Evaluating the evaluations

It’s a good idea for us to start with a working definition of “evaluation” from the onset here:

Evaluate (verb)
\i-ˈval-yə-ˌwāt, -yü-ˌāt\
: to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study

I’m no stranger to regular job evaluations, also commonly referred to as performance appraisals. I worked with them for years in both the private and public sectors. However, they tended to be much more constructive in the prior than the latter.  While government needs to adopt some of the methods used in the private sector more, they inevitably seem to botch things up along the way, when they do try.  The evaluations done of my work and those I did of my employees in the private sector were constructive and tied to direct incentives to do well in the form of annual pay increases. The better I performed, the heftier the annual percentage increase I could expect each year. Contrary to those in the private sector, the public sector evaluations tend to do significantly less to promote advancement and nurture employees in their profession. Yes. I know you’ve been told that the TEAM evaluation is designed to help teachers develop their craft and it may well have been in theory but that is not how it is playing out in practice and reality.

Tennessee’s standard evaluation model, the Teacher Education Acceleration Model (TEAM), was developed and piloted in the 2010-2011 school year and then implemented in the current 2011-2012 school year. Unfortunately, in the state’s haste, the bugs were not worked out properly. Maybe, that’s why the definition of “evaluate” above notes the “careful appraisal and study?” I know. Novel. Right?

Governor Haslam has called for an internal and external study of the state-adopted evaluation model that has received so much criticism throughout the education field.  Why?

Gov. Bill Haslam is calling for more study of Tennessee’s new process for evaluating teachers, in a bid to head off legislative action spurred by complaints over the system’s fairness and practicality…

The study comes after state lawmakers, including some fellow Republicans, questioned whether efforts to grade teacher performance are being rolled out haphazardly.

So, it’s defense mode for the administration, after legislators have been inundated with feedback from educators and other concerned stakeholders state-wide. Governor Haslam has pitched the ball to SCORE for the external evaluation, while TDOE conducts their own internal evaluation.

Someone well should be evaluating the system that was rolled out so hastily. Govenor Haslam has dismissed calls for a one year reprieve on using results of this year’s evaluations to make employment/retention decisions, until the evaluation of the model is complete, saying, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for the state to tell local boards, ‘You shouldn’t be using the data that you’re collecting on these evaluations.‘”

Really? If the state can foist the evaluation model on local boards, they feel it not “appropriate” to tell them to hold off on using what may well be a flawed model? Food for thought.  If the model is flawed, wouldn’t any decisions made based on a flawed model be a flawed decision? This seems like another opportunity to note a lack of “careful appraisal and study,” like the definition of “evaluate” implies.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey thinkschange is tough” and “now that we’ve gotten into this evaluation process … for the most part, it has been positive.” “Positive?” To whom in the state has he been talking? Or, better yet, to whom in the state has he been listening

Now, think about this. If feedback, if even “for the most part…has been positive,” as Lt. Gov. Ramsey intimates, why is the administration trying to stave off legislative action by calling for the internal and external reviews by TDOE and SCORE, respectively?  You’re smart enough to figure that out, even if Nashville isn’t giving you credit for being smart enough to figure it out. Legislators are hearing from their constituencies and the feedback is not “positive,” as some might like you to think.

I have read about positive feedback on some locally-developed evaluation models, like the one in Hamilton County called Project COACH. However, Project COACH, is not the rule, it is the exception. Even as the exception, it still has its flaws but it still isn’t as cumbersome as the TEAM model or near as time consuming for teachers and administrators and works to keep the evaluations from being a dog and pony show.

Is the state-adopted TEAM model flawed? It would certainly seem so to me.  After the Tennessean filed an open records request and obtained results from the TDOE for the first semester of the current school year, we can see how subjective principal evaluations have been. While there will always be some level of subjective interpretation in an appraisal process, it should not vary so wildly or “widely,” as the article title implies. “Wildly” seems more appropriate to me from reading the information contained in the article.

So, while evaluations can and should be a good thing, shoddy development and implementation do not a good evaluation model make. And, for Pete’s sake, make them applicable to the subjects being taught. It is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking. An evaluation has to be specific to the situation. Direct instruction courses adopted by local school systems do not readily fit the rubric of the TEAM model. In simpler terms, you cannot compare apples to oranges. You are either going to have to have teachers teach to the rubric of the model and forgo the direct instruction model program on which they have been trained and told to teach or forgo the rubric and teach the direct-instruction model they have been told to teach.

You cannot have it both ways. Or, more precisely, you cannot have it both ways and be fair to the teachers you profess to be wanting to advance and help improve their craft to benefit the students. Wasn’t that the whole jist of the evaluations to begin with, helping teachers improve their skills, so students benefit from it? I thought I heard that along the way somewhere.


The views expressed here by this author are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of the JCGOP.


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