An effective teacher.
This statement acknowledges the importance of educators across the state and their role in providing a quality education to the next generation. It also turns the magnifying glass of educational reform upon those educators as state and federal mandates raise the rigor of curriculum and bring focus to teacher evaluations.
On Monday, June 11, The State Collaborative on Reforming Education released a report offering the results of a recent charge by Gov. Bill Haslam to collect feedback from educators and stakeholders across the state on the effectiveness of the state's new teacher evaluation system.
A brief overview of SCORE's report, "Supporting Effective Teaching in Tennessee: Listening and Gathering Feedback on Tennessee's Teacher Evaluations," was provided to media through a conference call/webinar by SCORE President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Woodson and SCORE Chief Operating Officer and Project Manager of the study Dr. Sharon Roberts.
The report, released during the call, is the result of a five-month listening initiative independent of state government. Woodson said funding for the report came directly from SCORE, with no state money attributed to the study.
"SCORE's role in this process has been to listen," said Woodson. "It is our hope that this report and its recommendations will build on key successes of the new teacher evaluation system and support improvements moving forward, while always keeping the focus on what it takes to improve student achievement in our state."
"If we want to improve education in Tennessee, that starts with an effective teacher leading each Tennessee classroom," Haslam said in a press release concerning the report on Monday afternoon. "This report is part of a comprehensive review of the teacher evaluation process. We want to support and reward effective teachers and are committed to making the evaluation system as strong as it can be."
The SCORE feedback initiative began with Haslam's request in December. Since January, the organization has gathered more than 27,000 comments from educators and stakeholders across the state.
Input was collected through:
* nine regional roundtables
* an online questionnaire for educators
* a statewide work team of educators
* in-depth interviews on teacher evaluation with leaders in and outside of Tennessee
* and existing networks of teachers, principals and district leaders
"I appreciate SCORE's work in traveling the state and listening to feedback from educators on teacher evaluations," continued Haslam in the release. "We will review these recommendations along with the state Department of Education's internal review of the process, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks."
Organizations partnering with SCORE to gather feedback from educators and other stakeholders for the report include the Tennessee Education Association, Tennessee Business Roundtable, Tennessee School Boards Association, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tennessee PTA, Tennessee Principals Association and Professional Educators of Tennessee.
"We appreciate the tremendous support of our partners who assisted SCORE in gathering valuable feedback from educators and citizens across the state," said Woodson. "The evaluation system that Tennessee is implementing is already improving the quality of teaching in the classroom and is supporting inspired, high-quality instruction in many districts. As needed refinements are made, the system will realize its full potential as a powerful platform for supporting effective instruction across the state and, therefore, gains in student achievement and growth."
Early in the 50-page document, the SCORE report states that while Tennessee has shown early signs of success in preparing its students for higher education and the work force, significant work remains.
The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Process data shows that Tennessee ranks 46th nationally in math proficiency levels and 41st in reading (according to fourth-grade results). NAEP data also reports only 15 percent of Tennessee students are considered college-ready across all four ACT college benchmarks.
While the state's fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores remained consistent, improvements in the 2011 scores of other states pushed Tennessee further down the national list in spite of statewide efforts focused on education.
"These education outcomes have implications not only for our students' futures, but for the economic strength of our state," reads the report. "The ability for our students to be prepared for college and high-quality jobs and for our state to attract business investments rests on the quality of our public education system.
"While the work is difficult, the pathway to improvement is clear," continues the report. "Research shows that effective teaching is the most important school-based factor in improving student growth and achievement. In order to help teachers improve, they need meaningful and ongoing feedback on their performance. This feedback must be closely linked to supports and training that help teachers learn, build on their strengths, and address their areas for development."
Differences between the old teacher evaluation system and the new initiative were also presented in the data.
The SCORE report states:
* The old teacher evaluation was based on classroom observations, teacher self-reflection and a review of the teacher's professional growth. The new teacher evaluation is based on multiple measures, including classroom observations, student achievement data and student growth data.
* The old teacher evaluation system formally evaluated teachers with less than three years of experience once a year, with teachers who had taught three or more years only formally evaluated twice in a 10-year period. The new teacher evaluation formally evaluates all teachers annually.
* The old teacher evaluation system observed teachers with two years of experience three times each year and teachers with three or more years of experience two times during the year they were evaluated. The new teacher evaluation requires teachers without a professional license receive six observations per year (with the option of combing a portion of the observations for a minimum of four classroom visits) and teachers with a professional license receive four observations each year (with the option of combining a portion of the observations for a minimum of two classroom visits). Half the observations must be unannounced.
* The old teacher evaluation system graded teachers with four ratings: Unsatisfactory, Level A-Developing, Level B-Proficient and Level C-Advanced. The new teacher evaluation differentiates educators into one of five effectiveness groups: significantly above expectations, above expectations, at expectations, below expectations, and significantly below expectations.
* The old teacher evaluation system required evaluators to provide teacher feedback after each observation cycle, which ranged from three times a year to four times a decade. The new teacher evaluation provides teachers with timely feedback from observations throughout the year.
* The old teacher evaluation system did not require evaluations to be used to inform personnel decisions. The new system uses teacher evaluations to inform human capital decisions including professional development, assignments, promotions, tenure and compensation.
* The first success, "educators have clearer and more rigorous performance expectations and have an understanding of what constitute great teaching", comes with the challenge that "systems are often viewed as overly focused on accountability and not enough on improving instruction in the classroom."
* The second success, "the system is highlighting the importance of individualized professional learning to help teachers improve", comes with the challenge that "many teachers do not have access to high-quality professional learning tied to their evaluation to help them improve their practice."
* The third success, "the system requires principals to be instructional leaders who understand and support effective teaching in their schools", comes with two challenges. That "not all principals and evaluators have the instructional leadership skills required" and that "the system is challenging for principals to balance with other duties."
* The fourth success, "the system has created more intentional use of student data and has drive collaboration around student growth", comes with the challenge that "the majority of teachers do not yet have individual value-added student growth data for their grades and subjects."
The report also provides seven specific recommendations for improvements to the system. The recommendations range from linking professional development opportunities and individual teacher feedback, to holding principals and superintendents accountable, as well.
* to ensure current and prospective teachers and leaders receive sufficient training in the evaluation system.
* to 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," states the report. "To do so, the Department of Education and districts must provide meaningful professional learning opportunities and support to help teachers improve."
* to 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," states the report. "We recommend these gaps in the quantitative measure and some missing elements in the qualitative measure be addressed as soon as possible."
As an example, this recommendation addresses teachers in non-tested grades and subjects who do not yet have individual student growth or value-added data, data which reflects a significant percentage of their evaluation. SCORE recommends the option of temporarily increasing the weighting of the qualitative portion of the evaluation for educators in this situation.
* Support school and district leaders in becoming strong instructional leaders capable of assessing and developing effective teaching - and hold them accountable for doing so.
* Re-engage educators in those districts where implementation of the teacher evaluation system has faltered during the first year of work.
* 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," states the report.
* 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," states the report. "For example, school districts should apply for flexibility from the Department of Education (an option currently available) to address their unique issues and concerns."
SCORE's Supporting Effective Teaching in Tennessee report is aimed to be used in conjunction with feedback collected by the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development. Woodson said the report is the first of many that will shape education reform now through January.
SCORE leaders also stressed the importance of continuing communication with educators and stakeholders.
"This is not a 'one and done' (thing)," said Woodson during the call. "We think it is very important that this conversation continues."