Mid-South News
5:01 pm
Mon January 23, 2012

Teachers Nervous About Changes In Evaluations, Pay

Education reformers want to use more data to evaluate and pay teachers, and they’re making headway in Tennessee. Statewide teachers face a more involved evaluation this year, but that evaluation is making some teachers uncomfortable.

Stephanie Fitzgerald is no stranger to data. She’s a high school biology teacher in Memphis City Schools and she has been at it a long time. Fitzgerald was one of a team of teachers that helped develop the new Teaching Effectiveness Measure that all teachers in Memphis (including Fitzgerald) are being evaluated with this year. The new measure is a pie-chart and all the things that go into a teacher’s score are slices of the pie. Classroom observations are the biggest slice, with 40 percent of the pie, followed by student test scores with 35 percent.

Fitzgerald even had input on the rubric that is used to evaluate teachers in the classroom. But when it came time for her principal evaluate her, Fitzgerald was not happy with the result.

“I don’t think what I did, correlated with what she thought she saw,” Fitzgerald said.

Multiple evaluations go into a teacher’s overall score. Fitzgerald says she still plans on getting a good score at the end of the year.

“I’m not giving up on it yet,” Fitzgerald said.

Kindergarten teacher Margaret Box really liked the way her first observation went.

“Oh, it went great! Yeah, it was very cordial,” Box said.

Box also had input developing the observation rubric. But even after a pleasant observation, she doesn’t think the rubric has been perfected.

“Principals, they’ve been given on the job training—at the same time they were learning how to do it, they’ve been using it. So, there’s been a lot of misuse of the rubric, misunderstanding of the rubric,” Box said.

Box says when they were developing the rubric, the goal was to make each measure as objective as possible. So, as much as possible, they tried to take opinions out of it. For example, take something the principals are looking for on the rubric, like scaffolding.

“Scaffolding is just say, I have an objective in Kindergarten, and the child is struggling with it. So, I have to go to that child individually and break it down,” Box said.

The rubric asks whether you see scaffolding, or not. But Box says that’s not always how the rubric is being applied.

“A teacher might be told, ‘Well, I saw you scaffolding, but I need to see more,’” Box said. “So, to put a quantitative amount on it was not the purpose. The purpose was either you saw this in the classroom or you didn’t.”

Memphis plans to take the new evaluation one step further--as a part of their work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Memphis City Schools are designing a plan to have the new evaluation factor into a teacher’s pay. Superintendent Kriner Cash says he plans to hire new teachers into the new pay system in the fall. Teachers already working in the schools can decide whether to sign up for the new pay system, or stick with the old one.

Box is uncomfortable with the idea of having the new evaluation to factor into anyone’s pay.

“I would not want to see pay tied to a system that was still a work in progress,” Box said.

Fitzgerald agrees. Fitzgerald says, to her, the promise of the Gates work was not so much about evaluating or paying teachers, but identifying best practices.

“What’s different about teachers that can move children further? How do they do it?” Fitzgerald said, “I don’t think we have enough data yet to tell.”

And, to that end, Fitzgerald says the Memphis City Schools will have some worthwhile data at the end of this year.

“Where it is going to be really interesting to try to see what is actually going on, will be the case where a teacher has low observation scores and high test scores. Or where they have high observation scores—they’re doing really great things in the classroom—but they have low test scores,” Fitzgerald said.