First-grade teacher Hannah Horne, right, listens to Brent Page, a Hamilton County Department of Education K-5 new teacher coach, at Clifton Hills Elementary School on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Quality, comprehensive teacher evaluations have real benefits for both educators and students, says a new report highlighting Tennessee's model.

Tennessee is a pioneer in the way it evaluates teachers and how it coincides with improved student achievement, according to the report, Making a Difference: Six Places Where Teacher Evaluation Systems are Getting Results, by the National Council on Teacher Quality released Thursday.

"Tennessee's teacher evaluation system, like the other five systems featured in this study, has achieved a more meaningful and realistic measure of the distribution of teacher talent than such systems have done historically," according to a news release from the National Council on Teacher Quality.


Making a Difference


The report analyzed the impact of teacher evaluation methods in four school districts and two states: Dallas Independent School District, Denver Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, Newark Public Schools, New Mexico, and Tennessee; and found that quality teacher evaluation processes have positive impacts on students.

"Tennessee serves as a powerful testament that effective evaluation policies and practices are likely leading to improvements in the overall quality of a teacher workforce," National Council on Teacher Quality President Kate Walsh said in a statement.

Tennessee has used the "TEAM-TN" model since 2011, but 17 school districts, including Hamilton County Schools, don't use the state's model.

A teacher is evaluated using three main components, according to the state's guidelines — 50 percent of a teacher's effectiveness evaluation is determined by qualitative factors such as observations by supervisors, student surveys and self-assessment; 35 percent is determined by student growth (such as TVAAS scores) and 15 percent is based on student achievement.

"We have a foundational belief that every student deserves an effective teacher supported by an effective principal every single year. Having a strong, meaningful evaluation system has been a critical part of making that happen," Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said via a prepared statement.

When the new evaluation model was rolled out, Hamilton County Schools was already revamping its own teacher performance evaluation system, developing Project Coach.

The district has to submit its method to the state for approval, according to Penny Murray, director of human resources for Hamilton County Schools, and alternative methods have to meet the state's standards for evaluations.

Hamilton County's model is "more rigorous," Murray claims. It requires all observations, which consist of a principal or administrator dropping in and observing a lesson for several minutes, to be unannounced and for teachers to be guided through a self-reflection and self-assessment process.

Elizabeth Ross, managing director of teacher policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality, said that observations, student achievement or growth and student surveys are the most vital pieces for concrete, informative evaluations.

"Over the past decade the conversation has really changed from whether it was appropriate to hold teachers accountable for student growth to how is it appropriate to do so," Ross said. "Also, we have come to an understanding of how important great teaching is for students not just in the grade they have that teacher but in the student's life outcomes."

The purpose of evaluating teachers is really to determine effectiveness and learn from it, both Murray and Ross pointed out.

Hamilton County is proud of its own model because the district feels it gives administrators and teachers flexibility to develop more of a coaching relationship for growth, versus a punitive assessment, Murray said.

Project Coach ranks teachers from Level 1 to 4, with 4 being the most effective. The state uses a five-level scale, and in 2016, nearly a third of Hamilton County's teachers were considered least effective by state measures.

The NCTQ report notes that evaluation is not a "silver bullet," but that with careful implementation and commitment, state and district officials can use evaluations as a tool to ensure quality, effective teachers are in the state's classrooms.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.