Teacher evaluation: A ‘difficult change’ worth the effort

Successful public schools are key to the future prosperity and economic growth of American communities. That is why my organization, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, has been so supportive of Tennessee’s move to a high-quality, statewide teacher evaluation and support system.

In 2009, when Tennessee began making this difficult change, our students were near the bottom of national rankings – much like Michigan is today. Instead of ignoring our poor results and continuing to do things the same way, we invested in what matters – teaching quality.

Today, Tennessee is the national leader in student growth and our willingness to undertake difficult change is paying off.

We know that the most important factor for student success is the quality of classroom instruction. That is why, when our students were so far behind, we invested in the quality of teaching. Our legislature and governor took the lead by replacing our old, ineffective system with a comprehensive, annual evaluation tool designed to improve instruction and learning. In 2013, we began to see significant results: Tennessee was the fastest-improving state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, including in fourth-grade reading.

Much like the Michigan business community, which has voiced significant concern about worker preparedness, we knew that our students were not graduating ready for college and careers. During our first year of Tennessee’s new evaluation and support system, our chamber projected a shortage of 22,000 qualified workers for high-skill, high-wage jobs in our region over the coming decade. Local businesses continue to compete fiercely to fill hundreds of unfilled science and technology jobs. Our education system had to try a different approach.

With our new evaluation system in place, teachers are getting real-time feedback on their instructional practices throughout the school year. Importantly, student achievement results are at the center of that professional conversation. Just like in so many other professions, they are provided with the coaching they need to grow and improve. As a result, our students are showing dramatic improvement.

Michigan has an opportunity to learn from Tennessee’s example. We invested heavily in teaching quality and it has proven to be the right course of action. Right now, Michigan lawmakers are debating a $15 million investment – about $9.50 per student – to invest in a statewide system of educator evaluation and support. This is an essential component of having an honest, meaningful conversation about performance and how to improve instruction for your students.

In Tennessee, leaders from business, education and state government came to realize that the status quo was simply not working. In order to honor our commitment to a brighter future for our schools, we invested in improving classroom instruction and are now beginning to see real results.

Now is Michigan’s time to invest and turn the tide. Michigan students should not have to wait.

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Fri, 05/08/2015 - 2:08pm
I thought the Tennessee stats were all full of holes as has been discussed in the forum before.
Fri, 05/08/2015 - 8:31pm
I am a teacher, so I certainly do not wish to diminish the importance of quality classroom instruction. However, I believe the author is incorrect when he says, "We know that the most important factor for student success is the quality of classroom instruction." Perhaps that is the most important factor IN the school. But I would assert (and I believe a great deal of social research supports this) that the most important factor in student success is a student's quality of life. Students in poverty, or without meaningful emotional and intellectual support at home, begin school in kindergarten far behind their more fortunate peers, and often continue falling even further behind from grade to grade. When there is no home support, when there is hunger, lack of material essentials, no health care, no eye glasses to see the front of the classroom...the best efforts of the best teachers are frequently not enough.
David Zeman
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 9:23pm
You are correct, and I think he did mean to say in-school factor. David Zeman Bridge Editor
Sat, 05/09/2015 - 6:53pm
Is Mr. Hill’s approach that much different then what we have, it is all about the system and the teachers and nothing about the students and their role/responsibilities in their learning. With the absence of comments on the student role in their learning I have serious doubts about the claims. I wonder if Mr. Hill has analyzed the data for effects other then the ones he expected. The emphasis was on teachers’ preparation so when the student test results came in better did the analysis of why end? Are we so sure about the cause and effect or does efforts end when expectations are met? I lack the knowledge on the Tennessee experience to decide I still wonder why students sitting in the same classroom have different performances. I wonder how people can be so sure that the learning is made to happen by the teachers and the system while ignoring the student role/responsibilities. I wonder how when students that are unique can be made to succeed in spite of themselves. I simply need more information that shows me it is teacher preparation that makes students succeed independent of the student’s interests or efforts. Why don't we here in Michigan talk to the students and listen to why they succeed and what are the barriers to learning they face before we go changing the system again?
Sun, 05/10/2015 - 7:41am
Well, it seems to me that the comments are all correct. IN class learing, Quality of Life at home, and Student interest and willingness to learn. But in between the lines reads that teachers simply do NOT want to be evaluated or graded on performance. Surely there is a way to do this taking into consideration the other factors of the students. Perhaps each student could carry a weighted number of points to be applied in the teacher evaluation based on the other factors of learning. The points for each student could come from a concensus within each school. Student tests scores and grades could then be factored by the points to get a consolidated grade for the teacher. I am sure there are many ways to do this. One would think that school administators could come up with a vialbe plan with perhaps and appeal process. One bad year for the evaluation should not settle the score. But those who perform well or poorly over time should be compensated or told to improve or leave. What gets measured gets done!
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 10:48am
Who has all the time to rank all the students and set up all the information needed? You do that you are taking time away from actually teaching the students.
Sun, 05/10/2015 - 10:47am
I am a retired teacher. I have watched our community and schools struggle with a variety of mandates, with carrots and sticks, to improve student readiness for adulthood. And yes, college and work readiness. If it were so simple as improving teaching quality and it will improve student achievement. This is not to deny that teaching quality is necessary, but the problem is much more complex. Direction starts at the top. State financial investment has dwindled for many years. Money drained off for other projects, institutions and tax cuts. Our schools, especially rural schools, have cut to the bone meaning that our students do not have the additional services to help with the problems they bring to school; councilors, librarians, health professionals, being able to afford experienced and well trained administrators, retaining excellent staff members, up-to-date text books, computers, all things that take MONEY. Education leadership is the second most important factor, lets measure and evaluate leadership. Let's make sure that education leaders are capable of fair and effective evaluations. Then make sure they have the skills and knowledge to guide improved teaching methods. Let's make sure universities are providing improved training for future administrators. And finally, make sure school board members are well training including evaluation of personnel and programs.
Sun, 05/10/2015 - 11:22am
As has already been addressed, Mr Hill over-stated his case about the importance of teacher quality for student success. While teacher quality is not the absolute most important contributor to student success (student intellectual capacity and motivation are both more important overall), the quality of instruction IS the most important factor that school systems can control. There are multiple possible ways to measure teacher quality, including the use of student results on standardized tests. It's legitimate to try to determine if many/most of the students a teacher had in their classroom did "better than expected". It's not legitimate to penalize a teacher when their students were already expected to excel and did so, as New York state's current Value Added Model does. Nor can Michigan's new MI-STEP test be used in any kind of Value Added Metric as it's currently designed, because it is both non-standardized and there is no way to track students moving from school to school or district to district for purposes of setting an "expected" score. A rigorously applied, multi-measure, state-wide system of evaluation for teachers would be an excellent thing for Michigan's students and families, and for our economy. The University of Michigan's School of Education has worked with school districts to develop at least one model. Let's have our legislature and state Board of Education start there and work towards true improvement in our educational system.
Sun, 05/10/2015 - 3:28pm
Exactly how do improvements in test scores correlate to improvement in teacher quality? Michigan invests an enormous amount of money in tests, but very little, comparatively, in actual education. If Michigan wants to get serious about improving education, it will dump the high-stakes testing and invest in smaller classroom sizes, continuing education for teachers, and infrastructure in rural and urban areas. If we don't begin to recognize the importance of poverty and its attendant issues outside of school, we can test and test and test -- and maybe even see improvement in the test scores -- but we won't see meaningful improvement in the education of our children.
Sun, 05/10/2015 - 3:41pm
I agree with the variety of comments made so far by "A Teacher," "Duane," "Educator," and "Anna." I disagree with some of what Don had to say, particularly when he offered the “sour grapes” comment, “But in between the lines reads that teachers simply do NOT want to be evaluated or graded on performance,” since I never knew a teacher who didn’t want to be evaluated in a fair manner in order to provide a better education for their classroom students. Don talks about data, but where’s his data regarding this sour grapes comment? I don’t know what expertise the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has regarding teacher evaluation, but at the same time, it would be hard to argue regarding the recent results that Tennessee has experienced. I was disappointed though that Mr. Hill did not reference any website(s) that Tennessee Teacher Evaluation materials or processes could be downloaded and studied. That would have provided a great opportunity for readers. The most important point that Mr. Hill does seem to convey is that all partners regarding their Teacher Evaluation initiative were essentially on the same page, seeking to improve student learning by investing in teacher quality. His statement, “With our new evaluation system in place, teachers are getting real-time feedback on their instructional practices throughout the school year. Importantly, student achievement results are at the center of that professional conversation. Just like in so many other professions, they are provided with the coaching they need to grow and improve. As a result, our students are showing dramatic improvement,” was quite telling. Unfortunately, Michigan is attempting to create a divide and conquer teacher evaluation system that’s on its face is punitive in nature. How do I know that? Well, at the end of the last legislative session in 2013/14, a variety of business, industry and educational partners, too, had worked many months in developing a system of teacher and administrator evaluations and a process that appeared to rival Tennessee’s system that was bipartisan. The Michigan House approved, but the Senate never took up the legislation, since the chair of the Senate Committee, Sen. Pavlov, refused to take up the legislation. Since then, Sen. Pavlov continues to push ahead with a process of punishing teachers and administers with a heavy-handed evaluation process that likely is to embed more student failure. As Mr. Hill stresses the importance of investment of funds in Tennessee’s Evaluation System, Sen. Pavlov has been able to strip the necessary resources needed to implement a new teacher evaluation system including any funding for training in using such a system for boards of education, administers or teachers, which likely will guarantee a status quo system for Michigan that Mr. Hill eloquently warned us against.
Sun, 05/10/2015 - 9:00pm
Ed, I see value in performance metrics for many reasons, it does establish what is important, it provides the individual teacher with a point of reference to self assess, it provides a means of feedback so the individual can adjust as appropriate, it communicates to others what is important (and should be feedback to others [administrator, parents, the community] how they need to adjust their actions. The development performance metrics must be done whose performance is to be assessed, so the teacher should be the ones developing and promoting these tools. Without the teachers [who are self motivate by wanting to help their students to learn] we will have a less and less effective educational system, and fewer and fewer students learning. I wish all those commenting on this article [including Mr. Hill] could have a conversation about the value and use of performance metrics for education. I believe out of such a conversation we could develop tools that would help teacher, help the community, help the students, help the parents better understand their roles/responsibilities and improve the results. Who can give me a reason why people are so interested in placing blame? I have never found any value or improvement by placing blame or in efforts to look for someone to blame.
Sun, 05/10/2015 - 8:33pm
I have read the articles and the comments for over two years now. Keep blaming the teachers for the poor scores. With the baggage and challenges that many students come to school with sometimes I am amazed we do as well as we do. Too many in our classrooms, too little in resources for books and materials and tests that don't always measure success. You can not give all the credit nor the blame on teachers for a child's success or failure. We have big problems in our country and in education. let's get our priorities in order. R.L.
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 10:20am
Anyone from a Chamber of Commerce has to be viewed with skepticism when it comes to education. They don't like unions, love profits for the testing industry, and want to drive down taxes for businesses. A simple reminder: Teachers are a lot like police and firemen. In general, they have an extremely difficult job in poor communities and an easier job in wealthier communities. It isn't the person but the working conditions that policymakers need to focus on. But that requires bigger discussions and solutions than "teacher evaluation."
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 10:26am
We will never know how our students truly perform until they are held strictly accountable on their state-mandated testing, as they do in every other advanced country. In other countries like Germany, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Sweden, etc. students study for months in advance knowing their score will affect if they pass, what grade they get and what high schools and colleges they may attend. In the US we have about zero accountability, most of our students could care less about state tests and many bubble in random answers to get them done. Yes it is a huge waste of time and money as they are implemented now! I do not trust any test scores in the US and where there have been "miracle turnarounds' (usually by people and groups where money and politics plays a role) there have often been cheating scandals and other shady practices behind it. Also the tests at best only cover a tiny piece of what a students truly knows or is capable of doing. We need major reforms for real educational improvement. Too much of the "education reform" movement in the US is more about political goals or for-profit companies that have a stake in manipulating the data to achieve their own agendas.
Jeff Salisbury
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 11:02am
Comparisons are often plagued by "apples versus oranges" considerations, but one commonality in terms of "end result" MIGHT be to look at 11th graders' ACT composite scores between the two states in question, say for example over the past decade. In 2005, the last year before Michigan mandated ALL of its HS juniors take the ACT, 69 percent of 11th graders (presumably "college-bound" students) voluntarily took the ACT and their composite score was 21.4 ,In 2005 Tennessee tested 92 percent of its 11th graders and their composite score was 20.4 Fast forward 10 school years to 2014... Michigan's 11th graders (100 percent) earned a composite score of 20.4. Tennessee's 11th graders (100 percent) earned a composite a composite score of 19.8. In only 2 of 10 test cycles did Tennessee students earn a composite score higher than Michigan students and for the last 6 years running Michigan students lead the scores of their Tennessee counterparts. Now, what does all that mean? Probably not all that much. Are Michigan student IQ scores higher than Tennessee student IQ scores? Unlikely. All things considered the normal distribution (bell curve) is most likely identical. Just as many bright bulbs and dim bulbs in each state. Teacher quality, dedication, training? How about overall school employees' job satisfaction? Are there other socio-economic factors worth considering when comparing each state? Maybe so. Poverty rates? Free and reduced lunch numbers? I would predict that a true and expert statistical analysis would likely demonstrate the margins between each states composite scores is remarkably thin. We already know what "works" in our schools - whether they are in Michigan or Tennessee... most generally, we know successful high school graduates come from households where parents valued education - where the youngsters were read-to as preschoolers - where the household income was above or well-above the federal poverty level - where children were provided nutritious meals daily - where they had access to healthcare providers (including medical, dental and vision screening and testing) - where their personal hygiene and appropriate seasonal clothing needs are met ... then each school day, they have a safe journey to and from and through safe neighborhoods (on foot or bicycle or by car or by bus) and enter a safe school environment with fully-trained and well-educated staff, clean, modern, up-to-date buildings and facilities (classrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, playgrounds, athletic and recreation equipment) featuring the latest books and materials and furniture and cabinetry and electronic devices and access to modern technology. And each day the students are privileged to be met by decent, hard-working, well-paid, well-treated and dedicated school employees from the bus drivers and/or crossing-guards... to the building and/or playground monitors... to the classroom aides and/or classroom teachers... and to the cooks and custodians whose care for the students nutritional and environment needs is critically important as well. Since we KNOW all that, let's put partisan politics and my-state-is-better-than-your-state comparisons aside and just work harder at what we already know works,
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Thu, 05/14/2015 - 3:33pm
Jeff Salisbury, I like your comments on the ACT and comparisons between Tennessee and Michigan. And "What does it mean?" I think it means, that those ACT comparisons are a more valid comparison than the NEAP claims by Marc Hill. I have pointed out to Phil Power and Ron French and Bridge Magazine, and now Marc Hill here that the Tennessee Legislature deliberately singled out two specific grades in Tennessee for a single year each, to manipulate the NEAP results for that year. The results they got are based on "retention" and not "social promotion" for 2 grades only. Those are the only two grades in Tennessee in each of two specific years that "retained" students instead of socially promoting them. The ACT results you are seeing reflects the damage of "social promotion" not the advantages of Teacher Evaluation nor any of the other claims by Mark Hill. In my other comments I named the exact years and the exact Tennessee Senate and House Bills SB and HB's used to do this. Marc Hill said, "Today, Tennessee is the national leader in student growth and our willingness to undertake difficult change is paying off." That is totally false. He said, "We know that the most important factor for student success..." that is also totally false. He said, "In 2013, we began to see significant results: Tennessee was the fastest-improving state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress..." That is totally false in my view. Your comments on the ACT show what actually happened. The NEAP results he quotes shows only the difference between "retention" and "social promotion" for two specific grades in Tennessee that were deliberately, and with aforethought, singled out. To suggest anyone compare the NEAP test results of those two specific Tennessee grades to a state like Michigan using only "social promotion" is deceitful. Marc Hill, Phil Power and Ron French and Bridge know this to be true. To allow Marc Hill's commentary at all on Bridge is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts of this matter. Any Michigan legislator or other reader has a right to know the truth of this matter. What the NEAP data does in fact show dramatically, is the amount of advantage "retained" students have over "socially promoted" students in a states like Tennessee and Michigan, and the rest of the nation.
Tue, 06/02/2015 - 1:18pm
I have to say you are "right on" track with your evaluation and personal assessment! Good Job SIr (Jeff Salisbury)
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 11:49am
I remember in Junior High (now called Middle School) we took some standardized tests (don't remember if they were the MEAP this was a long time ago) and one of the students told me they didn't even look at the question they just filled in a blank on the sheet just to get it done with, they didn't care at all what their score was since to them it didn't really matter. I suspect things haven't changed a lot since then for a number of students.
sam melvin
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 1:11pm
HELLO Michigan , hire Michelle Lee from the washington D.C school district, She made it NUMBER one again...and then "they" let here go.. Plus pay mothers for HOMESCHOOLING there kids I know 3 teenager that are in schoolcarft college at age 16 .MOM did it.
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 4:54pm
As a teacher with 40 years of experience in Michigan public school classrooms I say send Jeff Salisbury to the front of the class. He understands the realities. Nice job!