Today, Tennessee senators in the Education Committee are scheduled to vote on SB 2405 on whether or not to discontinue the implementation of Common Core State Standards during this final week of the 108th General Assembly. According to Nashville Public Radio, Governor Bill Haslam visited schools last week to rally support for the standards that many Tennessee teachers tend to agree are quality standards; However, he and state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman have yet to publicly provide educators with opportunities to speak out and influence other controversial state policies on state testing, teacher evaluations, and guidelines for incentive pay and salary schedules.
The Tennessee Education Association provides a legislative action web page for educators to get in touch with and provide feedback to state policy makers, and teachers who wish to send in opinions that could influence legislative action on these issues and others in education are encouraged to use the form and contact information on this page.
Educators like school specialist Jami Garner of Tennessee Academic Specialists are continuing to voice concerns to Examiner.com about how political and media attention in Tennessee is not yet focused on the issues that are most controversial for student and teacher success. Garner explains that "so much of the more recent backlash touting the evils of Common Core serves as a smokescreen for the real problem we currently have in education, where assessments whose purpose should be to inform and improve instruction, are being used as weapons, and an evaluation tool meant to be used as a wholistic guide to the elements of good instructional practice, has been reduced to a checklist of items to see with little regard for the overall context of those items!"
Clinton High School French teacher Amy Kelly-Graham also weighed in on the issue of the Tennessee teacher evaluations explaining, "I'm ok with [being observed] because it gives me a clear check list of elements to cover on a daily basis, " Kelly-Graham told Examiner.com, emphasizing the fact that she appreciates receiving feedback that she can use to improve her instruction. "I can handle that clarity." However, she went on to explain the unfairness of the evaluation scoring piece of system in part by explaining how, as a teacher of a class that is not assessed with a state end-of-course test, "the bad thing is that 60+% of my overall [teacher evaluation] score is our school score because I don't have my own state data."
Most educators agree that quality professional feedback on instruction is beneficial to improving instruction and growing in the profession; however, as cited by educational theorists like Dr. Eric Glover in The Myth of Accountability: What Don't We Know? and Dr. Phillip Schlechty in Engaging Students: The Next Level of Working on the Work, research has shown time after time that teacher evaluations should not be punitive in nature because practices like tying teacher evaluation scores to student test scores, threat of job loss, and amount of salary compensation does not significantly improve instruction, student performance, teacher morale, or collegiality among staff.
Many teachers are reporting flaws and unfairness that they are experiencing in the Tennessee teacher evaluation system. Teachers of untested subjects receive scores based on schoolwide data. Teachers of tested subjects often have varied class sizes and groups of students with various ability levels and socieoeconomic needs that affect student outcomes on state tests, for better or worse, and leveling the playing field on these terms is practically impossible.
At this point, some school systems even use state test data and teacher evaluation scores to provide systems of incentive pay, such as the APEX incentive pay system developed by Knox County Schools. Now, TEA is actively representing 2 lawsuits on behalf of Knox Couny educators who, allegedly, were denied incentive pay because of flaws in the claiming process. This means that students who they taught and whose scores should have counted in their respective pools of student state test data were not calculated in their results, resulting in a lower rating on the incentive pay scale in Knox County.
TEA is representing teachers on issues like these and encourages everyone to contact state representatives about these pertinent issues using their legilative action page: http://capwiz.com/nea/tn/home/.