How Tennessee is Leading on Teacher Evaluation

As a former Tennessee teacher and current educator coach, I’m excited to see proof that the state’s new teacher evaluation system is working. Last week, the Tennessee Department of Education released a report detailing that the new evaluation system is resulting in better and more useful data than ever before.

My Experience With Teacher Evaluation

Throughout my first two years of teaching, administrators were rarely in my classroom and my evaluation seemed more of a formality than true feedback and observation. The conversations were hasty, the feedback surface level and both the rubric and system were mediocre at best. These interactions left me with little-to-no information about where I was getting it right or how I needed to improve. In the 2011-12 school year, I began teaching at a different school at the same time the teacher evaluation system in Tennessee was overhauled. Because of this and the in-depth professional development over the summer at my new school, I spent multiple days in sessions uncovering the nuances of the new Tennessee Evaluation Acceleration Model (T.E.A.M.) rubric. It was complex and subtle, and often the difference between average and above average was the presence of meticulous consistency in my classroom. As I headed into my third year, not only had I been prepared to understand the rubric I would then be evaluated on, but I spent time throughout the year digging into the why and how of my own growth. Administrators, other teachers and visitors were in my classroom often, and when the time came for my formal review, my principal sat down with me and walked through the data. We had time to reflect on and analyze student data as well: Where are our eighth grade students scoring? Where did they need to be? How could we get them there? Which students would be targeted during intervention? Which would be at Saturday School? This focus on student and teacher growth was indicative not only of my school but also of the system itself being overhauled. We had to ensure that these students were growing appropriately because we were ambitious and cared deeply, but also because we knew that we were truly accountable for this. My job was evaluated on their growth and my own, and it was my responsibility and my school’s to see that both were happening. Evaluating teachers is not an easy feat and Tennessee has been making moves to strengthen it. Now, they have evidence that we’re on the right track. I appreciate the state’s work in continuing to make teacher evaluation even better, moving towards portfolio systems for non-tested subjects and allowing for flexibility.

Listening to the Students

One piece that may still be missing is the student voice portion. We have student test scores and growth, but what about how they feel in class? Are their voices heard? Are their cultures valued? Do they feel as though they are growing academically, socially and emotionally? These pieces are harder to measure but equally important, and I trust that Tennessee will continue to move in the right direction in regards to fine-tuning the student accountability piece of the evaluation puzzle.

Tennessee as a Leader

What’s interesting about the report’s findings is that it comes at a time when Tennessee has already been acknowledged for its marked student growth. In fact, in 2013, Tennessee outranked all other states for student growth based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. There’s been growth on state tests, both the high school End of Course exams and the elementary and middle school Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), as well as national exams like the ACT. An additional 100,000 students are now scoring on grade level for math alone, a remarkable benchmark of progress that inspires me as an educator and student advocate. As we continue to hold teachers accountable for their work, we do the same for students. We maintain high expectations for all because we know that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Liz is a writer and educational equity advocate who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Liz is a writer and educational equity advocate who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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