Tennessee, Georgia rank among top 12 states for state teacher quality policies, report says

School literacy book reading tile

Tennessee and Georgia are among the top 12 states in the nation when it comes to state teacher policies and ensuring quality teachers, according to a new report released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The 2017 State Teacher Policy Yearbook ranks states on nine areas: general teacher preparation, preparation of elementary, secondary and special education teachers, alternative route teacher preparation, hiring, teacher and principal evaluation, teacher compensation and retention of effective teachers.

Overall, Tennessee received a B, Georgia received a B- and Alabama received a C.

"The 'B' rating is a top rating for the NCTQ study, as no state received an 'A.' We have already made some important policy changes this past year that will contribute to continuous improvements," Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

"We always appreciate external feedback on how we are ensuring that our state policies are supporting having an excellent and effective teacher in every classroom, and NCTQ provides one of those feedback loops related to educator preparation," she added.

The report comes amid a statewide effort to improve teacher preparation due to concerns about teacher quality, recruitment and retention across Tennessee.

Tennessee has actually scored at a B level since 2013, and is even highlighted in this year's report as as an example of best practices in regard to holding teacher preparation programs accountable and selecting quality student teaching experiences.

Tennessee Score Summary:

Overall Grade: BArea 1: General Teacher Preparation A-Area 2: Elementary Teacher Preparation DArea 3: Secondary Teacher Preparation B+Area 4: Special Education Teacher Preparation CArea 5: Alternate Route Teacher Preparation D-Area 6: Hiring CArea 7: Teacher and Principal Evaluation BArea 8: Teacher Compensation C+Area 9: Retaining Effective Teachers C+Georgia Score Summary: Overall Grade: B-Area 1: General Teacher Preparation C+Area 2: Elementary Teacher Preparation DArea 3: Secondary Teacher Preparation C+Area 4: Special Education Teacher Preparation FArea 5: Alternate Route Teacher Preparation BArea 6: Hiring CArea 7: Teacher and Principal Evaluation BArea 8: Teacher Compensation CArea 9: Retaining Effective Teachers CAlabama Score Summary: Overall Grade: CArea 1: General Teacher Preparation C+Area 2: Elementary Teacher Preparation B-Area 3: Secondary Teacher Preparation CArea 4: Special Education Teacher Preparation C+Area 5: Alternate Route Teacher Preparation CArea 6: Hiring CArea 7: Teacher and Principal Evaluation D-Area 8: Teacher Compensation D-Area 9: Retaining Effective Teachers F

In the areas of elementary teacher preparation, however, the state received a D. More specifically, Tennessee did not meet its goal at all for content knowledge and teaching mathematics.

The lack of high quality elementary teachers for hire was something Hamilton County noticed last summer, Erin Harrell, recruitment and field experience coordinator for Hamilton County Schools, previously noted.

One of the council's recommendations is more specific content testing requirements for all teaching candidates. To teach in an elementary school now, teachers must pass five tests - the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test, Principles of Learning and Teaching, a Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment test, a Teaching Reading assessment and the Elementary Education: Content Knowledge test.

The content knowledge test is more of a general overview of the content that elementary teachers will encounter, since most in Tennessee are in self-contained classrooms (they teach all subjects), according to Renee Murley, director of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's School of Education.

The Tennessee Department of Education, which ranks teachers on a scale from 1 to 5 on their effectiveness in the classroom, released a report last fall that found that nearly 30 percent of Hamilton County teachers are considered least effective by state measures.

In an effort to improve teacher quality at the pre-service level, "We're seeing more of a trend toward the residency model," Murley said."Nationally, that's a new concept just in ensuring that all teacher candidates have a rich and deep clinical experience."

Murley, who also serves on the state's Educator Preparation Working Group committee, believes Tennessee is moving in the right direction in working to have high-quality teachers in the classroom.

"I was really glad to see that Tennessee ranked pretty high I think Tennessee is making steady progress," Murley said. "Some of the changes that have been identified probably have happened in the past five or six years. I think Tennessee is really aligning [itself] with national trends, and what we need to do to improve teacher preparation."

The state also will be rolling out new literacy standards for prep programs, which aligns with the state's push to increase students' literacy.

Last summer, the state of Tennessee began piloting the Network for Education Preparation Partnership, which has overseen the development and strengthening of partnerships between school districts and teacher prep programs.

"We are providing new data and reports to districts and to ed prep programs, which will help them to target needs and address specific areas for improvement," McQueen said in a statement.

Along with the piloting of the Network for Education Preparation Partnership, the state of Tennessee launched a new Report Card that evaluates teacher preparation programs, most often at colleges and universities.

The 2017 report has not yet been released, but according to the 2016 report, seven of 36 teacher preparation programs across Tennessee scored among the highest quality programs. Four programs scored the lowest and 11, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, ranked at a 2 out of 4.

Overall, the NCTQ report concluded that though most states have seen considerable improvement in policy regarding teacher quality over the past decade, progress has slowed.

"More states decreas[ed] in grade overall than ever before," the report reads. '"The states have, in many cases, not only stopped advancing but also appear to have lost their sense of urgency."

Some of the report's general recommendations for states include:

-Investing in data systems to track teacher shortages

-Increase transparency regarding teacher equity

-Increase diversity among teachers

-Increase oversight of teacher preparation programs

-Improve special education teacher preparation

-Shift the culture of teaching to embrace evaluation

Not a single state ranked above a B+ in this year's report - the highest ranking states were Florida and Louisiana, both with a B+. The states that scored above a B- include Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas.

"There is so much we don't know about education, but we do know that teachers are the most influential factor in student achievement," said Elizabeth Ross, the council's managing director of state policy and one of the report's co-authors. "At the end of the day, accountability systems don't help students learn and grow, teachers do. Every child deserves an effective teacher and every state has room to improve."

Alabama ranked the lowest by far of the states in the tri-county area. Tennessee did not receive a single F, but Georgia scored an F in special education teacher preparation. Alabama did not score above a B- in any area, with C's or below across the board.

Montana and South Dakota were the only two states to receive an F in the NCTQ report.

The 2017 Yearbook included for the first time state grades for principal effectiveness and evaluation, as well as teacher diversity and leadership opportunities. Early Childhood Preparation was considered in the report for the first time, but states did not receive a grade on early childhood policies, according to Ross.

To read the full report and each state's analysis, visit www.nctq.org/yearbook.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.