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Tenn. Teacher Evaluation Is 'A Bit Like Vegas'

Seems like things in Tennessee are far from settling down over the new statewide teacher evaluation system. Michael Winerip follows up on the controversy in a recent New York Times piece.

Winerip spoke with teachers and administrators who are frustrated with the evaluation system, which was implemented with haste under Tennessee's Race to the Top obligations and recent state law. "The state is micromanaging principals to a degree never seen before here," Winerip writes, "and perhaps anywhere."

One principal who now spends much of his time in his office doing paperwork told the Times, "I've never seen such nonsense. In the five years I've been principal here, I've never known so little about what's going on in my own building."

Teachers of nontested subjects receive value-added measures, which account for 50 percent of their evaluation score, based on a "bewildering set of assessment rules," Winerip writes. For 15 percent of those measures, teachers can choose the test they want to be judged on. "Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring," he says. "It's a bit like Vegas."

Winerip also gives a nod to our Education Week article, which put the controversy into a national context by saying that problems in Tennessee could undermine efforts to revamp evaluation systems in other states.

It's important to note that Winerip's take isn't exactly balanced—there are, in fact, plenty of proponents of the evaluation system outside the Tennessee department of education, as we point out in the Ed Week piece. And Winerip makes the claim that, "In the end, it's all about distrust: not trusting principals to judge teachers, not trusting teachers to educate children." I'm fairly certain at least some Tennesseans would say it's all about improving teaching to help students.

Even so, it's tempting to say that the ongoing media coverage is having an impact: The Tennessee State Board of Education recently made slight changes to the evaluation system that will, among other things, help streamline the process for principals.

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