The new teacher evaluation (TEAM) in Tennessee has caused a flurry of conversation among educators, legislators, media, and the general public. The idea that all teachers in a public school system be evaluated at a minimum four times per year is upsetting to some and much different than the previous model. At most, teachers were evaluated a few times prior to tenure and then only twice in ten years thereafter with the previous system. Now with every teacher evaluated every year, the time factor for administrators is an issue. Leaders are required to reorganize their days to fit teacher observation into a daily routine. Teachers are required to re-prioritize lesson planning to include various important measured competencies of the new rubric into every lesson and planning document. For both groups, it is challenging with a new commitment of time.

Change is always difficult, but in education change is inevitable. Those of us in education long enough have seen the pendulum swing as Tennessee Department of Education (TDE) officials continually prioritize need for improvement. This became most evident for Tennesseans in the urgency to compete for Race to the Top dollars. With the $500 million award of First to the Top, came proposed changes in standards, testing, and teacher and administrator evaluation.

It appears to me that the real issue around teacher evaluation is less about the instrument itself; and more about the fidelity of implementation. After trials in school system pilots across the state in 2010-2011, the TDE rolled out training to more than 5000 administrators during the summer of 2011. Within in my own district of 50 trained evaluators, I have concern of consistency of the evaluations. Across 139 systems, I imagine, there is greater concern.

Personally, I like the TEAM model of evaluation. The rubrics provide a solid framework for good teaching that can be employed in most any classroom. Best practice of use of the TEAM model will include the observer serving as a “coach” to encourage teachers in specific ways to improve performance. I have encouraged educators in my system to embrace the framework; incorporate strategies into lesson plans; and be less concerned about the “score”. With a rating scale of 1-5, and many teachers accustomed to a highest SCORE, this is a mindset change. If all administrators encourage teachers to use the rubrics as means of incorporating good teaching practices and less of a punitive measure of “good” vs. “bad” teacher, there may be less resistance to the model.

There are some issues with the evaluation that require tweaking. Perhaps teachers that earn a level 4 or 5 should not require as many annual observations. This would free our observers to focus on those teachers that require more coaching. The 50% data assigned to a teacher is by far the most controversial and the biggest change to the previous evaluation model. Most teachers do not object to their own data (students that they taught in a tested subject or grade level) being tied to an evaluation; however, 40% of teachers state-wide will be linked to someone else’s data, through a newly designed school effect SCORE because they are assigned to an untested subject or grade level. A best solution to this issue will require more testing in lower grade levels and untested subjects; which in turn, requires a higher financial commitment to an education budget as a top priority. The TDE is well aware that the TEAM evaluation is less than a perfect model. They are working diligently to address issues as they arise and are receptive to thoughtful feedback.

Perhaps we as administrators need to take a step back, think of this year as perfecting the model for all educators, both those evaluating and those receiving the evaluation. In reality, we are all in need of improvement of implementation. Taking this attitude would lesson the pressure for administrators to assign certain SCOREs and for teachers to have the “perfect” plan document. For now, I say we should give the instrument a chance, and work through the more difficult challenges. I believe the majority of Tennessee teachers will rise to a new expected level of performance as we move to the more rigorous Common Core Standards, and new level of expectation for our students. After all, that is the ultimate goal for all of us in Tennessee, breaking out of the mold of one of the lowest performing states in the nation. I agree with Secretary Duncan; Tennessee can be the fastest improving state in education reform. We need to stay the course and listen and learn from each other as we move forward.