It has been a while since I have had to pass a test.  But last week I dutifully (and somewhat anxiously) worked through the assessment for evaluators to become certified for the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM), the state’s new performance evaluation system for teachers.  I know that as a Superintendent, I am unlikely to formally evaluate any individual teacher; but I thought it would be important for me to know the TEAM performance evaluation rubric well enough to lead this critical instructional improvement effort in our school district.  I visit schools and classrooms frequently, and I wanted to be able to discuss with principals, other evaluators, and especially teachers the nuances of the evaluation instrument, and the evidence we expect to see of effective teaching.

So, what do I think about the new evaluation system?  It can be, in a word, transformative.  The new evaluation tool is based on the TAP System (formerly the Teacher Advancement Program) that was developed by the National Institute on Excellence in Teaching.  The TAP evaluation rubric was created after an exhaustive analysis of educational research, and incorporates the best instructional practices definitively proven to positively impact student learning.

In the Knox County Schools, we have been fortunate to witness the TAP System in action in four of our schools for the past several years.  What we found was that the evaluation rubric (coupled with teacher leadership, teacher collaboration, and performance-based compensation) changed the nature of the professional conversations and activities in our schools.  With a common language, clear expectations, and a detailed blueprint of what good instruction looks like, the teachers in our TAP schools enthusiastically developed and embraced a culture of continuous instructional improvement.  We saw the results reflected in positive student academic outcomes.

So as we move into this new territory of annual evaluations for every educator in Tennessee, I am optimistic and excited about what this new evaluation structure, if utilized properly, can do to enhance student achievement.  There are certainly potential pitfalls: if the rubric is not applied consistently across the state, if it is treated as merely a checklist, or if the evaluation work is seen as adding to the workload rather than becoming the workload, the effort will fall short. But the model holds great promise for transformative pedagogical growth.  If the TEAM evaluation system is implemented well and with fidelity, if its execution is developmental and not punitive, and if our teachers continue to collaborate effectively with their colleagues to get better at their craft, I believe we will see strong progress toward achieving the ambitious goals that we have set for our children and ourselves here in Tennessee.

As for my test… it was tough, but I did successfully complete the certification.  It was an excellent learning experience for me, and I am looking forward to utilizing my new found skills to further improve the quality of education that we provide to our students in Knoxville.  If we all truly embrace the TEAM evaluation model across the state, I am confident that we will drive increased student academic success, and create an even brighter future for the children of Tennessee.