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VOL. 127 | NO. 66 | Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Teachers Turning Focus to New Evaluation Models

By Bill Dries

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Teachers and principals in Shelby County’s two public school systems are focused these days on about a third of the alphabet, the part from A to H and where they are on a number line from one to five.

The numbers are the level teacher they are judged to be based on the new teacher evaluation models with five being the best.

And A through H are the elements to be included in a specific observed lesson plan that is also a part of the evaluation process.

The state is evaluating the four evaluation systems being used across the state and SCORE – the State Collaborative on Reforming Education – the education reform nonprofit formed by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, is writing the report.

SCORE officials came to Memphis Monday, April 2, to hear from a panel of 15 teachers, principals and administrators. It was the eighth of nine stops across the state.

Brittney Clark, a teacher at Middle College High School, was one of several teachers who used the words “focus” and “stress” to describe the experience of working under yearly evaluations after they had been required only once every five years.

“I’m very intentional about the procedures,” she said of the new experience. “As a high school teacher, that’s not something I’ve thought about in years because it just kind of flows the way it does. But now I’m very intentional.”

But like the others who talked about the benefits of having to be better prepared for specific expectations, Clark also warned that there are a lot of elements to the evaluation. And she and the other teachers questioned whether the professional development a teacher who is two or three on the one to five scale is supposed to get will be there with the same level of commitment.

She has less of a learning curve because she has taught for years in a tested subject.

“I’ve been really lucky to read that data and know how to use it. I think a lot of teachers need that. They need that support – what do I do with the data,” Clark said. “Just like, how do I add rigor and ask higher level thinking questions? What does that look like in a high school English classroom because it looks totally different in a middle school math classroom?”

Lara Charbonnet, a Collierville High School teacher, says hitting the marks – lettered A through H – during a principal’s planned classroom observation as part of the evaluation on a single day needs work.

“It’s certainly a challenge to meet every indicator every time,” she said. “Really – it’s impossible, or at least to meet them well. It’s not totally realistic for day-to-day teaching.”

Peter Tang, a teacher at Cordova Middle School, said principals need more support so that when they schedule a classroom observation they show up.

“Stuff happens. Announced observations should really be the crème de la crème. You plan for it. You know they’re coming. If they don’t show up, that kind of sucks,” he said. “It throws you off kilter a little bit. … That’s not fair to me.”

Tang said teachers need the same help students do toward the general goal of what is expected of them. And those expectations will vary from principal to principal.

“Yes, you will collect evidence. I’m sure of it because you’re supposed to. But do you really know what that four or five teacher does?” he said. “The common thing I’ve heard from my own colleagues is, is there some way to bridge this trust?”

The evaluation model used by Memphis City Schools is the only one of the four in the state that includes student evaluations.

Clark is a proponent of the evaluation, which is more than asking students if they like their teacher.

“I may think I’m being clear and my students may shake their head. But am I being clear?” she asked. “We can argue about whether the students are going to take the survey seriously or not. But in all reality they know better than anybody what I am doing in the classroom. … The surveys get to the root of what we’re doing.”

SCORE’s report from the nine hearings across the state are due on the desk of state education officials and Gov. Bill Haslam in June.

SCORE CEO and president Jamie Woodson said any comparisons or contrasts between what she and the group heard in Memphis compared to other parts of the state will be part of the report.

“This has been a fascinating conversation,” she said. “Even though there are some common themes among the roundtables, we have had excellent and new input from this conversation.”

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