New evaluation system a hot-button issue at education forum


FRANKLIN Tennessee legislators and Department of Education representatives said the new teacher evaluation system is not perfect, but necessary.

Questions about the controversial performance evaluations for teachers surfaced time and again during a legislative forum Tuesday sponsored by the Rho Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society held at Liberty Elementary School.

On the hot seat were State Sen. Jack Johnson and Reps. Glen Casada, Phillip Johnson and Charles Sargent, along with Sara Heyburn and Stephen Smith, who work with the state department of education. In the audience listening intently were nearly 100 teachers and administrators, sometimes nodding their heads in agreement and other times in dissent.

“We have a high degree of respect for teachers,” Sargent said. “I think when things settle down you’re going to see more teachers staying.”

This was the 10th year for the local chapter of the honorary society of women educators to host such a legislative forum. Kay Awalt Musgrove, with the Rho Chapter, presented a number of questions to the representatives, and while topics ranged from the potential for a teacher shortage, vouchers and virtual schools, the new teacher evaluation system recently imposed on districts was certainly on most teachers’ minds.

Under the state’s new teacher evaluation laws, principals must complete six evaluations a year for apprentice teachers, or those who have up to three years’ experience, and four evaluations a year for teachers who have four or more years of service.

These observations and evaluations will be tied to their tenure status. Moving forward, teachers who have worked for five years in the same district and have top ratings on these evaluations can receive tenure.

In addition, about 35 percent of teacher evaluations will factor in student gains on standardized tests. Fifteen percent will come from other student data, and classroom observations will account for 50 percent of the evaluation.

The state did recently tweak the program by allowing evaluators to hold two of the observations in succession on the same day, cutting out a pre- and post-observation interview. It didn’t change anything philosophically, but gave them a little more flexibility, said Kelli Gauthier, a state department of education representative.

Still, based on questions asked at the forum, it’s safe to say teachers feel they have had little training with the new evaluation system, and those teachers that don’t teach core subjects don’t like their evaluations being tied to teachers that do.

The new system more carefully targets teachers and doesn’t treat them all the same, said Heyburn, who also said they welcome feedback. “It’s not a perfect system. I do firmly believe we have the best chance to help students succeed outside the classroom.”