Tennessee Plans to Streamline Teacher Evaluation Process

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Months after a new teacher evaluation system went into effect, the Tennessee commissioner of education is proposing that two of four required classroom observations be done in succession and discussed with the teacher in one session instead of two.

That adjustment should save at least a half hour per teacher.

In Memphis City Schools, where principals are expected to conduct 32,000 classroom observations, the change would save at least 3,500 hours in conference time.

"We have said from the beginning that we will listen and respond to feedback from educators on this evaluation model, and that is exactly what we're doing," Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Monday.

"This adjustment made sense, and, if approved, our evaluation system will be stronger because of it," he said.

"We are not giving up anything in terms of the content in what we are measuring. We are staying true to the model," said Gary Nixon, executive director of the state Board of Education.

The state board will take the issue up in a work session Thursday and vote Friday. Nixon expects the measure to pass with little controversy.

Under the new teacher evaluation model, a requirement for accepting $500 million in Race to the Top funds, tenured teachers are to be observed four times a year. Under the old model, they were observed once every five years.

Nontenured teachers get six observations and must score at the top of the five-point range in the final two years of their five-year probation period to earn tenure.

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Memphis teachers and administrators designed their own evaluation model through the district's collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Similar to the state model, it requires at least 60 minutes of observation per tenured teacher.

"What we are going to learn is just how much that costs," said Deputy Supt. Irving Hamer. "We don't how much it costs, and we don't know if we can do it in 60 minutes."

Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, who teaches at Bolton High in Shelby County Schools, says teachers across the state have an "enormous amount of anxiety" over the process, which he blames on poor communication from Huffman's office.

"He may change the policy, but I think he needs to go around the state and hear the anxiety teachers are under. He needs to ameliorate the conditions so teachers don't feel they are in adversarial role with their administration and the state," Coley said.

He said the model creates hours of additional work because teachers have to turn in detailed lesson plans prior to the principal's visit.

He also says teachers are anxious over the scores they are receiving at the end of the first round of observations.

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