Training principals how to evaluate teachers

Training principals how to evaluate teachers

(Tenn.) Arming school principals to do a better job of evaluating their teaching staff has been a major hurdle in most school districts in most states despite a heavy five-year push from the Obama administration.

Weighed down with other administrative duties or inexperienced in evaluating instruction itself, site principals often give an instructor a cursory review and call it good with a score that is often well above average with little empirical data to back it up.

Awarded a $501 million Race to the Top grant in 2010, lawmakers and education leaders in Tennessee set out to create a comprehensive, multiple-measure system for evaluating teachers and administrators that is rooted in student outcomes.

A report out this month marking the results of the first three years of the effort found 100,000 additional students were on grade level in math in 2014 as compared to 2010; and 57,000 more were on grade level in science.

The findings also showed increased growth based on end of course scores in high school since 2009-10, with the exception of English III which had a slight decrease.

While a number of factors would have to be counted as having played a role in the statewide improvement, officials said Tuesday the ability to coach up the state’s teaching staff must be considered key.

“We made sure that principals knew this was the most important thing you can do with your time,” said Paul Fleming, deputy assistant commissioner in the Tennessee Department of Education’s Teachers and Leaders division.  “Teacher effectiveness is the biggest in-school factor impacting student achievement. Getting that point across was a significant shift.”

The Obama administration has been criticized for its zeal to get states and local educational agencies to embrace more aggressive methods of evaluating teachers and tying employment decisions to student growth. The Race to the Top grants offered nearly $4.4 billion the first year and hundreds of millions more in phases two and three.

Many of the early winners have struggled to fully implement the required educator evaluation systems.

In a report to Congress on the award of nearly $4 billion in RTT funds to 12 states, auditors from the Government Accountability Office found that only four states had progressed to even the pilot stage during the 2012-13 school year despite having promised in their original grant application to have the system fully operational by that time.

Tennessee, along with Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia were designated in the GAO report as having met the grant requirements.

One key problem that arose in Tennessee and has also been a challenge in other states is that by the end of the 2011-12 school year too many teachers were being judged as exceeding expectations but in too many classrooms, the students were not doing as well.

To address the issue, state officials first identified the schools with the biggest gaps between what the principals were reporting and student achievement. Second, they hired instructional coaches to work with the principals at 116 schools on not only how to observe and evaluate what the teachers are doing in the class but also how to provide feedback.

The process does require a certain time commitment from principals, but Pennye Thurmond, director of administrator evaluation for the TDE, said many have learned how to simplify the activity.

“As the years have gone by, districts have implemented ways to streamline the evaluations,” she said. “It doesn’t take quite as long as it did, but principals certainty see the value of performing working with their teachers.”

Under the Tennessee system, classroom teachers are evaluated every year. Observations and other qualitative measures account for 50 percent of the evaluation score for teachers whose students are taking statewide tests. For those teachers whose students are not being tested, observations and other qualitative measures count for 60 percent of the score.

There are requirements for the number of principal observations that depend on both a teacher’s overall experience and how the teacher performed the prior school year. Scoring is done on a five-point scale, with five the top grade.