The state should ensure that teachers receive feedback about their performance and should require professional development to be based on needs identified through teacher evaluations.
Tennessee requires that all evaluation models developed by districts include observations of all teachers four times per year with a postobservation conference after each occurrence. Teachers must be provided with written feedback prior to the postobservation conference. During these conferences, the teacher's strengths and weaknesses are discussed. Evaluations are used "to determine individual professional development plans." The state does not indicate whether teachers with less than effective ratings are placed on improvement plans.
Tennessee Code Annotated 49-1-302 Teacher and Principal Evaluation Policy 5.201 http://www.state.tn.us/sbe/Policies/5.201_Teacher_and_Principal_Evaluation_Policy_revised_4-19-2013.pdf
Ensure that teachers receiving less than effective ratings are placed on a professional improvement plan. Tennessee should adopt a policy requiring that teachers who receive even one unsatisfactory evaluation be placed on structured improvement plans. These plans should focus on performance areas that directly connect to student learning and should identify noted deficiencies, define specific action steps necessary to address these deficiencies and describe how and when progress will be measured.
Tennessee stated that initial coaching conversations are expected for all teachers receiving a rating of 1 overall on individual growth. The state indicated that approximately 75 percent of level 1 teachers received an initial coaching conversation during the 2012-2013 school year. Level 1 teachers received more observations and feedback compared to other experienced teachers and more than in previous years.
Professional development should be connected to needs identified through teacher evaluations.
The goal of teacher evaluation systems should be not just to identify highly effective teachers and those who underperform but to help all teachers improve. Even highly effective teachers may have areas where they can continue to grow and develop their knowledge and skills. Rigorous evaluations should provide actionable feedback on teachers' strengths and weaknesses that can form the basis of professional development activities. Too often professional development is random rather than targeted to the identified needs of individual teachers. Failure to make the connection between evaluations and professional development squanders the likelihood that professional development will be meaningful.
Many states are only explicit about tying professional development plans to evaluation results if the evaluation results are bad. Good evaluations with meaningful feedback should be useful to all teachers, and if done right should help design professional development plans for all teachers—not just those who receive poor ratings.
Professional Development: Supporting Research
For evidence of the benefits of feedback from evaluation systems, and the potential for professional development surrounding that feedback, see T. Kane, E. Taylor, J. Tyler, and A. Wooten, "Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness." Education Next, Volume 11, No. 3, Summer 2011; E. Taylor and J. Tyler, "The Effect of Evaluation on Performance: Evidence from Longitudinal Student Achievement Data of Mid-Career Teachers," NBER Working Paper No. 16877, March 2011.
Much professional development, particularly those that are not aligned to specific feedback from teacher evaluations, has been found to be ineffective. For evidence see M. Garet, A. Wayne, F. Stancavage, J. Taylor, M. Eaton, K. Walters, M. Song, S. Brown, S. Hurlburt, P. Zhu, S. Sepanik, F. Doolittle, and E. Warner, "Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study: Findings After the Second Year of Implementation." Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, May 2011, NCEE 2011-4024.
For additional evidence regarding best practices for professional development, see K. Neville and C. Robinson, "The Delivery, Financing, and Assessment of Professional Development in Education: Pre-Service Preparation and In-Service Training" The Finance Project, 2003.