In this brief, we draw on a broad body of research evaluating Tennessee's evaluation system over the last ten years to explore whether it has led to gains in student achievement. Looking across several studies, we find evidence consistent with a theory that evaluation reform contributed to student achievement gains and that evaluation reform operated to improve student achievement through two mechanisms: teacher development and strategic teacher retention.
School Leader Effectiveness and Retention
This second brief in a series aimed at expanding our understanding of school leadership in Tennessee explores how principal quality is distributed across the state. TERA researchers find that effective school leaders are distributed unevenly across Tennessee schools. Principals with more experience and higher supervisor ratings are disproportionately represented in schools with low poverty and higher achievement. Additionally, hiring and turnover tend to drive the inequities we see in principal effectiveness across Tennessee schools.
This brief is the first in a series aimed at building our knowledge on what we know about effective school leadership. Exploring the relationship between principal observation ratings and student outcomes in Tennessee, TERA researchers find that student achievement gains, as well as teacher perceptions of school climate and leadership, are higher in schools where principals' leadership practices are rated more positively by their supervisors. Additionally, highly rated principals retain effective teachers at greater rates. Taken together, these findings show that principal leadership matters for student and school success and point to key policy levers for state and district leaders to consider as they work to drive achievement in schools.
Tennessee is among 18 U.S. states and territories that rely on the School Leaders Licensure Assessment when licensing principals. Researchers analyzed data for 10 years of Tennessee SLLA test takers, including their performance evaluations, student achievement in their schools, and their teachers' survey ratings of school leadership. They found little evidence that SLLA scores predict how a principal will perform in their job. Researchers also found that non-white candidates were 12 percentage points less likely than otherwise similar white test takers to attain the required licensure score on the SLLA, thus making it far less likely they were eligible to be hired as principals.
Teacher Effectiveness and Retention
Educator preparation programs (EPPs) across Tennessee train teacher candidates through a combination of coursework and practice teaching experiences. These practice experiences pair pre-service teachers with current teachers in their endorsement areas who are known as clinical mentors. This brief examines whether having a more instructionally effective clinical mentor matters, and what the state, districts, and EPPs can do to ensure that student teaching experiences ready future teachers.
Using data from the Tennessee Educator Survey, this brief examines teachers' overall experiences with professional learning and whether teachers across the state have access to regular and helpful professional learning opportunities. Findings suggest that although teachers frequently engage in professional learning, they may not always be investing time in professional learning activities that they consider helpful in making instructional decisions.
This brief examines how the pool of eligible teachers changed after the implementation of tenure reform in Tennessee. By looking at data from 2004-05 to 2014-15 in addition to TVAAS index scores and teacher characteristics, researchers find that the total number of newly tenured teachers substantially decreased after the reforms took effect. However, the average performance of newly tenured teachers was higher after the reform while the demographic composition remained stable. Additionally, researchers also discovered that the proportion of newly tenured teachers from low-performing and high-poverty schools decreased in post-reform years.
This brief examines whether Tennessee schools are distributing teacher quality equitably across the Pre-K and elementary grades. By looking at patterns in teacher reassignment and development of teacher effectiveness throughout their careers, researchers find that low-performing upper elementary teachers (grades 3-5) are more likely to be reassigned to a lower elementary grade (Pre-K-2) in the following year than their more effective peers. This finding suggests that some Tennessee principals may be strategically reassigning their lowest-performing teachers in grades 3-5 to earlier grades which are not required to administer standardized tests.
This brief explores turnover patterns among teachers of color in Tennessee. Findings show that there are significant turnover differences between Black and White teachers, but these differences can be explained in part by high rates of teacher transfer, school contextual factors, and feelings of racial isolation among teachers of color. This brief is the first in a series of TERA studies examining teacher diversity in Tennessee schools.
TERA's flagship brief on teacher improvement in Tennessee examines 10 years of educator data to understand how individual teachers improve over the course of their careers. Extending previous research in this area, results show that, on average, teachers in Tennessee continue to develop throughout their careers and perhaps more rapidly in recent years. These patterns suggest important policy implications for teacher development and effectiveness in Tennessee.
TERA convened a gathering of researchers and practitioners to shape the organization’s research agenda on professional learning. This document outlines the research questions that came from this meeting. Participants highlighted coherence, effective feedback, time use, access to professional learning opportunities, and teacher self-assessment as areas of professional learning that require further study.
Professional learning has emerged as a critical component in the Tennessee Department of Education’s strategy in meeting its ambitious educational goals. Scaling up effective professional learning throughout the state requires a systemic approach that transforms the way professionals think and go about their work. A productive professional environment with meaningful, instruction-driven professional development can improve teacher practice and student outcomes. This brief outlines current knowledge on professional learning and serves as a starting point in TERA's work on the topic.
This study examines the effects of teacher ratings from Tennessee's annual educator evaluation system on job satisfaction. Findings indicate that teachers who received higher ratings reported they were happier in their jobs than those who received lower ratings.
Evaluations of Strategic Compensation Reforms
Tennessee's teacher retention bonus program awarded $5,000 to teachers who received the highest effectiveness rating on the state's teacher evaluation system (level 5) if they decided to stay in one of the state's Priority schools. Level 5 teachers receiving this bonus were 23 percent more likely to remain in a Priority school, compared to teachers just below the cutoff for receiving an effectiveness rating of 5. Among level 5 teachers, those receiving the bonus and teaching in tested subjects were 24 percent more likely to remain teaching in a priority school, whereas those in non-tested subjects were no more or less likely to stay.
This report contains the final evaluation of the strategic compensation initiatives in Tennessee. School leaders had generally favorable views of the compensation programs and their effects, while teachers were more critical. However, although only half of teachers expressed favorable perceptions about the program, about two out of three indicated they wanted the bonus program to continue. There was no evidence that the compensation programs increased retention in bonus-only schools. The strategic compensation programs had no impact on student achievement in math and reading. Importantly, the study did find that awards to teams of teachers (including school and district-wide bonuses) had a greater effect on achievement than awards to individuals. However, the effect was marginally significant and only true for math achievement.
Evaluation of Tennessee's Strategic Compensation Programs: Interim Findings on Design, Implementation, and Impact in Year 2 - 2012-2013 (Ballou, Barcy, Canon, Ehlert, Gronberg, Gurwit, Jansen, Lewis, Li, Palmer, Parsons, Stahlheber & Taylor, 2015)
This report presents findings from the second year of a multi-year evaluation of Tennessee’s strategic compensation programs. The majority of officials in participating districts felt that compensation reforms had improved teacher practices through a greater focus on professional development, instructional coaching, and student data. The majority of teachers in both types of programs (traditional salary schedule vs. alternative salary schedule) believed the performance-based payouts were personally motivating. The study did not find evidence that the existence of strategic compensation programs reduced teacher turnover in participating schools, and found little evidence indicating an impact of program participation on student performance.
This report examines activities in the planning year and the first year of implementation of Tennessee’s Strategic Compensation Programs, which involved performance-based bonuses for school employees. The average bonus for administrators and teachers of tested subjects was larger than the average bonus for teachers of non-tested subjects ($4,000 vs. $1,000). District officials were anxious about payouts in the first year, and concerned about the simultaneous rollouts of other statewide reforms happening that year. District officials were also concerned about the financial stability of the program in the long term after the grant funding ran out. Teachers had concerns related to responsiveness to feedback, time taken away from planning and instruction, and the sustainability of the program.