Retooling a teacher evaluation system that was pushed through the General Assembly last year to land a $501 million federal grant is one of the top priorities this legislative session, according to Warren County’s state representatives.
“I hope we make changes in the teacher evaluation system because I think the legislature made a hasty mistake,” said state Rep. Charles Curtiss. “It’s too much of a burden on the principals and it’s not fair to the teachers.”
The new teacher evaluation system was rammed through the General Assembly in hopes of landing federal Race to the Top dollars. The plan worked as Tennessee was one of two states awarded federal funds.
But the new plan requires non-tenured teachers to be evaluated six times this year. Tenured teachers catch a break and are only required to be evaluated four times.
The plan has been widely criticized by teachers and principals alike. Teachers say the stress of four to six evaluations a year is considerable and excessive. Administrators say the logistics of conducting over 100 school-wide evaluations in some cases consumes too much of their time.
State Rep. Judd Matheny says he certainly expects the evaluation system to be revisited.
“I think it’s something we need to tweak and I favor a focused approach per discipline instead of a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Matheny, who indicated there should be different standards for math teachers, reading teachers, etc.
State Sen. Eric Stewart says the state should work to produce a fair system to gauge how our educators are performing, not beat them up.
“Evaluations are here to stay and testing is here to stay,” said Stewart. “But they need to be conducted in a manner where administrators can run the school and teachers can focus on their students instead of constantly preparing for an evaluation.”
Stewart says early indications are it could get even worse for teachers as Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed removing the average class size limit and letting individual school districts make that decision.
“I think if we start putting 35 in a classroom, we’re really going to hurt our level of education,” said Stewart. “After what they’ve been through this year, I’ve heard a lot of talk about teacher retirement. They want to get out of the profession. We could be facing a teacher shortage.”
Haslam also proposed legislation this year that would eliminate state and local salary requirements for teachers made strictly on seniority and training, and give districts the flexibility to set parameters themselves.
“This legislation is based on two things,” Haslam said. “First, districts know best how to manage their schools. Second, it gives them the flexibility to reward those things they want to reward.”