A skeptically high three-fourths of Tennessee teachers earned exemplary classroom observation scores — a key area of inaugural state-mandated teacher evaluations — leading state education officials to question whether local administrators are adequately identifying poor instructors.
“While these scores dispel the myth that teachers cannot receive high scores on the observation rubric, when considered alongside student achievement results, they demand reflection and thoughtful consideration,” reads a Tennessee Department of Education report released Monday on the first year of the controversial state’s teacher evaluation system.
The state credited the phenomenon to an “inability or unwillingness” to identify low-performing teachers on the part of evaluators.
In-class observations performed by school principals and assistant principals account for 50 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation score, while student growth (value-added data) makes up 35 percent. Student achievement is the remaining 15 percent.
All three areas, as well as the overall score, are graded according to a 1-through-5 scoring rubric, 5 being the highest. The teacher evaluation system, born out of the state’s 2010 First to the Top law, wrapped up its initial year of implementation during the 2011-12 school year.
The state’s newly released report found 76.2 percent of teachers scored a 4 or 5 on the observation component of the evaluations. Only 2.4 percent of teachers statewide scored a 1 or 2 on observations, which state officials found to be disproportionate to the number of teachers with low student achievement marks.
State officials found a clear disparity: 0.2 percent of teachers, for instance, scored a 1 in their in-class evaluation, but 16.5 percent scored a 1 in the student growth portion based on objective test scores.
“While scores for teachers exceeding expectations on observations were aligned with those receiving scores of 4 or 5 based on student achievement growth, this same alignment did not occur for those teachers performing at the lowest levels in terms of student outcomes,” the report reads.
“This variation is crucial to analyze and address as it translates into districts ignoring our most struggling teachers and not providing the appropriate feedback educators need to improve their performance and, ultimately, student outcomes.”
Despite concerns over the observation component, state officials are crediting teacher evaluations for the “largest-ever aggregate gains” on statewide TCAP tests, according to the education department.
“We are encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far, and the department will continue to use feedback from stakeholders and measurable outcomes in classrooms to improve evaluations year after year,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said.
The state’s year-one report offered several recommendations in attempts to improve Tennessee’s teacher evaluations. The state says recommendations are aimed at improving efficiency, ensuring fair implementation, channeling constructive feedback to struggling teachers, and modifying quantitative measures for some teachers to better gauge their impact.
Among recommendations, the education department has suggested incorporating individual value-added measures for teachers in more subject areas and reducing the use of school-wide value-added scores for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects.
The education department is in the process of training classroom evaluators this summer. As recommended in the report, evaluators are to use the classroom evaluation's scoring rubric "holistically" instead of as a checklist.
The idea is to take into consideration "student response and intent of the indicator," the report says. "As evaluators watch lessons and score the evidence, they are doing so with a holistic viewpoint in mind."
Some of the report's recommended teacher evaluation changes require General Assembly approval. The state board of education will consider other tweaks. Its next meeting is July 27.
To read the full report and recommendations, click here.