Teacher Evaluation Sparks Debate Among Educators

By Bill Dries

The schools consolidation planning commission hasn’t made any decisions yet about teacher pay and benefits or suggestions about how many teachers the merged school system might need.

Guthrie Elementary kindergarten teacher Linda Gardino works on a reading unit with students. The consolidation planning commission is examining teacher evaluation.  

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

But when it got its first look at the human resources overview last week, there was immediate discussion about which direction to go in teacher evaluation.

The state evaluation models being used in public schools across the state are in their first year.

Memphis City Schools uses the TEM model and Shelby County Schools uses the TEAM model, two of the four models the state allows systems to pick. TEM, which is unique to the city, and TEAM are different than the city schools’ TEI – Teacher Effectiveness Initiative – program funded over several years by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and local private funding.

TEI is an effort to change the teacher pipeline flowing into the Memphis City Schools system as well as more objectively evaluate teachers.

TEM and TEAM are specific evaluation models that use value-added student achievement testing data, in part, to make judgments about how effective teachers are. TEM and TEAM differ in some ways but use the same student data as part of the evaluation of effective teachers.

Tennessee legislators had to change a state law to allow the data from the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, be used to make evaluations on a yearly basis.

The most effective teachers are rated, using that and other factors, as level 1-5 teachers with 5 being the most effective and delivering more than a year’s worth of knowledge in a school year that students are comprehending.

Levels 3, 4 and 5 teachers are to be paid more for how effective they are. But the planning commission is examining a system that currently rewards teachers for their years of experience. And Boston Consulting Group’s data found that nearly 30 percent of the teachers in both systems are at the maximum step on their salary schedule.

City schools’ figures show the highest number of level four and five teachers in the system are those in their fifth, seventh and ninth year of teaching with link between teacher performance and the TVAAS data that measures teacher performance. The range examined goes from teachers in their first year to those with more than 30 years teaching experience.

“I think there are some powerful implications,” planning commissioner Dr. Reginald Green said of the conclusion.

Educators on the panel remain skeptical of the correlation based just on the TVAAS numbers.

“That also assumes that everyone is placing the appropriate emphasis on TVAAS. Most of the educators that I know personally do not have the confidence in TVAAS that I hear from non-educators,” said planning commissioner Katie Stanton, a career teacher in both school systems and former head of the Shelby County Education Association. “The schools that had the highest achievement test scores had the lowest TVAAS scores because the children that were already soaring in the 90th percentile did not have the growth that the children who were soaring in the lower percentiles did.”

Recognizing and factoring in growth among students achieving at the highest and the lowest levels has been a key feature of the discussions about more effective and less punitive teacher evaluations in the last two to three years.

Planning commissioner Richard Holden, the former chief of operations for the county school system, acknowledged similar concerns but said the TVAAS is “probably the most objective” criteria.

The concern, he added, is in the application of that and other criteria.

“Probably all of you have been around long enough … and played the game where somebody tells you something and you go down the line. When it gets to the end of the line the story is not anything like it was when it started,” Holden said of evaluations of teachers in their classrooms that are a part of the evaluations in both school systems. “All of these people are trained to look for certain things. But they are still people and they are different. What I see is different than what you see.”

When the BCG analysis concluded schools with principals from the “New Leader” reform program used in the city schools system since 2004 showed twice the gains of other schools, Green said he took “personal offense” to the conclusion and wanted it stricken from future presentations.

Green is the leader of the Center for Urban School Leadership at the University of Memphis, which for five years has had its own program for preparing principals in other city schools he termed “some of the most challenging in the system.”

“They have turned those schools around and those schools are actually achieving now,” Green added.