Widespread dissatisfaction with new teacher evaluations in Tennessee

In many ways, Tennessee teachers have acted as guinea pigs in a new national movement to overhaul how teachers are evaluated. While many states are in the process of changing the measures used to gauge teacher effectiveness, Tennessee launched its system—which includes both classroom observations and student test-scores among the measures used to rate teachers—last school year.

Teacher protest in Nashville, TN (photo courtesy of Jon Erickson)

Now, the results of a statewide survey show widespread dissatisfaction with how the system is working so far. The survey, conducted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), a nonprofit advocacy group, included responses from 15,401 teachers (about 23 percent of the state total) and 932 principals and was part of a larger effort to gather feedback about the new system.

(See The Hechinger Report’s series on Tennessee’s new system here.)

Some of the key findings:

  • While 28 percent of the teachers who responded said the system “gives me a much clearer understanding of my school’s expectations for effective teaching,” only 29 percent agreed that the evaluations “will have a positive impact on my own teaching practice.”
  • Nearly half of teacher respondents said they didn’t think they could fit all of the requirements of the classroom observation measure—a major component of the evaluation rating—into the timeframe allowed. At the same time, a third of principals said the timeframe (about 15 minutes per observation), was insufficient to cover all of the requirements.
  • About a quarter of teachers expressed doubts about whether their evaluators could assess them accurately and consistently.
  • More than a third said they weren’t confident that the student-achievement measures used to rate them were accurate reflections of how their effectiveness in the classroom.
  • Teachers in low-performing districts were the most disgruntled about the new system, according to SCORE officials. “Many do not believe in the value of the evaluation system,” said Sharon Roberts, SCORE’s chief operating officer and a former school superintendent, during a webinar presenting the report on Monday.
  • Principals, on the other hand, were more likely to favor the system. Seventy-six percent agreed that the system “will have a positive impact on instruction in my school.”

Teacher buy-in is critical, of course, in ensuring that the new evaluation systems actually transform teaching and learning. The primary purpose of the system is to “identify and support instruction that will lead to high levels of student achievement,” said Jamie Woodson, SCORE’s president and CEO.

The organization, which supports the new evaluation system, has several recommendations for the state. The most specific is a call for the state to change the weighting of measures for teachers of subjects that don’t have standardized tests. Such teachers make up two-thirds of Tennessee’s teaching force. Under the current system, those teachers receive ratings based on school-wide test-scores. That is, their ratings are based largely on how students perform on standardized tests in other teachers’ classes.

The report suggests that the state consider increasing the weighting of qualitative measures in these teachers’ ratings, at least temporarily, rather than placing so much emphasis on standardized test-scores.

In addition, SCORE recommends that the state give more training to teachers and principals in the new evaluation system, provide more training opportunities for teachers linked to the feedback in their evaluations, and that school leaders also be held accountable through their own evaluation system.