-depth interviews on teacher evaluation with leaders in and outside of Tennessee, as well as existing networks of teachers, principals and district leaders.

According to SCORE’s review, the system is improving both the quality of instruction and student results. That said, there are still challenges regarding the implementation of the new system, with some respondents contending that the evaluation is overly focused on accountability, and not enough on improving and supporting effective teaching.

The SCORE report comes as Tennessee teachers will for the first time be rated this year on whether their students make significant gains on standardized tests -- evaluated by a controversial statistical formula known as "value-added modeling." The system has also been adopted by districts across the country, from those in California to those in New York.

SCORE used Tennessee feedback to devise seven specific recommendations for evaluating educators, which were reported back to the Tennessee Department of Education and State Board of Education. They appear below:

Recommendation 1: Ensure current and prospective teachers and leaders receive sufficient training in the evaluation system.

Recommendation 2: Link the feedback that teachers receive with high-quality, collaborative, and individualized professional learning opportunities so that they can improve their instruction. Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system needs to balance accountability for results with a focus on improving instruction, which is the key to improving student outcomes. To do so, the Department of Education and districts must provide meaningful professional learning opportunities and support to help teachers improve.

Recommendation 3: Address challenges with the current quantitative and qualitative measures of teacher effectiveness. Many of the issues that have arisen are not due to problems with the First to the Top plan for teacher evaluation, but rather from the remaining gaps in the development and implementation of measures of the evaluation system. We recommend these gaps in the quantitative measure and some missing elements in the qualitative measure be addressed as soon as possible. For example, we recommend the state offer teachers in non-tested grades and subjects (who do not yet have individual student growth, or value-added, data) the option of temporarily increasing the weighting of the qualitative portion of the evaluation.

Recommendation 4: Support school and district leaders in becoming strong instructional leaders capable of assessing and developing effective teaching – and hold them accountable for doing so.

Recommendation 5: Re-engage educators in those districts where implementation of the teacher evaluation system has faltered during the first year of work.

Recommendation 6: Integrate the ongoing implementation of the teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards so that they work together to improve student outcomes. All of the approved evaluation models should reflect the shifts in instruction that will be required as Tennessee implements higher, more rigorous academic standards through the Common Core State Standards.

Recommendation 7: Drive continuous improvement of the teacher evaluation system at the state, district, and school levels. Leaders and educators must commit to improving the teacher evaluation system on an ongoing basis to maximize its impact on student achievement. For example, school districts should apply for flexibility from the Department of Education (an option currently available) to address their unique issues and concerns.