Tennessee school principals have gotten better at accurately grading the best teachers, but not those who need the most help. An annual report on the state’s teacher evaluation system finds administrators are still reluctant to give failing marks.
Classroom observation scores calculated by principals should roughly line up with how a teacher’s students do on standardized tests. That’s what state education officials believe. But the numbers on the state's five point scale don't match up well.
"The gap between observation and individual growth largely exists because we see so few evaluators giving 1s or 2s on observation," the report states.
"The goal is not perfect alignment," Department of Education assistant commissioner Paul Fleming says, acknowledging that a teacher could be doing many of the right things at the front of the class and still not get the test results to show for it. But the two figures should be close.
The numbers below show the 2013-14 school year. The red bar indicates the percentage of teachers at each level based on standardized test scores. The blue bars indicate classroom observation scores.
At the top end, principals remain stingy on giving level 5s. While the gap has shrunk, more teachers are scoring level 5s based on test scores than are being judged level 5s by their observers. And it appears administrators remain overly comfortable with level 4s, which has routinely had the widest discrepancy. More than 43 percent of teachers were given 4s based on classroom observations while less than 12 percent earned 4s based on test scores.
The real problem is on the low end. Principals practically turn a blind eye to the lowest performers.
Just .3 percent of Tennessee teachers were given 1s by an observer, even though nearly 20 percent of teachers scored 1s based on their students' performance. That gap has only widened since year one.
“I think as we see greater confidence and greater training that hopefully we’ll see those numbers move,” Fleming says.
As a former teacher and principal himself, he says it’s never been easy to tell a teacher what they’re doing isn’t working. He calls it "having challenging and courageous conversations." It's more challenging than ever, considering teachers can now be fired for consistently low marks.
The state has dispatched coaches to work with schools where the observation and test scores don’t line up. Last year, the training resulted in a 100 percent alignment at a few schools.
From year one, in 2011-12