Tennessee governor responds to outcry over new teacher evaluations

over (Medium)The expedited reform timeline embedded in the federal Race to the Top grants is a concern among the state officials here in Georgia charged with creating and launching one of the most controversial new reforms: How to better evaluate — and ultimately pay — teachers.

Georgia is about to pilot its new evaluation system next month in the systems that agreed to be part of the Race to the Top grant.

And there is good reason for trepidation. Our neighbor Tennessee rushed its new, complex eval system into operation with no real piloting, and complaints are mounting. Last week,  Gov. Bill Haslam requested more study of Tennessee’s evaluation tool.

As we discussed here a few weeks ago, Tennessee seems to have bumbled into a perplexing method of teacher evaluations. As in every state, Tennessee had to devise a fair way to rate the more than 50 percent of its teachers for whom there are no student test scores — teachers in the early grades, art, music and vo-tech.

So, it created a system where these teachers can pick a tested area by which they, too, can be judged. For example, music teachers can choose to be assessed by the school’s writing scores.

As The New York Times described it: Half of their assessment is based on their students’ results on state test scores, a serious problem for those who teach subjects with no state test. For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject 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. It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds. There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject.

Here is the story from the Nashville Tennessean newspaper about the fallout:

Haslam said Wednesday that he has appointed SCORE, a Nashville advocacy group that pushed for reforms to teacher evaluations, to conduct a formal review of how well the state’s new system is working. The review will coincide with an internal analysis by the Tennessee Department of Education.

The study comes after state lawmakers, including some fellow Republicans, questioned whether efforts to grade teacher performance are being rolled out haphazardly. Haslam defended the new system and urged lawmakers not to take action until after the state and SCORE reports have been delivered.

“We don’t feel like legislative changes are the right approach this year,” Haslam said. “It’s not a question of, should we have it? It’s a question of, is the one that we have working well?”

The study, which would be delivered by June 1, is the latest of in a series of actions taken by Haslam before the upcoming legislative session to head off political fights. The governor had previously called for a study of school vouchers — which also will not be delivered until after the legislature adjourns — and he has publicly opposed bills brought by senior Republican lawmakers dealing with taxes and living wage ordinances.

Haslam was flanked by about a dozen Republican lawmakers as he announced the teacher evaluation studies at a press conference in the state Capitol early Wednesday afternoon.

Among them were Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, who both agreed that lawmakers should not make changes to the evaluation process this year.  “Change is tough. I understand that. There’s not a legislator standing up here that hasn’t heard from teachers in our district,” Ramsey said. “But now that we’ve gotten into this evaluation process … I think for the most part, it has been positive.”

In 2010, Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, took the first step toward toughening teacher evaluations by tying them to student test scores as part of the state’s winning application for a $500 million federal grant. Haslam went a step farther last year by creating a rating system used to decide whether teachers should earn and keep tenure.

The new system went into effect this school year. Since then, state lawmakers say they have heard complaints from teachers, administrators and parents that the new evaluations are too time-consuming and subjective.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

46 comments Add your comment

Jordan Kohanim

December 26th, 2011
9:38 am

The question now becomes will Georgia learn from the mistakes of others or will we adopt a system that has failed?

Maureen Downey

December 26th, 2011
9:44 am

@Jordan, I think Georgia DOE is trying very hard to avoid repeating Tennessee’s missteps, but I do think there is an impossible problem in the lack of time to evaluate whether the new system is working and look at the data for a few years before moving wholesale to a new system. I also think that the use of test scores to judge teachers is something that no one seems to have much confidence in yet. But we are going far down that road despite what is universal skepticism.


December 26th, 2011
9:47 am

I can assure you, as the spouse of a teacher, that Lt Gov Ramsey’s comments “but now we’ve gotten into this evaluation process…I think for the most part, it has been positive” goes to show how out ot touch Ramsey is with the teachers of the state of TN. Every teacher we know that fits into the category as one who’s evaluation is dependent of picking by odds an area outisde of their day to day work is furious. This change in evaluation and obtaining ot tenure was nothing more than political pay back to the teachers of TN and TEA’s lack of support for Ramsey and his house counterpart Beth Harwell. My wife is a teaching professional with over 30 years in GA and TN classrooms, has been selected teacher of the year in both states and she has to rely on an evaluaion that has nothing to do with you her classroom abilities? Thank goodness she is eligible for retirement and will be out of this insantiy after this school year. Her future students will suffer the lack of an exceptional educator due to this naked polictical move by the politicial leadership of TN.

Unfortunately, the citizens of TN and GA as well as other states are being bombarded daily in the media how horrible their teachers are, how bad tenure is and how ill prepared their sons and daughers are to proceed in life. All of our children are products of the publice education system here in GA. One has his MBA, one graduated with honors from Vanderbilt, one is at Univ of SC in the Honors college and one is graduating from high school this year and has been accepted to several colleges with full scholarships. As much as teachers have inpacted all of them, what has gotten them to this point has been ours involvement in their education. One again it boils down to the PARENTS being involved and insisting of their children education be foremost in the minds on their children

No competent teacher has any issue with being properly evaluated but, for goodness sakes, evaluate them on what THEY do, not what others are doing. Would any of you in the private sector want your job to depend on an evaluation of YOU that had nothing to do with YOUR performance?

William Casey

December 26th, 2011
10:34 am

IMHO, it would be much more rational to bring in astrologers and witch doctors to evaluate teachers than what is described here. As a retired teacher/coach, I would prefer using free throw shooting. I once hit 86%.

Julie Worley

December 26th, 2011
10:50 am

I am the parent of 3 children, who we do not hit, attending schools in an Unresponsive “Paddling School District” in Tennessee, where they are forced to overhear their teachers hit classmates with thick wooden paddles in hallways just outside class as a knee-jerk reaction to minor infractions such as not turning in homework or horsing around, without parental consent or notification, not required per Tennessee State law! Teachers’ Paddles are displayed in the classrooms to intimidate students and the paddlings administered in hallways where everyone hears the blows create a learning environment full of Fear, Pain, Humiliation and Anxiety, not conducive to learning. The very same action, hitting any person or animal in public is assault, Sexual Assault when done to a non-consenting adult!

My husband and I made a written/verbal presentation to our local school board members in April 2008, during “National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month” to Demand they Prohibit Physical Pain to Punish students in our schools, we did not receive any response, no letter, no phone call, they ignored us!

Federal and State officials informed us that School Corporal Punishment/Paddling to Inflict Pain to Punish Students, Kindergarten through Twelfth grade, is a “local issue”! Corporal Punishment is Illegal in Schools in 31 U.S. states and Prohibited by Federal Law for use against convicted felons, murderers and child molesters, in All U.S. Prisons!

Research consistently finds that corporal punishment is harmful to children, lowering their IQ’s due to fear and anxiety and an impairment to the learning environment. Our National Children’s Health and Education Organizations are opposed to corporal punishment of children in schools, see stophitting dot org.

Federal Courts uphold outrageous incidents of school paddlings and the U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear school corporal punishment appeals.

Paddling Injuries to schoolchildren put local school districts, states and the Federal government at risk of lawsuits. Several “School Paddling States” have “Teacher Immunity Laws” to protect school teachers, coaches and administrators from criminal/civil action, leaving families of injured schoolchildren with no legal redress.

Search “A Violent Education” for disturbing facts.

Please add your voice to support Federal Bill to Abolish Corporal Punishment/Paddling of Students in ALL U.S. Schools at donthitstudents dot com

drew (former teacher)

December 26th, 2011
10:58 am

“So, it created a system where these teachers can pick a tested area by which they, too, can be judged. For example, music teachers can choose to be assessed by the school’s writing scores.”

This is hilarious, and just one of many problems in the “new evaluation” process. Music teachers evaluated on writing scores! Seriously?? BWAH!!

William Casey….86%…now that’s funny!

drew (former teacher)

December 26th, 2011
11:04 am

Julie Worley…you’ve obviously stumbled into the wrong blog. Maureen will no doubt offer another blog on corporal punishment soon (those always get a lot of comments), so please be patient.

And I will not support ANY bill that takes local control of schools and hands it over to the feds. Aren’t they doing enough damage already?

An Educator

December 26th, 2011
11:08 am

I’ve been an educator for 14 years and teacher evaluation has always been a problem and very subjective. There is too much put on teachers and what they are doing and the many other things they have to do on daily basis.They are getting away from what they like to do most. Teach!!!!! (1)Many teachers have lost Art, Music and P.E in most schoolls due to the budget deficit in education. So, guess what the teachers have to do as a result, they have to teach without a break and no specials for the students.(2)Within the past 5 to 7 years, we have gone from QCC to soon to be Common Core. We have suffered many curriculum changes and teachers have yet to master them(especially Performance Standards). As for Georgia, THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT TIME FOR THE NEW EVALUATION PROCESS. Next year, the state will roll out two major pieces in half the schools systems, Common Core and Teacher Evaluation System. How much are we going to put on the teachers? What our Governors need to be focusing on is holding the parents accountable as well. It needs to be required that parents attend 2 to 4 parent/teacher conferences a school. With that support piece in place, teachers and schools can be more successful meeting the expectations. THE TEACHERS ARE TIRED AND LEAVING THE PROFESSION.

bootney farnsworth

December 26th, 2011
11:36 am

I stand by what I’ve said before.

my issue with merit pay, evaluations, ect is that we’ve not been
asked to the table to help craft a realistic process.

bootney farnsworth

December 26th, 2011
11:38 am

this, as it exists now, is nothing more than a search for somebody to blame.

Jordan Kohanim

December 26th, 2011
11:51 am


Agreed. I worry about using test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness. I fear it because for those students who are already deficient in skills, curriculum will become narrowed to little more then test prep. On top of that, the same inequalities that exist within our current system will be exacerbated. Impoverished schools will narrow their focus to make up for lagging knowledge bases; high-income area schools will continue to excel in numbers because parents can afford tutors and time for students to focus on school (as opposed to earning money for family income).

That being said, an appropriate comprehensive evaluation system is necessary. Portfolios, professional development, and publishing within one’s field (in my opinion) would all be great ways to evaluate teachers. Observations are also important, but they need to be legitimate and peer-reviewed. Even the most effective administrator will have trouble estimating a teacher’s effectiveness if they are unfamiliar with the subject matter. It would be more productive if fellow teachers, vested in their school and community, were the ones to observe each other. I know many might argue that teachers would just give each other perfect evaluations, but I disagree. I find that the teachers I have encountered defend their professionalism fiercely.

Finally, the one thing, above all else, that I see as the great stumbling block to any and all comprehensive evaluation systems is money. It takes money to do this correctly. The system might get this initial sum of monies from RttT, but after the process of evaluation has been put in place and the RttT run out, I fear that the “death by a thousand papercuts” effect will begin again. That is, education as system has a tendency to cut a little here and a little there until it all becomes ineffective.

Money is often an indicator of what society values. If that is the case, schools have been on a downward devaluing spiral. Certainly it is the number one budget item in the state, but it is also one of the (if not the only) last great social service. It is offered to everyone–regardless even of citizenship–and provides the most long-term rewards. If only society valued long-term, as opposed to short term, rewards.

Beverly Fraud

December 26th, 2011
12:28 pm

Among them were Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, who both agreed that lawmakers should not make changes to the evaluation process this year…“But now that we’ve gotten into this evaluation process … I think for the most part, it has been positive.”

Positive for the most part? You’ll be “evaluated” on something that has NOTHING to do with you?

Other than THAT, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?


December 26th, 2011
12:53 pm

The “outcry” is driven by teachers who do not trust that the educrats and administrators can come up with a system that evaluates them fairly.

And based on the idiocy that permeates the educational systems, that mistrust is well founded.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Mikey D

December 26th, 2011
1:14 pm

I’m still not sure why exactly Georgia leaped into a brand new evaluation system immediately after launching CLASS Keys…. My county is implementing CLASS Keys for the first time this year, and in spite of the oppressive paperwork and meaningless hours spent documenting everything under the sun, we’ve already been told that this is probably the only year we’ll use it because the “new” system is coming down the pipe pretty soon… Maureen, is there any way for you to find out how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to develop and implement CLASS Keys? It certainly seems like that’s all wasted money now. Gee, thanks Kathy Cox!

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]


December 26th, 2011
2:55 pm

I have about 10 teachers in my building that are part of the CLASS KEYS pilot next semester. They were told to register for professional development on Jan 5. We will see how it goes. Here’s my concern, though. I am in an EOCT tested subject. I am concerned how will a year’s growth be measured in a semester-long course (Economics) and since Economics is not anything like the US History course my students will have had the year before entering my class, how will I know that they’ve gained a year’s worth of knowledge in the semester they are with me?

Since Tennessee is mentioned, I will say this… I have a friend who teaches German. His evaluation is based on 9th grade English scores. His school doesn’t even allow freshmen to take foreign language. So he is being evaluated on students he doesn’t even teach. Gotta love that, right?

bootney farnsworth

December 26th, 2011
3:20 pm

when evals are popularity polls administered by political whores, don’t expect us to jump for joy @ the idea

Mikey D

December 26th, 2011
5:22 pm

Gotta love it, indeed!
If this garbage was happening in any other profession, folks would be screaming about its idiocy at every opportunity. Being evaluated based on subjects and students that you never even teach???
And yet, because it’s being done to teachers, it’s seen as perfectly fine and the public thinks it’s no big deal. Where’s the outrage? Does the general public despise teachers so much that they are willing to stay silent when basic fairness is blatantly flushed down the toilet?


December 26th, 2011
5:36 pm

@d…..the DOE is working on that….pre/post tests are in the works. The DOE won’t openly admit to this but get one in a corner, keep pressing the issue, and they will finally admit to it.

When Common Core hits the classroom, testing will become even more pronounced….under the guise of “benchmark assessments” which is a gross misinterpretation of authentic formative assessments.

RttT and the NCLB waiver have insured GA is a laboratory for Duncan’s education reforms. Of course all of this is wrapped up in the pretense of flexibility and “bringing teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders to the table to focus on plans to reform education.


Anyone out there get an invitation to sit at the table?



December 26th, 2011
8:03 pm

Money to develop and implement CLASS KEYS? How much did it cost to PRINT the damned manual? What a pile of hooey!


December 26th, 2011
8:05 pm

It’s not about EVALUATING teachers. It’s about justifying paying them less!

Another comment

December 26th, 2011
8:51 pm

Enter your comments here

Another comment

December 26th, 2011
8:53 pm

@ Jordan k. Is exactly correct the “b


December 26th, 2011
9:10 pm

Our system piloted a “condensed version” of CLASS KEYS developed by one of the RESAs a couple of years ago, because the original was too time-consuming and confusing, but even the condensed version took more time than anyone had available, so it’s never been properly implemented.


December 26th, 2011
9:15 pm

@Mikey D: Where’s the outrage? Does the general public despise teachers so much that they are willing to stay silent when basic fairness is blatantly flushed down the toilet?

Do you really think the general public is paying any attention whatsoever to this? The general public is much more interested in the football playoffs, Dancing With the Stars, etc.


December 26th, 2011
9:36 pm

We all got copies of CLASS KEYS (the shipping alone was astronomical) 2 years ago, started implementing, and then the powers that be decided WTH (which never happens, no matter how stupid the idea) and we quit, after 2 meetings on implementation. Wow!


December 26th, 2011
9:47 pm

Wow, indeed!


December 26th, 2011
10:10 pm

No one seems to be concerned that half of our teachers do not teach the subjects (math, science, social studies, and language arts) that every student MUST learn in order to be literate. When you rely on so few of your personnel to ensure the success of your organization, you must value and reward them. That less than 50% of our teachers are responsible for student achievement is the real problem.

Add to that the fact that in big school systems in metro areas, 50% of the entire personnel are not even teachers. You wind up with a situation of all of the pressure is on one relatively small subgroup – the teachers who teach the content core subjects – the subjects that are the reason we have an educational system. And yet they are the “low men on the educational totem pole”.

This huge infrastructure that has been built to “support” the classroom has drained the content area classrooms of resources. There is no accountability for the other 75% of the employees because they do not perform the work that is the core business of schools. The core business of schools is ensuring students can read, write, compute, understand the natural world, and participate in a democracy.

I’m not against special area teachers. I’ve done both classroom and special area. As a classroom teacher and as a specialist I always understood that the classroom teacher is the most important employee in the entire school system because he is the responsible for the success of the core business. Without the content area teacher, there is no core business.

It’s beyond me why the governor of Tennessee is not asking why so few personnel are actually responsible for the core business of the school system.

TFA will run the schools now

December 27th, 2011
9:18 am

I get it now, with so much older teacher turnover, the price tags for teacher salaries will be low and TFA teachers will dominate schools. Sounds great except that not a lot of them will have what is truly valued, years of experience and maturity or perspectives. They will swallow what ever educational initiative du jour is expected of them and how compliant a work force can you get. How fantastic an opportunity for Mike Milliken and his hedge fund cronies- education as investment opportunity.

Posted from an education blog in Tennessee. By: Joan Grim

TN TEAM evaluation

The state of TN paid millions of dollars to the Milken Foundation’s NIET to adopt the TEAM teacher evaluation system without evaluating it’s efficacy in identifying teacher quality. None of Milken’s white papers claiming success have been subjected to external peer review. (search TAP Milken Foundation. The same Lowell & Michael Milken involved in 1980’s financial fraud. Michael was convicted and Lowell turned state’s evidence.)

Since the scores of TEAM evaluated teachers follow a Bell-shape distribution (according to their research), only 15% of teachers will achieve scores above (4) or significantly above (5) expectations. It is nearly impossible for 85% of teachers to average scores of 4 to gain or keep tenure. Our trainer repeatedly told us that ’solid teaching’ must be scored a (3). We were trained never to score higher than a (3) on all but 1 -2 indicators. That is, no one will average (4s) or (5s), out of 12 indicators.

Reflective, thoughtful growth is punished. In post conference, if a teacher provides evidence that was not observed we are not permitted to change their score. Only a fraudulent assessment model does not allow feedback to inform and improve practice.

The state is not prepared for the turnover in the teaching force, nor do they seem to care. The system is rigged to churn teachers and open up the market for cheap, temporary labor (e.g., teach for america). None of which will effect the Haslams, Frists, and their ilk as their children go to expensive private schools that eschew inexperienced, untrained, uncommitted teachers.


December 27th, 2011
9:26 am

Dekalbite – what a great point. I’m often angry that as a core subject area teacher I’m paid the same (or less!) as a PE teacher who sits in the gym watching kids play four square while working on a PhD through Nova or Argosy. The pay system for teachers is very broken.

Michael Moore

December 27th, 2011
9:44 am

Just recently in New York, 658 principals signed a letter protesting the use of student scores to evaluate teachers and principals. In what the New York Times is calling “the first principals revolt in history,” Bernard Kaplan, spokesperson for the principals, said, “It’s education by humiliation, I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

Many of their complaints could be echoed in our state. The lack of transparency in the evaluation system; the lack of test scores in all grades and subject areas; unreliable state tests to the extent that there is a fourteen percent rescaled pass rate from the national NAEP Reading Test to the Georgia CRCT. (See also our recent testing history with McGraw Hill especially in math and social studies.)

Maureen last month reported in her blog about her meeting with a team from the Georgia Department of Education that is moving to develop teacher and leader evaluation tools using student performance on standardized tests, and ominously undefined “other measures” in courses without tests.
So where are we with the other measures? Oh, and I forgot, students, including kindergartners are also part of the teacher evaluation process.


December 27th, 2011
10:04 am

“Reflective, thoughtful growth is punished. In post conference, if a teacher provides evidence that was not observed we are not permitted to change their score. Only a fraudulent assessment model does not allow feedback to inform and improve practice.”

Heaven help us if the DOE decides to implement a similar model.

Career & Technical Education

December 27th, 2011
11:11 am

Clarification: Its not Vo-Tech its Career & Technical Education. Vo-Tech was the term used two decades ago. Career & Technical became the official language in the late 90’s by the Federal Government in the Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act.


December 27th, 2011
11:49 am

I don’t think that “Julie Worley”’s post yesterday at 10:50 am on the horrors of paddling was directed to the wrong blog thread, as “drew (former teacher)” suggested. I think it was aimed at the incessant posts by “Ole Guy” that recommend paddling as the solution to all classroom discipline problems.

[...] more: Tennessee governor responds to outcry over new teacher … Recommend on Facebook Buzz it up share via Reddit Tumblr it Tweet about it Subscribe to the [...]

Math Teacher

December 27th, 2011
9:18 pm


I know I’m a little late on posting, but why do you say that there is a lack of time? Why is there a rush to push this through? I understand that more kids are moving through the system and graduating and we want as many of them as possible to have a good education; but, if the new system is worse, we should figure that out before we test the water with both feet.

Dekalbite@math Teacher

December 27th, 2011
9:24 pm

” Why is there a rush to push this through”

I assumed it was to get the federal funding. Unfortunately, very little will trickle down to the classroom in the way of direct instruction of the content areas that are tested.

[...] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } blogs.ajc.com – Today, 10:19 [...]

Former Middle School Teacher

December 27th, 2011
11:13 pm

If you teach subjects that are tested, you should be paid more. Honestly more risk, more reward. If you don’t think some teachers are angling to teach all electives think again. There is no fair way to do this and everyone knows it.

[...] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } blogs.ajc.com – Today, 11:29 [...]

[...] is a concern among the state officials here in Georgia charged with creating and……Via blogs.ajc.comShare this:EmailStumbleUponAbout Michael Hicks Michael Hicks is a Progressive Educational Leader who [...]

N GA Teacher

December 28th, 2011
8:41 pm

Tennessee is certainly going the wrong direction. I continue to be amazed by allegedly intelligent politicians (most who are law graduates) who allow such tripe to be prescribed. Every single one of these politicians wants the best teachers for his kids, and would insist that they be interesting, well-educated, disciplinary, communicative and personable (which is how the teachers at their children’s private schools are usually selected!) yet NONE of these crucial characteristics, which USED to be valued in 1940s-1990s, are now used. Instead, teachers are now assessed by a long checklist and by standardized test scores, which are possibly the WORST way to assess teachers. Standardized tests, which cover an entire course (or, in the case of the a graduation test, two or three years!), are given at the ends of semesters when students are consumed by thoughts of Christmas or summer, so the majority are extremely low-motivated to do any studying outside of class or even to give a good effort while taking it. Also, how can you fairly assess teachers who work in different socioeconomic areas? Data from a generation of SAT and ACT tests have shown that the most significant correlation factor for test scores is socioeconomic standing. Another complicating factor is reading level. Many, especially poverty, kids have reading skills so low that ANY kind of written test is difficult. To the great astonishment of my non-educator professional friends, a huge percentage of public high school kids in Title I schools read at below 8th grade, with a sizeable group below 5th. The question I would pose is “why is it that our governor and others back the current teacher evaluation for PUBLIC school teachers when the PRIVATE schools their kids attend would NEVER evaluate their faculty in the same manner!


December 28th, 2011
9:59 pm

To the choir… Read it, get it, but preaching to the wrong audience. Barrage the governor and Secretary of education with your verbage. They do not read this-obviously! It makes me very sad to read recent topics. I am so glad we switched to an independent school.

Proud Teacher

January 1st, 2012
10:50 am

I hope doctor’s are never held accountable for not being able to cure the common cold. There are those students that no matter what interventions are made, they will never be able to learn to anyone’s standards but their own. “One size fits” all never works with children.

Proud Teacher

January 2nd, 2012
5:43 am

I hope doctors are never . . . .