A good friend of mine that had worked in education in Tennessee for many years told me before he passed away that change is hard and slow, and in education it is often harder and slower. With the implementation of the new TEAM (Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model) evaluation system, I believe that statement is true. I also believe that this reform is necessary to improve the performance of our students and be competitive nationwide.

Tennessee’s First to the Top Act as part of the federal Race to the Top initiative was one of the most progressive education reforms we have passed in the State Senate since I have been in office. Signed into law by Governor Bredesen in January 2010 with support of all 136 school districts, the bipartisan legislation was designed to measure and improve student growth and achievement. The legislation included a new annual teacher evaluation system, an evaluation which would be based 50 percent on student achievement data. This system is now being implemented in schools across the state.

This evaluation system is not a punishment – it is designed to improve the quality of instruction and support teachers. And this work is so important because we know that the most important school-based factor in improving student achievement is a great teacher.

I have heard a lot of feedback from teachers and administrators about the new evaluation system since the school year began. I understand their frustrations and I appreciate the work they have done so far this first year. One of the major concerns I have heard is how educators will be SCOREd according to the TAP rubric. I want to be clear: we have some excellent teachers in Tennessee that will be SCOREd as 4’s and 5’s on this rubric (the top two categories), meaning their performance is above expectations. In fact, according to the Department of Education, about 20%-35% of all educators will fall into that category.

Evaluations in Tennessee schools are here to stay, but we need to make sure they are used as only part of the puzzle. The feedback that teachers receive should be designed as professional development to help an educator grow and meet expectations to ensure they are prepared to help our children grow and meet their expectations. We cannot have one without the other.

This is the first step to move the ball forward, but the system is not perfect and there are changes that need to be made. Commissioner Huffman with the Department of Education has met with many legislators and educators about the system and has expressed his commitment to use the feedback the department receives to continue to improve the system each year.

At the end of the day we all want the same thing in education. It’s simple. We want our children to learn. We want them to learn at a level that will open up every opportunity possible. Our educators, administrators, and parents can be proud to be in a state that has placed education as a priority and has recognized its importance.