State: Teacher evaluators unable, unwilling to identify poor teachers

Monday, July 16, 2012 at 6:02pm

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.

18 Comments on this post:

By: teacherfriend on 7/16/12 at 6:58

I wonder if anyone on the review panel stopped to think about this - maybe the evaluation method doesn't predict student achievement!

By: boyzmom on 7/17/12 at 6:33

As an academic, i would think more than one year's worth of data would be necessary to show a relationship or lack thereof between evaluated performance and test scores. As a teacher, these results do not surprise me at all. I know several excellent teachers who got great evaluation scores but below basic student achievement scores. Why? Students were already functioning far below grade level coming into that particular grade level or course. Add to that lack of parental and community support and you can see the poor results coming a mile away. The administrators giving high marks may well have witnessed good teaching, but the students may have been unprepared to receive it.

By: govskeptic on 7/17/12 at 7:12

This group of administrators has always been just as much a problem for
the system as the poor teachers. In the private sector good managers are
taught and only get to management levels on their ability to lead and make
tough decisions on their under their supervision. While that is a pretense
in the Education system, it's only that, the administrators want to be loved
as they are one "of them"-both education and Union wise! Main problem
is neither administrators or teachers want to be evaluated, after all-They
have Tenure! Fighting to keep the status quo will leave us with the Status Quo!

By: BigPapa on 7/17/12 at 7:36

It's funny that apparently there is no evaluation that can identify bad teachers, but I guarantee you that every one in that school, teachers, students, and administrators; could name the bad teachers off the top of their heads.

By: playthegame on 7/17/12 at 7:42

Gov, learn before you speak. Administrators only have one year contracts. There is no tenure for principals.

By: RTungsten on 7/17/12 at 9:57

If you haven't seen "Waiting for Superman" you should really take a glance. It is less about teachers being bad and more administration unable to fire bad teachers due to union agreements. Obama is a big teachers union guy, by the way.

By: keepingHeadLow on 7/17/12 at 10:08

“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.

Well, perhaps that. But even more, there's the massive skewing of the data that occurs at the State level, behind closed doors. The part that is not transparent and does not get reported, the part that the press neglects to ask about. As long as Tennessee sets its own benchmarks we will continue to lack Truth in Advertising (the alarm bell rung by Governor Bredesen). Apparently it will only be when we move to national norms for everything will the veil be lifted, and we will then realize, Oh! Look! Our kids aren't doing so swell, after all :/ Those impressive gains we see, year after year? That was more playing slick with the numbers, inflating results, not actual, true gains.

By: jcdad2003 on 7/17/12 at 10:15

First , Govskeptic if you believe favortism does not exist in the private sector you are very naive. I have work in both fields and I will tell you the private sector is no different than the school system. In both situations you have a group who bust their *ss to do a god job ( and they are usually taken advantaged of) and a group who are horrible employees and do the very minimum to get to make it look like they are working. Those individuals are usually buddy- buddy with the management, and they get glowing evalations each year. A principal who has a bad teacher with tenure will find away to make that employee want to quit or be transfered, unless there is that element f favortism.

Secondly, BigPapa you hit the nail on the head we don't need evaluations that teachers have to jump through hoops on to keep their jobs. Anybody in the building could tell you who the bad teachers are just by being there.

Finally, to add to your comments Boyzmom, not only are this generation unprepared to receive the lesson, most are unmotivated. They see school as a place to hang out with their friends and only hang out with their friends. Yes school is a social place, and social interaction is nesscary, but unlike my generation these students fail to recognize that there is a time to learn and a time to socialize. I don't blame them completely though, in the pursuit of teahing to the test (all systems do it) we have taken away time for the students to socialize.

By: govskeptic on 7/17/12 at 10:18

playthegame: Administrators may have only a one year contract, but leaving that
and going back to teaching gives them their tenure back (with all it's benefits
and protections). Exactly my point, that administrators protect the good and
bad teachers just like good lawyers and doctors protect the good, bad and worst!

By: ohplease on 7/17/12 at 10:23

More to Gov. In light of the recent JP Morgan and Barclay's fiascos, your faith in the private sector's management decisions does seem naive. Boyzmom is right about the differences in the children these teachers are charged to teach. They don't all start at the same place and don't all have the same ability to learn. Beating up on teachers and public education doesn't help anything. Lots of good things are happening in Metro public schools; many public school students go on to top-level colleges; many public school children excel on every level. I wish we would stop making public schools the punching bag and acting as if we know what is actually happening in them. I'll bet most of the most ardent critics have not been to any public schools in years -- or ever offered to help struggling students.

By: BigPapa on 7/17/12 at 10:49

"I wish we would stop making public schools the punching bag and acting as if we know what is actually happening in them."

Wishing doesn't accomplish anything. The facts are that we are reading an article that says that the evaluation system doesn't work, and you can find other articles detailing how TN students are unprepared for college, how we low we rank when it comes to having college degrees, etc..

Pointing out problems isn't making anyone a punching bag, heck its much worse to stick your head in the sand and just keep doing what we re doing. It's 2012 and we are still using the same stale system set up from the 1940's. It's time to blow up tenure, the school year, the school day, this whole thing needs a MASSIVE overhaul.

By: rebeccaperona on 7/17/12 at 12:26

i think human emotion plays a huge part. they should have someone from the state or the district who doesn't personally know the teachers come in and do the evals, not someone who personally knows the person being graded. while i believe some administrators will be honest and objective, i believe that there will be some who cannot overlook their emotions towards that particular person. =/ i work very closely with the schools and i've heard good and bad things about the evals. i've heard people say that if the principal likes the teacher, they will get a 5 and if they don't like you, you're getting a 1. i've also heard that there is another administrator at that same school who is actually kind of tough on them and is very objective.

By: pswindle on 7/17/12 at 7:14

Maybe, the teachers are much better than thought. Give the teachers credit for doing thier job.

By: BenDover on 7/18/12 at 8:23

Results are the only reliable measure as they are the only thing that really matter.

Rewarding teachers based on their traits or ability rather than results is what has created this mess. Pay the administrators of a school based on the school's performance at advancing students and they will objectively identify the losers they already know are there and they will promote the best teachers.

By: Moonglow1 on 7/18/12 at 8:30

Moonglow1: The thugs in charge like Register and Michele Rhee's X husband should be evaluated for their willingness to sell public education to private interests financed with your money.

That is the real story here.

By: MemphisTigers07 on 7/18/12 at 11:13

It's been said before, but I'll say it again. Without the support at home, students are doomed to fail. There is NO substitute for parental support. I work in a Metro school with less than perfect test scores. But when I look at my fellow faculty members, I don't see any who are lazy or even just clueless. So how is it that a school full of passionate, dedicated educators has such mediocre scores? It's because educators hold none of the power but all of the responsibility. We can't do anything if your child is late to school every day or never turns in homework, but the responsibility is all ours when their test scores are abysmal. Makes perfect sense.

By: HamBoneHamBone on 7/18/12 at 12:46

BenDover (nice name),

Spoken like someone who truly has no clue as to the motivations underlying the decisions of people to enter into the education profession, as well as a lack of understanding of risk assessment.

The application of metrics such as end-of-grade tests to assess whether a teacher knows what she or he is doing is fraught with outside, uncontrollable factors concerning student home life and student motivation, the former of which is determined by (often) ill-equipped parents and the latter of which is ultimately controlled by a child. I would hazard a guess that in your current occupation, BendOver, the uncontrollable factors you face that affect your potential success are far more reliably predictable.

In a risk analysis, then, there is an insanely high level faced by any given public school teacher if you are going to evaluate his or her performance based on test scores. If you are going to fire or demote teachers based on these results that are largely beyond their control, then it follows that you should also be willing to offer a risk premium with your tax dollars.

5-figure bonuses (minimum of $10,000) would be an acceptable start if a teacher is able to influence an improvement in student test scores by an appreciable amount from year-to year, don't you think? This would be consistent on the flip side of your rhetorical coin advocating the dismissal or demotion of teachers unable to influence the results of their students. It is also consistent with private sector behavior in occupations that acknowledge significant risk factors impacting evaluative success.

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