Each summer, SCORE’s research and policy team travels around the state to gain insight from the people on the front lines of education policy: Tennessee’s teachers, principals, and district leaders. These candid conversations with educators about the successes and challenges they experience in their roles play a major part in informing SCORE’s annual State of Education in Tennessee report. This year’s conversations focused on the priorities laid out in last year’s report: the continued and improved implementation of Tennessee’s State Standards, the selection and implementation of high-quality assessments, elevating the teaching profession in Tennessee, and transforming instruction through high-quality school leadership.
The SCORE team held more than 40 focus groups in eight cities during May and June. As a SCORE graduate fellow, I had the opportunity to help facilitate several of these focus groups. By listening to educators, I learned a lot about how policies made at the state level filter down to the district, school, and classroom levels. With so many policy changes occurring over the past few years, it is not surprising that educators have mixed opinions of these policies. Some major takeaways from focus groups included:
• Educators like the rigor of Tennessee’s State Standards and are excited about having an assessment that is aligned with them.
• Many educators are concerned about the transition to online assessments. More devices and stronger infrastructure are needed not only for the actual administration of the tests, but also for helping students develop the computer skills needed to demonstrate what they know.
• Teachers appreciate the feedback they receive through the evaluation process. However, there is still some concern about evaluations being subjective or based too heavily on test scores.
• In many schools, the role of the principal has shifted from building manager to instructional leader. A challenge associated with this expanded role is that principals’ time is stretched very thin.
The above points aside, what struck me most of all during focus groups was the gratitude educators expressed for the opportunity to have their voices heard. For my part, I am grateful that so many educators took time out of their busy schedules to talk to us. Over the next few weeks, SCORE’s research and policy team will carefully analyze all the educator input we received to identify major themes. We will use this input to set our priorities for the coming year, which will be released in January as part of SCORE’s 2015-16 State of Education in Tennessee report.