Teacher Effectiveness

Tennessee rolls out new principal evaluation

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Jackson-Madison County School Principal Tiffany Green holds her Administration Evaluation Notebook, which is used during her principal observation periods.

It takes a lot of effort and organization to compile a binder as thick as the one principal Tiffany Green keeps on her office shelf.

From notes documenting her classroom observations of her 19 teachers and how she supports their needs to evidence showing how she engages parents, the binder contains everything her supervisor needs to evaluate her performance as the lead administrator in her building.

Green is the principal at Whitehall Pre-Kindergarten Center in Jackson-Madison County School System, one of 10 districts across the state that piloted a revised principal evaluation model this year. The evaluation, known as the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, or TEAM,  was made available to the public this week and will be used in almost all of the districts across the state this fall, including Shelby County Schools.

Before 2011,  there was not a state-wide evaluation measure for principals in Tennessee.  Every district was doing something different, principal evaluations were more subjective and, subsequently, principals who led schools with stagnant or plummeting test scores received high evaluation marks.

“The revised model reflects the changing work of the administrators to use student data to impact decisions and support teacher instruction,” said Paul Fleming, the executive director of leader effectiveness and deputy assistant commissioner of teacher and leaders with the Tennessee Department of Education.

The new evaluation gives more weight to the second of the two required principal observation scores and requires principals to give specific examples of how they have worked with teachers.  Giving the second observation more weight allows the administrator to correct and improve any areas cited during the initial observation period.

The new evaluation model will especially matter in Shelby County Schools  where a large portion of principals  are trying to turn around academically failing schools at risk of being taken over by the state’s Achievement School District.

Shelby County Schools’ administrators decided to use the revised administrative evaluation model earlier this week.

Increasing the accountability of Tennessee’s teachers and principals has been at the forefront of education reform discussions in the state since it won the federal Race to the Top competition earning more than $500 million to overhaul education.

Fleming said updating the evaluation model for the state’s principals is the culminating step to increase student achievement.

“Principal leadership impacts teacher effectiveness in the classroom and student achievement,” he said.

Educational researchers believe that effective leaders are essential to the performance of teachers in the classroom.

“Next to teachers, principals are a significant factor in school achievement,” said Richard A. Flanary, who is deputy executive director of programs and services for the National Association for Secondary School Principals.  “Principals don’t shirk away from being evaluated, but (nationwide) there’s been no capacity for feedback or opportunity for principals to grow.  We think principals should have a voice in terms of the system designed for evaluation, comprehensive development and that recognizes principals across the continuum of their careers.”

In the revised evaluation, principals will be evaluated in four categories – instructional leadership for continuous improvement, culture for teaching and learning, professional learning and growth and resource management.

Each of those categories contains “indicators”, 17 in total, that define the parameters for the highest to the lowest level of performance.

For example, in the “instructional leadership for continuous improvement” category, principals are graded on how well they train and support teachers in providing students with a challenging curriculum that matches the state’s standards.  To demonstrate they’ve done the work in this area, a principal could provide a copy of feedback notes on lesson plans or meeting notes from teachers’ professional learning communities where they develop lesson plans together.  The expected result of the principal’s involvement in this area is demonstrated growth on teachers’ observation scores and meeting or exceeding goals for student achievement, gap closure and college and career readiness.

How principals are ranked, however, is not changing.

Administrators are still evaluated on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 representing the highest level of performance.  The observation scores still account for 50 percent of a principals’ total evaluation.  The remaining portions of the evaluation includes value-added scores, which account for 35 percent and the remaining 15 percent of the total evaluation score is agreed upon by the principal and school district.

In Milan Special School District, administrators will use a modified version of the administrative evaluation, which allows supervisors to score principal observations at the end of year instead of immediately after an observation.

Milan Special Director of Schools Mary Reel served on the state’s advisory board and her district was also involved in the administrative evaluation pilot.

Reel said the previous administrative evaluation gave principals directives, but lacked specifics.

“We wanted (principals) to create portfolios and they were collecting information, but not doing anything with it,” Reel said.  “We don’t want them stuck in the office trying to fill a portfolio with evidence.  We want them to show that they’re pulling data to inform decisions. So we reduced the indicators substantially so they have more time to spend in the schools.”

As Green, the Jackson principal, prepares to travel throughout West Tennessee to train other principals on adapting to the revised evaluation model, she plans to stress the importance of a well-organized and evidence-packed binder for principals.

Green keeps notes from her meetings with her teachers, evidence of plans-of-action they’ve agreed upon to address deficient areas in student achievement and the results of their efforts.

When the superintendent or a central office administrator comes to her school for a planned or pop-up visit, Green said she’s always prepared.

“I’m a perfectionist so knowing exactly how we’re being evaluated and how to improve is important,” she said. “I feel the changes made to the evaluation gives principals a clear understanding of the expectations and the benchmarks to help leaders strive for where they want to be.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.

story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

More in What's Your Education Story?