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Superintendent, Teacher of the Year testify to House Education Committee

Dr. Jim McIntyre, Superintendent of the Knox County Schools testified before the House Education Committee regarding the state’s new teacher evaluation system on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 in Nashville. Central High School’s Byron Booker, the Tennessee Teacher of the Year for 2012, joined McIntyre. Booker, an English as a Second Language teacher, is also a Lead Teacher and evaluator at Central High School.

Both McIntyre and Booker spoke before members of the House Education Committee to provide their thoughts and reflections regarding the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM), its impact across the Knox County Schools and in the classroom.

Commissioner Huffman proposes timeline flexibility for evaluation system (Details)
Text of Dr. McIntyre's tesimony
Mr. Booker's Testimony
Chairman Montgomery, Vice-Chair Hensley, Members of the House Education Committee, Commissioner Huffman, distinguished guests…

My name is Jim McIntyre, and I have the privilege of serving as the Superintendent of the Knox County Schools. As the public school system for Knoxville and its surrounding area, the Knox County Schools serves more than 55,000 students from urban, suburban and rural environments in 88 schools. I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning to discuss the important topic of teacher performance evaluation.

As you well know, with the Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010, the General Assembly authorized a new performance evaluation structure for teachers that requires an evaluation of every teacher every year, and stipulates that at least 50% of that evaluation will be based on student academic outcomes. At the time it was enacted, this law was a courageous and visionary act of legislative leadership, and it remains so today.

View full committee meeting
This morning, I come before you as an educator to assure you that the Tennessee General Assembly did the right thing with regard to teacher evaluation, and that you should proudly and unequivocally keep this important education reform law in place, and in its current form. I have no doubt that this more comprehensive evaluation system, specifically linked to effective instruction and student success, will ensure a brighter future for our children and our state.

The specific model that has been adopted under the law, the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (or TEAM), is a valuable structure, and it includes an excellent evaluation instrument based on the Teacher Advancement Program (or what is now called the TAP System).

In Knoxville, we have been fortunate to have four TAP schools in our district for the past several years. We have lived through and learned from the implementation challenges and the growing pains that inevitably come with educational change, but we have also seen extraordinary improvement in the quality of instruction in these schools, and the positive impact that TAP has had in terms of student academic growth. TAP has seen similar outcomes across the country, and I am confident that if we implement this evaluation system with fidelity across the state of Tennessee we will experience remarkable results for children.

The new TEAM evaluation tool (or “rubric” as it is called) begins with a detailed and research-based definition of good teaching, and allows educators to see how their instruction measures up against a very rigorous standard. The rubric reflects specific instructional practices that have been demonstrated to increase student achievement. The evaluation protocol requires an objective assessment based solely on the evidence that an evaluator observes in the classroom or during lesson-planning activities.

I will tell you that the evaluation rubric Tennessee has adopted through the TEAM model is perhaps the best evaluation instrument I’ve ever seen. There is no question that this tool is detailed and complex, assessing teachers in 23 indicators across 4 different educational domains, but we know that high quality teaching is a nuanced and complicated activity, and this is an instrument that appropriately reflects the level of knowledge and skill required to do the job effectively.

I believe there are other advantages to the new evaluation system as well.

Requiring every teacher to be evaluated every year connects the performance evaluation to the day-to-day work of teaching students. In the past, evaluations took place twice every ten years, and teachers felt this process was oddly separate from their daily efforts in the classroom. Because it occurred so infrequently, the previous evaluation system had, at best, a marginal impact on instructional practice. With evaluation happening for every teacher each year, it is now part of the daily work of the school. Evaluation visits are routine and frequent, and the evaluation process can actually have a significant impact on improving the quality of teaching in our schools.

I also appreciate that 50% of the teacher’s evaluation is now based on student outcomes. Our new performance evaluation system puts a premium not only on good teaching, but also on student learning. No longer is it acceptable for a teacher to say, “Well, I taught a great lesson, but my students just didn’t learn it.” The new evaluation system reinforces the urgency we all must feel in ensuring that our students meet the much more rigorous academic expectations that we have put in place in Tennessee. The rubric also emphasizes continuous formative assessment to inform instruction and to identify student mastery.

I believe there are a few keys to our success in benefiting from the new evaluation system, and honestly none of them require statutory changes to be made by the General Assembly.

First and foremost, we must consider TEAM primarily as a professional development tool, rather than an accountability tool. Don’t get me wrong, there will some be teachers who will be terminated or will fail to secure tenure because of their performance evaluation. But for the overwhelming majority of our teachers, those who are solid performers to truly extraordinary educators, TEAM will be about continually improving and enhancing their instruction.

In that light, one of the most significant adjustments to this new system will be recognizing and internalizing that scoring a “3” on this five point scale represents “meets expectations” for effective teaching. It is a necessary mind-shift, and one that aligns with a perspective of continuous professional growth. The structure of the new evaluation system underscores the notion that we have set our sights on excellent teaching, not just “satisfactory” teaching. I believe the great power of this evaluation model is that it gives a blueprint for outstanding instruction, a framework to achieve it, and a common language for educators to help challenge and support each other.

As we transition to this new evaluation paradigm we must also leverage the incredible expertise of our teachers. Teacher collaboration and teacher leadership are two important ways for us to develop and support our teachers as we implement the new evaluation model.

We have some enormous opportunities for teacher leadership under the new evaluation structure. Specifically in Knoxville we have developed a cadre of outstanding, well trained “lead teachers” who are participating in the TEAM evaluation process as peer observers and peer evaluators. In-depth conversations with a respected colleague about improving instruction can be incredibly powerful. You will hear more about this role from Mr. Byron Booker, a terrific ESL teacher at Knoxville’s Central High School, one of our lead teachers, and the 2012 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.

Finally, in order for us to be successful in this endeavor, I believe we need to recognize that this new structure is not meant to distract from our work, or add to our work, but in so many ways, ensuring great instruction in every classroom every day is our work.

So you may ask: what do we, as a legislature, need to do to improve the evaluation system? I believe that at this time there are no material statutory adjustments necessary. The General Assembly has done an outstanding job in creating the broad structure and expectations for effective evaluation of our teachers.

I would suggest, as many have, that perhaps some regulatory tweaks – particularly in terms of the minimum number of required observations – may be beneficial. But such adjustments would be the work of the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, and I was pleased to see that Commissioner Huffman proposed some changes in this regard earlier in the week.

I want to end by thanking you, the members of the House Education Committee, for your leadership and fortitude in seeing these important changes through. When the rubber hits the road of education reform it is sometimes difficult to hold the line on our school improvement efforts. But today I urge you to do exactly that. You have adopted an important, landmark piece of legislation, please give it time to be implemented effectively and with fidelity. If you do, I believe we will see the dividends from this strong evaluation system in improved instruction, which will in turn lead to a better-educated citizenry, a more competitive workforce, and a brighter future for our children and the great state of Tennessee!

Mr. Booker's Testimony
As an educator of English to Speakers of Other Languages at Central High School, my mission is to provide opportunities for linguistic development through traditional language courses and academic achievement through ESOL- Core Academic Collaborative Models. The objective is to improve English proficiency in the four modalities of language learning so that English language learners are able to work on grade level with their English speaking peers. My desire is to equip and empower these students with the skills necessary for post-graduate studies and employment in today’s workforce.
A student first and teacher second, I am willing to learn and adapt beyond my comfort zone. The moment I cease to learn and adapt is the moment I cease to effectively influence lives. As educators, we have a responsibility to be appropriately educated, motivated, and equipped to meet the educational needs of learners. Knowledge of content, alignment of objectives and standards with instruction, and implementation of effective assessment tools to measure mastery of those said objectives are more than just “educational jargon.” They are, in fact, the underpinnings of the new Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model for which I am a strong proponent and advocate.

TEAM has augmented personal accountability for all stakeholders in the educational system by evaluating everyone, every year. I embrace the evaluation process. I believe it strengthens the resolve of our profession and establishes credibility across both the public and private sectors. TEAM provides a model or a blueprint for the components of good teaching. As educators we model the “I Do, We Do, You Do” approach in our classrooms. TEAM utilizes this same approach to model good teaching and equips educators with the necessary tools to enhance teacher efficacy. Because of TEAM, I have the resources available to evaluate, reflect, and improve my effectiveness as an educator.

Collaboration is at the core of TEAM. It is facilitating discussions across classrooms, across departments, and across curriculum. TEAM is directly responsible for improved planning, instruction, and daily assessment at my high school within the first month of implementation. I attribute our success with TEAM to the initial presentation of the rubric and key concepts by our administrative team led by Mr. Danny Trent, and subsequent TEAM workshops led by our evaluation coach and lead teachers at Central High School. Whether I am reviewing a peer’s lesson plan or a colleague is offering meaningful feedback to me we are engaged in dialogue. The TEAM rubric provides a detailed accounting of the components of good teaching throughout planning, instruction, professionalism, and classroom environment. The overlap or interconnectivity of the rubric’s domains and indicators further enhances the effectiveness of the model. I have witnessed seasoned teachers replacing lesson plans or assessment tools within their zone of instructional complacency with fresh, researched-based ideas for instruction. The TEAM rubric has challenged me to insure that my objectives are aligned with my instruction and moreover, that my assessments are accurately measuring mastery of those objectives. TEAM is fostering a wave of accountability for the education of all learners and the perpetuation of teamwork.

As a Lead Teacher and TEAM evaluator, I have the opportunity to observe excellence in instruction throughout Central High School. The utilization of four Lead Teachers at Central has reduced the observation load of our administrators. My observation manifest includes fifteen minute and full-length observations, announced and unannounced. The coaching element of the pre- and post-conferences is the lifeblood of this evaluation model. Teachers are able to present plans and together we appraise and analyze alignment of those plans with the TEAM rubric. I can offer meaningful, immediate feedback on instructional strategies, lesson plans, and assessment tools. In doing so, I believe I am fostering ongoing, effective professional development conversations. As an evaluator, I see progress towards uniformity in presentation of standards and objectives, inclusion of an essential question, lessons, and daily assessment tools. Our students have taken notice of the significant change in presentation of instruction as well. Students identify the correlation of what they should learn with what they are being taught and, as a result, I believe, understand the proposition of taking ownership of their learning.

As a Lead Teacher and TEAM evaluator, I have two suggestions for refinement in the TEAM evaluation model… calculation of the 35% student growth data and time. Educators who teach a grade and subject for which there is a state assessment will use their individual TVAAS teacher effect data for the 35%. However, for the educators of non-tested areas, there is a discrepancy of accountability with how their 35% student growth data is calculated. For example, a chemistry teacher must assume a three- year average of math TVAAS scores without a state assessment for chemistry. Educators of non-tested areas are concerned that those scores do not accurately reflect their teaching abilities. Moreover, educators realize that the infrastructure was not in place prior to TEAM to facilitate or integrate cross-curricular professional learning communities over the last three years as it is currently supported under the TEAM model.

Inadequate time is a major issue overshadowing the process. Personally, I have conducted an average of 3-5 observations per week. With the appropriate pre- and post-conferences bookending those observations, I am engaged in some aspect of the TEAM observation cycle 9-15 engagements per week. Other evaluators at my school may have close to twenty engagements per week. When I factor the time evaluators and administrators spend in TEAM paperwork, whether it is transcribing notes, categorizing evidence, identifying areas of reinforcement and refinement to share with teachers, assigning scores, reviewing teacher’s self scores, and developing an outline for post-conference questions, we are consumed by the process. We want to maintain the integrity of the evaluation model, while simultaneously preserving the balance of responsibilities for evaluators and administrators.

I am honored to share my personal experiences with you as an educator and TEAM evaluator at Central High School. I applaud your efforts in the legislation of the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model. I believe we have raised the standards for our teachers just as we have raised the standards for our students in this state. TEAM is making a difference in my classroom and throughout my school because the process connects our day to day instruction with student outcomes. Interconnectivity of observations will serve to ease the inadequacies of time. However, I believe that the positive impact TEAM is having, and will have, is worth the growing pains of implementing a new evaluation model. Thank you.

-Byron Booker
2012 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

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