Spurred by the requirements of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition, Tennessee is one of more than a dozen states overhauling their evaluation systems to increase the number of classroom observations and to put more emphasis on standardized test scores. But even as New York State finally came to an agreement last week with its teachers’ unions on how to design its new system, places like Tennessee that are already carrying out similar plans are struggling with philosophical and logistical problems.
Principals in rural Chester County, Tenn., are staying late and working weekends to complete reviews with more than 100 reference points. In Nashville, teachers are redesigning lessons to meet the myriad criteria — regardless of whether they think that is the best way to teach. And at Bearden High School in Knoxville, Tenn., physical education teachers are scrambling to incorporate math and writing into activities, since 50 percent of their evaluations will be based on standardized tests, not basketball victories.
In Delaware, under pressure from the teachers’ union, the state secretary of education announced last month that teachers would not be assessed on metrics based on how much growth students showed in their classrooms, as planned, because not enough of such data existed. In Maryland, districts were granted an additional year to develop and install evaluation models without the results being counted toward tenure, pay and promotions. And in New York, Thursday’s agreement came after a stalemate lasting months in which more than 1,300 principals signed a petition protesting the new evaluations.
States “are racing ahead based on promises made to Washington or local political imperatives that prioritize an unwavering commitment to unproven approaches,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “There’s a lot we don’t know about how to evaluate teachers reliably and how to use that information to improve instruction and learning.”...