U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says Tennessee has become “Exhibit A” when it comes to states that treat teachers as “true professionals, instead of interchangeable cogs in an educational assembly line.”
In a Duncan-penned column called “The Tennessee Story ” that Huffington Post published Monday, President Barack Obama’s education secretary painted a rosy picture of Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, citing a new Tennessee Education Department report that credited 1-year-old, state-mandated evaluations for producing extraordinary student achievement gains.
“The report found that after one year, Tennessee’s students made their biggest single-year jump in achievement ever recorded in the state,” Duncan wrote. “That is a remarkable accomplishment.
“As Tennessee has shown, our children, our teachers, and our country will be better off when school leaders and educators finally undertake the challenging task of creating a meaningful and useful system for supporting and evaluating our nation’s teachers.”
Tennessee has arguably emerged as Duncan’s go-to state for touting progress in the area of education reform.
The Volunteer State in 2010 was one of the first two states to land highly coveted Race to the Top money — a prize it earned, in part, after overhauling how teachers are evaluated by adopting a model that considers in-class observations, student test sores and student growth.
“During the first two years of the Race to the Top grant, from 2010 to 2012, an additional 55,000 students in Tennessee were at or above grade level in math and 38,000 additional students were at or above grade level in science,” Duncan wrote in his op-ed. “But Tennessee’s story also shows that reforming antiquated practices for evaluating teachers is hard, ongoing work — work that is far from finished.”
This past year, the Obama administration approved Tennessee’s No Child Left Behind waiver on the state’s first attempt. In doing so, Duncan praised Tennessee’s creation of the Achievement School District, a new governance body that presides over the state’s lowest-performing schools.
The state’s new evaluation system has been met with criticism from some teachers, principals and others in the education community. Duncan says state education officials “didn’t ignore the critics.” In fact, they sought feedback, he says.
The state’s year-one evaluation report has outlined several recommendations. Among these, Duncan highlighted a suggestion that teachers who receive top scores have a more streamlined evaluation the following year –– “while teachers with low scores should receive additional observations and feedback from their principals.”
Yet Duncan neglected to reference one of the state’s key findings — that is, principals who evaluate teachers inside classrooms are either unable or unwilling to identify poor teachers . The report found more than 76 percent of teachers received a four or above on a five-point scale in the area of classroom observations, which accounts for 50 percent of teachers’ scores.
The remaining 50 percent of teachers’ overall scores comes from student test scores: 35 percent students’ value added-data; 15 percent student achievement data.
“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,” the state report reads.