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New evaluations more harm than good

The editorial this teacher refers to boldly claimed, From K-12 to college completion, Tennessee leads the nation in bold education reforms, which will produce long-lasting results for our students. Business leaders understand that these same steps will also lead to economic development in our state for years to come.

This third grade teacher's op ed provoked a lot of positive response.

by Tammy H. Lovell

I am a third-grade teacher. I have been teaching for 27 years. I am writing specifically in response to the Dec. 2 op-ed Don't roll back teacher reforms, written and endorsed by several area businesses, about the new teacher evaluation plan. I'm also writing in response to the generally negative climate surrounding public education.

I agree that teachers need to be evaluated and held accountable. I have no problem with a plan that requires all teachers to be evaluated annually. However, the state's current plan has too many flaws; in their haste the state's legislators implemented it before it was properly thought through, causing teachers, administrators and even students undue amounts of stress and anxiety.

Let me give two examples of what I mean. First, the plan greatly increases the time required to create and plan out a lesson without adding value to the children̢۪s educational experience.

I recently completed my announced instructional observation. I chose a lesson that I would normally do, using materials that I already have and regularly use. Even under those circumstances, I spent at least 20 additional hours writing up the lesson, making sure that I covered all the indicators in the rubric. I know other teachers who spent more than 30 hours.

The lesson was no better for my students than what I would have done otherwise. In fact, it was probably worse. Remember, I teach 8- and 9-year-old children. Because I had to include all the elements on the checklist -- rather than choosing the ones appropriate to that particular lesson -- I'm afraid they might have been overwhelmed. Choosing two or three things, and doing them well, would have been better.

Second, the plan evaluates many teachers based on the performance of students other than their own.

For example, in third grade the students take TCAP, a standardized test. For the test to effectively measure a child's learning, you have to compare it to that child's performance on a similar test from the previous year. But third grade is a "baseline" year; there are no tests for kindergarten through second grade. So K-3 teachers and a whole lot of others (high school teachers, those who teach related arts like music, band, art, physical education and the like) have to be evaluated based on test scores for kids and often subjects we don't teach.

I chose the fourth-grade social studies scores, even though I don't teach it. Oh, and the fourth-grade teachers are using eighth-grade test scores. Makes sense, right? Seems that things like this should have been a little better considered before the plan was required for everyone.

There are good things about the new evaluation system. I have tried to focus on the positive. Administrators should come in our classrooms and observe -- we need critique of our craft. But this system has caused more harm than good. Lawmakers need to look at the research on teacher efficacy. It shows that teachers are best able to implement changes that they believe in. Somehow, this new plan is missing the mark.

If you really want to improve education, then go volunteer in a local school. If your business wants to make a difference, then donate money for new technology or more books in the classroom. If you want every single child to show a year's gain, then help to make sure every single child has enough food, a warm place to sleep, access to health care, parents with a job and a safe place to play.

I am busy trying to make a difference, and I could use some help.

Tammy H. Lovell teaches third grade in Franklin.

— Tammy H. Lovell
The Tennessean





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