NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday defended the state's new teacher evaluation process against critics who argue that negative consequences for educators who perform poorly should be delayed while kinks in the program are worked out.
"I think it's really important that we not give up on this process too quick," Haslam told reporters. "And if it's the right thing to do for next year, I'm not sure why it's not the right thing to do for this year."
The governor noted the evaluations were proposed by his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, and passed by the General Assembly. They were the key factor in Tennessee winning a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant to carry out education reform, he said.
"We'll let the process work out," Haslam said. "Remember, this is November and we started [the new evaluations] in September. It's not like we really have a long track record in this. It takes a little bit of adjusting to get used to evaluations."
The 2010 law requires that all school personnel be evaluated annually and that personnel decisions be based, at least in part, on evaluations. At Haslam's urging, the GOP-dominated legislature this year made the evaluations a key part of winning and maintaining tenure for new teachers.
Teachers and some lawmakers -- Democrats and Haslam's fellow Republicans alike -- have complained about the classroom component of the evaluation, a required lesson plan and its 72-point checklist of things teachers must do or cover in class. The process can be confusing, time-consuming and unevenly applied, critics contend.
Last week, the House Education Committee held two days of hearings on the evaluations and heard from both opponents and supporters. Critics said worried teachers are spending as many as 10 hours on lesson plans. One lawmaker, who teaches in Shelby County, described how a colleague wept in frustration.
Haslam said the first evaluation, "because it is the one with lesson plans, does have the most paperwork involved. I think when we get past that the evaluations after that will look a little different."
During last week's hearing, several lawmakers, including House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, urged the administration to hold off using the evaluations in personnel decisions until next year to give time for problems to be resolved.
He expressed hope that "there's not one teacher ... who loses their job this year over evaluation. That's my goal."
Efforts to reach Montgomery about Haslam's comments were unsuccessful Monday.
Thirty-five percent of all evaluations are based on value-added student achievement data -- test scores that show whether students are making appropriate yearly gains for their grade level -- and 15 percent on other measures of "student achievement."
For teachers, the remaining 50 percent of an evaluation is based on "qualitative measures" such as the classroom observations, personal conferences and reviews of prior evaluations. Teachers are graded on a 1-to-5 scale with one being the worst and five the best.
The classroom component was field-tested last school year at 45 schools in 31 districts statewide. Hamilton County tested its own program, Project Coach, in most of the system's schools, and there have been relatively few problems reported in Hamilton.
Haslam's education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, has characterized problems with the state's program as relatively minor ones that can be solved by "tweaks."
Last week, at Huffman's urging, the State Board of Education cut back the number of meetings the classroom evaluators must have with teachers in order to streamline the process.
In his comments to reporters Monday, Haslam said "like anything else we put in place, we'd be less than honest if we didn't say we'll continuously re-evaluate the process to make sure we have it right. Nobody wants to get it right more than we do."
"Here's the bottom line," Haslam said. "We can't keep going the way we have in Tennessee. We don't want to be in the 40s when it comes to [national] education rankings."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0550.