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Friday, July 11, 2014

Teachers could gain some help

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

SCORE, the education think tank founded by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist, was asked late last year by Gov. Bill Haslam to evaluate the state's teacher evaluation system, and after soliciting feedback statewide it released its report this week.

SCORE is short for State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

Bedford County School Superintendent Dr. Ray Butrum said Tuesday afternoon he had not yet seen a copy of the final report, which was released Tuesday, but was aware of some of the issues being examined and in fact had discussed them Tuesday morning in a meeting with principals.

Data deficit

Among the recommendations in SCORE's report are that temporary changes be made to the teacher evaluation formula for teachers whose subjects don't have value-added data available.

One way in which a teacher is evaluated is the performance of his or her students based on value-added tests. But for teachers in subjects where such value-added data isn't available, that part of a teacher's evaluation is based on the overall scores for the school at which the teacher is located.

Some teachers have complained, saying that using school-wide data unfairly evaluates those teachers based on factors outside their control -- in effect, one teacher is being evaluated based on the job done by other teachers at that school.

"I just think to use school-wide data to evaluate an individual teacher on their performance, it's unreasonable and unfair, and really casts serious doubts about that whole system," said Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association.

SCORE has recommended that for teachers in subjects without value-added data, the school-wide test scores be temporarily de-emphasized. For example, instead of making up 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation, it might be reduced to only 10 percent, according to an illustrative pie chart in the SCORE report.

Special help

SCORE also recommends that teachers be provided with personalized educational opportunities based on their evaluations.

For example, a teacher found to be deficient in a particular area or topic should be able to get professional training to help with that area or topic. SCORE stressed the use of teacher evaluations as a tool for improvement.

The feedback obtained by SCORE reveals that, "Unlike most principals and evaluators, many teachers are not yet convinced of the benefits of the evaluation system."

Help for principals

The report also mentions the added challenges that new education policies have brought to principals, who must now play a more pro-active part in education and in evaluating their teachers but who still have to worry about the traditional administrative concerns.

SCORE recommends that more be done to evaluate and support principals in their role as instructional leaders.

Haslam announced in December that he was commissioning an outside review to help "separate the anecdotes from flaws" in the new system, which has been heavily criticized by educators and lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans. The governor, a Republican, asked the recommendations be reported back to the state this summer.

Possible changes

Overall, Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he hopes the report will provide information to allow lawmakers to make legislative changes to improve the system.

"I hope it's a report that has some factual basis to it and takes into account what I understand to be a lot of input from educators, both in the supervisory capacity and the classroom capacity," said Fitzhugh, who spoke at the Tennessee Education Association conference last week in Nashville.

Morale check

Republican Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett, a vocal critic of the new system, said he also wants to see the report to possibly get an assessment of the morale of Tennessee teachers.

"I'm concerned ... we're going to have a shortfall in the number of teachers that are going to pursue that as a career choice," said Coley, who also spoke at the conference.

"That was one of the four great professions that people used to try to get in: one would be a preacher, an attorney, a physician or a teacher. And I think teaching is getting a black eye."

'Fair, effective'

Woodson said the foundation and the state are committed to making the evaluation system fair and effective.

"We strongly believe and will be specific in our recommendations that this is an ongoing process that requires for it to be successful and fully realize its potential to impact student learning and to improve effective teaching," she said.

--Associated Press reports contributed to this story.