New teacher evaluation methods force educators to adapt

Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 10:05pm
By Pierce Greenberg
Lipscomb-Main.jpg
Heather Saunders and Anna Stanisic (Michael W. Bunch/SouthComm)

Change is hard.

That’s been the company line from state officials — from Gov. Bill Haslam to Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman — with regards to new teacher evaluation methods that some say are the root of frustration and low-morale in schools across the state.

The one-size-fits-all evaluations require multiple observations from principals (and additional pre-observation and follow-up sessions), judge teachers based on standardized test scores and emphasize lengthy, teach-to-the-test lesson plans.

In short, the profession of teaching has changed in Tennessee, and local colleges that offer education majors and teacher licensure tracks are attempting to adapt.

Trevecca Nazarene University’s School of Education is the largest academic program on campus and it graduated 57 teachers who took jobs in Davidson County classrooms in 2010. Esther Swink, the dean of Trevecca’s School of Education, said the political pressures placed on today’s teachers are forcing her department to rethink its entire mission.

For years, Trevecca has encouraged its graduates to take positions at inner-city schools and educate those who need it most.

“We’re beginning to wonder, because of our own reputation, if we need to rethink that,” Swink said. “Yet, who we are, that’s where we think our graduates need to go.”

Based on Tennessee Higher Education Commission report cards on teacher effectiveness from 2011 and 2010, Trevecca graduates are performing below other colleges based on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.

The report card compares each university’s beginning teachers (one to three years of experience) with veteran teachers and other beginning teachers based on TVAAS student growth statistics for fourth- through eighth-graders. Trevecca was among nine programs listed by the state as “producing teachers that are not performing as well as other beginning teachers in the state.”

Swink says there are extenuating factors at play though — the low-income schools that Trevecca targets also come with behavioral issues, English-language learners, and increased demands from the state legislature.

Another interesting point: Trevecca teachers are trailing other beginning teachers’ effectiveness in social studies and science. The No Child Left Behind Act only requires assessments in reading and math — and some teachers say they are encouraged to hammer home those subjects.“Our graduates tell us they don’t have time, or they are told in some instances, not to teach social studies and science,” Swink said.

“So we’ve been looking at … an interdisciplinary approach where they deal with science information and social studies so that even when they aren’t teaching social studies and science, they are teaching it within the context of reading and mathematics.”

In terms of the most recent demands put on teachers, Trevecca hosted five training sessions for Davidson County educators this summer — and Swink required all of her faculty to attend. Now, the university’s curriculum has changed so that student-teachers are evaluated based on the same rubric as they would be at a public school.

Also, students in Trevecca’s master’s program for administrators and principals are being taught how to implement evaluations in a fair and consistent manner.

But it’s the other part of the evaluation system — the standardized test — that is also affecting Trevecca’s curriculum.

Swink said they try to promote a mix of “real learning” and test-taking skills.

“We try to strike a real long balance on that. Real learning is more than making a score on a test on one given day in the year,” Swink said. “That is a difficult balance to make. With the great pressure on everyone, we’re having to move more to that emphasis than we ever have.”

Trevecca, like many universities in Nashville, has formal partnerships with local schools. They provide training sessions for teachers at Antioch High School and McGavock Elementary School. Last year, faculty members heard teachers were struggling with math, so the university set up Saturday work sessions to meet the need.

Moving forward, Trevecca is reaching out to alumni and bringing them back to campus to discuss what they need to do better. “Most teachers are trying very hard to do what is right for children,” Swink said. “But there are an awful lot of outside political influences that are affecting whether or not they can do for children what really is important.”

For Lipscomb University’s dean of education Candice McQueen, keeping up with the changing requirements in schools involves putting rubber to the road. Literally.

“We visit every single one of our first-year teachers … if they teach within 50 miles of our campus. We do an hourlong visit and go through, ‘How well-prepared were you in these areas? Tell us your frustrations,’ ” McQueen said.

“That is our very best data-point for us to make changes in our program.”

Most of the time they don’t have to travel far.

In 2010, 68 Lipscomb graduates took jobs in Davidson County classrooms, the largest total of any area university.

The state’s 2011 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs lauded Lipscomb as being the only four-year university to consistently produce beginning teachers that outperform veteran teachers based on value-added scores. (The only other programs to receive the same distinction were Teach for America in Nashville and Memphis.)

And even though those numbers don’t reflect the new evaluation system put in place this year, McQueen said her former students are doing just fine.

“Some teachers who are coming out of programs where maybe their clinical programs weren’t as deep, this is probably a bit of a shock in the number of evaluations they were getting,” McQueen said.

But at Lipscomb, students were being evaluated 10 times a semester on a 1-4 scale, even before the new Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model was put in place this year. Andrea Bever, a sixth-grade teacher at Cameron Middle School, graduated from Lipscomb in December 2009. She grew up in Cincinnati and said she always knew she was going to be a teacher.

“Just being able to see how you can take a child from one level and you can physically and visibly see the impact you make as an educator, it’s pretty incredible,” Bever said.

Bever pointed to the intense emphasis on lesson plans — which she described “long, strenuous, and over-the-top” — at Lipscomb as something that helped her adapt to some of the new state requirements.

Even though Bever feels she was extremely prepared for the challenges of being a teacher in Tennessee in 2011, there are still some hurdles that seem insurmountable.

“I have a classroom that is primarily ELL [English-language learners]. They are still learning English, and I’m under pressure to get these students to pass TCAP or reach sixth-grade standards, and it’s impossible,” Bever said.

The solution, according to McQueen, has to do with more specific professional development within schools.

McQueen said school populations can change and teachers might be forced from their comfort zone to teach different grade levels. That’s when they need personalized training.

“If we’re going to have high quality teachers at every level at every school, you have to give them more specific embedded professional development that is specific to their needs,” McQueen said.

10 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 11/14/11 at 8:01

It appears, in our state at least, that many of the Private Colleges are getting
the message and providing a better curriculum for our future teachers than
are the more cumbersome Public Colleges!

By: pswindle on 11/14/11 at 4:28

The non-teachers that made this law, do not have a clue in how to teach. The whole law needs to be thrown out and one written by educators. That way the kids will get the proper education.

By: garypinson on 11/14/11 at 5:46

I was troubled to see that Trevecca did not fare well in the assessment system.
Maybe the assessment needs to take into account where the teachers are located.
You are not going to get the results in inner city schools and in poor areas that you get in Green Hills, Belle Meade, Brentwood, etc. As an alumni of Trevecca I am proud they encourage their students to teach in the inner city. Trevecca has stayed in the inner city area in order to give aid to that community.

By: chemistrybrown on 11/14/11 at 8:35

Yes - politicians need to stay out of education. Just because they were once students does not mean they know anything about how to teach or assess students. For profit testing companies do not need to be allowed to lobby legislators to push for mandated standardized testing either. The whole racket is a tremendous money maker for those companies.
I too was surprised to read the information about Trevecca. i have students who have graduated from Trevecca and I believe it to be a fine university. Typically though it is easier to get greater gains in TVAAS school effect growth scores from lower performing students than those students who are performing at higher levels at "better" schools. Maybe teachers are not getting the needed support or materials needed to be effective in the inner city. I applaud Trevecca for encouraging its students to teach in inner city schools.

Constance Brown

By: LizzyD on 11/15/11 at 9:17

Turn all the teachers into obedient little rote-marching soldiers-citizens, so they can do much better at turning all the kids into same. No surprises there.

The nature of those who choose to become teachers will change considerably. They will require much discipline and wear blinders and won't even care.

My grandson recently brought a "first offense" bad note home. His crime? He "forgot" and ran on the playground during recess. Yup. At his school there is a rule against running on the playground. The principal told my daughter that it is because "They might get hurt." He is in the first grade.

By: Magnum on 11/15/11 at 10:54

I'm not against the evaluation of a teacher, but as usual, the good government can screw up any well-intentioned initiative by micro-managing a process it should leave to the educators. Case in point: My understanding is that teachers actually get points deducted on their evaluations if they forget to post the state standard during the lesson. It is the educator's equivalent of the TPS report from "Office Space". Not that there is anything inherently wrong with the concept of state standards, but again, they completely miss the point and now penalize good teachers on an issue that bears no relevance to their students.

By: chemistrybrown on 11/15/11 at 6:18

We can get points off for not putting our daily Clear Targets in a prominent place in the room. Most of us put them on the board. A lot of standards can be understood by students however, we are to write the standard in student friendly terms. Now I teach chemistry. There are some things that won't be student friendly until AFTER I cover them and often not even then.

I don't believe educators have ever minded being evaluated. Most of us hold ourselves to very high standards. We are being micromanaged. We are being turned into robots. It is a pain in the behind. Teachers are leaving the profession. The ones really suffering are the children.

Constance Brown

By: knightowl25 on 11/15/11 at 9:57

swniteowl25
If you want to get a 5 on the evaluations you must do what ever you are being evaluated on ALL the time, while those who get a 3 do whatever is being evaluated MOST of the time. A 4 and a 2 is undefined territory on every evaluation. I've still not had one person tell me the word that stands for a 4...the difference between ALL and MOST. Two points out of the 5 points possible on each criteria are undefined. Mathematically, whoever designed the rubric was 40% deficient in describing what a teacher should "demonstrate" on their evaluations. In my grade book that is a 60% for our "government education experts". Doesn't that equal an F in Metro's grading scale? Is that considered BASIC or NON-PROFICIENT?
In my school they place so much emphasis on group lesson planning and writing up these ridiculous, repetitive one size fits all plans during our planning time that we never get to actually do the lesson prep work, make the copies, prepare the classroom, set up, etc. And on the days we do get a few minutes, the machines we need to use are always broken down or we are told to analyze more data from a TCAP like assessment.
We have even been told to teach 70% science and 30% Social Studies every week. We are truly losing our independence and quickly becoming members of the United Nations BORG enterprise. We are constantly being told we must assimilate for the good of all. Anyone who does not do so is considered to be a negative and must be done away with or brainwashed into "right" thinking and speaking. Where has that happened before in history? Oh yeah, nobody remembers because we only teach it 30% of the time.

By: tgs on 11/18/11 at 7:03

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