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Tougher teacher evaluation system prompts schools to ban student teachers


Williamson County Schools spokeswoman Carol Birdsong said schools can’t risk interference for teachers when 35 percent of their evaluations are based on student learning gains on standardized tests.

Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system has prompted some school districts to ban student teachers from working in core high school subjects, college education officials say. The reason: So much of a teacher’s evaluation is now based on student test scores that some teachers don’t want to cede control of their classroom to a student teacher.

“It’s nothing but the teacher evaluation system that’s got them tied up in knots,” James Stamper, director of student teaching for Belmont University, told The Tennessean. “We all had to have somewhere to start.”

Recent changes in state law—including teacher evaluations and toughening the curriculum—allowed Tennessee to win $500 million in the national Race to the Top education grant competition.

At the end of this school year, principals will compile assessments on every Tennessee teacher: 35 percent from learning gains, 15 percent from other student-selected data, and 50 percent from classroom observations. Teachers can lose tenure if they score in the two lowest ratings for two consecutive years, and they can gain tenure only if they score in the top two ratings for two consecutive years.

Williamson County Schools spokeswoman Carol Birdsong said schools can’t risk interference for teachers when 35 percent of their evaluations are based on student learning gains on standardized tests.

“It’s your classroom, and you are being evaluated based on your students’ performance,” she said.

Middle Tennessee State University student Starla Weatherell, who will get her master’s in business education in May, is uncertain about where she’ll student teach.

“It’s a huge problem for me, when I live in Williamson County, to not be able to student teach where I want to work,” she said. “Right now, they are telling us we may have to drive two hours.”

The new evaluations have been criticized by Tennessee educators and union groups as too time consuming, particularly the number of observations teachers have to receive.

Despite the concerns, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he doesn’t want districts to ban student teachers.

“My message … is Tennessee has great data,” said Huffman, adding that the number of teacher observations has been reduced. “We should look at the data to see whether classrooms that have student teachers are doing the same, better, or worse.”

Rutherford and Wilson County school officials said they have no student teacher changes this school year. June Keel, assistant superintendent for human resources for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said she’s discussed the issue, but it’s unlikely anything will change this year.

“There is so much riding on students’ progress, I can understand the concern,” Keel said. “For the teacher, it’s a question of giving up that learning to student teachers.”

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