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Below are summaries and links to work completed by researchers affiliated with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance.  

Contact us with questions about previous TNCRED research studies. 

Exploring Teacher Improvement in Tennessee: A Brief on Reimagining State Support for Professional Learning (2018)

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 than teachers in other states in recent years. These patterns suggest important policy implications for teacher development and effectiveness in Tennessee.

What We Need to Know to Improve Professional Learning (2017)


            Full Brief                              Summary Brief

In keeping with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance’s aim of producing practicable research shaped by stakeholder interest, 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.

Tennessee’s Professional Learning Challenge: Aspirations, Assumptions, and Knowledge Gaps (2017)


            Full Brief                               Summary Brief

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 will require 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 the Tennessee Education Research Alliance’s work on the topic.

School Turnaround After Five Years: An Extended Evaluation of Tennessee's Achievement School District and Local Innovation Zone (2018)

In 2012, Tennessee began a series of bold new initiatives to turn around its lowest performing five percent of schools, known as Priority schools. Building on previous research, this brief examines student achievement gains five years into the implementation of the two largest school turnaround efforts - the state-run Achievement School District and district-led iZones. Results are consistent with past evaluations of these two initiatives with iZone schools sustaining positive gains in student achievement throughout the period, while ASD schools did no better or worse than other low performing schools.

How Has iZone Teacher Recruitment Affected the Performance of Other Schools?: Examining Systemic Effects of Teacher Recruitment for School Turnaround

This brief continues the examination of Tennessee’s efforts to turn around its lowest performing schools by reviewing the extent to which statewide iZone teacher recruitment has impacted the schools from which these teachers came. Results indicate that students who lose teachers to iZone schools experience a slight decrease in achievement. However, these decreases do not appear to be large enough to offset the average achievement gains students experience when they attend iZone schools.

Driving Improvement in Low Performing Schools: Lessons from Five Years of Research on State Turnaround Efforts (2017)

In 2012, Tennessee implemented a school turnaround strategy focused on the bottom five percent of schools. Five years later, as the state considers updates to its school improvement strategy, this brief broadly considers how these policies developed and how they have worked in practice. Summarizing years of TERA research, the brief highlights findings on how turnaround schools have fared in terms of student achievement, teacher retention, and community engagement.

Recruitment and Retention of Teachers in Tennessee's Achievement School District and iZone Schools (2017)

Examining data from the 2012-13 school year through 2014-15, the study focused on teacher retention in the two largest efforts to turn around Tennessee’s priority schools—those that rank in the bottom 5 percent in performance. Overall, both ASD and iZone schools recruited more highly effective teachers compared to other priority and non-priority schools in Tennessee. Annual teacher turnover rates were much higher among ASD schools than among iZone schools. Overall, both ASD and iZone schools experienced significantly higher gains in teacher effectiveness through teacher replacement than did other priority schools in Tennessee. This was particularly true for iZone schools.

“This is the Big Leagues:” Charter-led Turnaround in a non-Charter World (2016)

With mounting evidence of promising results in charter schools serving disadvantaged students, charter networks have been urged to expand their reach to turn around the most chronically low-achieving schools. But such work often imposes stricter conditions that are different from those that charters typically enjoy.  Do these differences undermine the theory of action that was meant to make charters effective in the first place? What adaptations to their school models and organizational capacities does this environment require? This article addresses those questions using evidence from a three-year study of charters in the Tennessee Achievement School District.  We discuss how operators were pressed to substantially revise their core assumptions and strategies in response to this new environment, despite the many charter-like affordances they received.  

The Tennessee Achievement School District: Race, History, and the Dilemma of Public Engagement (2016)

The Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) is one of several state-run districts established to turnaround under-performing schools.  Like other such districts, the ASD removes schools from their local district, yet is not accountable to local political institutions. But despite its authority, the ASD has been undermined by unrelenting opposition within Memphis where its schools reside.  Underlying the political dynamics surrounding the ASD are two divergent narratives. For supporters, the ASD is an innovative effort to improve the educational experience for the most disadvantaged students. Critics see an enterprise motivated by profit, paternalism, and racism. One lesson from the ASD experience is that while state-run districts seek to circumvent local politics, the absence of mechanisms for brokering compromise in cities with deep historical divisions, may prove impossible.

Teacher and Student Migration in and out of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (2015)

Overall, researchers found that the vast majority of teachers exited schools once they came under the auspices of the ASD. Therefore, the ASD faced a significant need to hire new teachers in their first year of operation. Among the new hires, nearly a third were novice teachers.  Of those with teaching experience in Tennessee, the ASD hired more high performing teachers, in terms of value-added scores, as compared to the teachers that left before the ASD takeover. In terms of student mobility, we found that the ASD had a high rate of student mobility into their schools in the first year of takeover, but the rates declined with each subsequent year. In examining the students that move in and out, the proficiency levels of students transferring into ASD schools had little effect on the overall proficiency rates of ASD schools.

Evaluation of the Effect of Tennessee’s Achievement School District on Student Test Scores (2015)

Overall, while the effects across all the Priority schools were small but positive, the effects in the 26 iZone schools were positive and moderate to large across all tested subjects. The effects in the ASD schools were mainly indistinguishable from zero and when significant, sometimes positive and sometimes negative depending on subject and management organization.

Research into Tennessee’s Achievement School District: Accountability, Incentives, and Guidance for Providers (2015)

This report elaborates the theory of action that undergirds the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD), including the ideological commitments of ASD leaders, and the strategy they think will lead to improvement in student outcomes.  The report further examines underlying beliefs of ASD providers, highlighting fundamental differences in their beliefs about teaching and learning. In addition, the difficulty of using state assessment to support organizational learning among providers and the ASD leadership is also discussed. 

Walton Family Foundation Reports

Annual reports to the Walton Family Foundation from an ongoing evaluation of the Achievement School District (ASD). Each report contains highlights from research conducted in the preceding year by TERA researchers Gary Henry and Ron Zimmer with support from Adam Kho, Samantha Viano, and Lam Pham. Full analyses of the work summarized in these reports can be found in the following publications linked above on this website: Recruitment and Retention of Teachers in Tennessee’s Achievement School District and iZone Schools; Teachers and Student Migration In and Out of Tennessee’s Achievement School District; and Evaluation of the Effect of Tennessee’s Achievement School District on Student Test Scores.

Evaluating the Impact of Tennessee's Achievement School District: Third Annual Report (2017)

Evaluating the Impact of Tennessee's Achievement School District: Second Annual Report (2016)

Evaluating the Impact of Tennessee's Achievement School District: First Annual Report (2015)


How Principals Drive School Success: A Brief on Strengthening Tennessee's Education Labor Market (2018)

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.

Principal Licensure Exams and Future Job Performance: Evidence from the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (2017)


               Brief                                       Paper 

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.

The Impact of Performance Ratings on Job Satisfaction for Public School Teachers (2014)

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 that they were happier in their jobs than those who received lower ratings.

Effective Teacher Retention Bonuses: Evidence from Tennessee (2014)

Tennessee’s teacher retention bonus program awarded $5000 to teachers who receive the highest effectiveness rating on the state’s teacher evaluation system (level 5) if they decide to stay in one of the state’s priority schools. Level 5 teachers receiving this bonus were 23% more likely to remain in a priority school, compared to teachers just below the cutoff for receiving an effectiveness rating of five. Among level 5 teachers, those receiving the bonus and teaching in tested subjects were 24.3% more likely to remain teaching in a priority school, whereas those in non-tested subjects are no more or less likely to stay. Schools with a larger proportion of economically disadvantaged students were more likely to participate in the teacher retention bonus program.  

Evaluations of Tennessee’s Strategic Compensation Programs

As a part of Tennessee’s Race to the Top program, the state pursued strategic incentive initiatives beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. These initiatives offered bonus pay for indicators of positive performance among teachers and administrators. From 2010 to 2016, researchers evaluated the program’s effectiveness and produced reports that offer important insights on the relative merits of incentivized pay for teachers.  

Final Evaluation Report: Tennessee’s Strategic Compensation Programs Findings on Implementation and Impact (2010-2016) (2016)

This report contains the final evaluation of the strategic compensation initiatives in Tennessee. School leaders have 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 to bonus or alternative salary program to continue. Regarding retention, there was no evidence that the compensation programs increased retention in bonus-only schools. The strategic compensation programs had no discernible 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) (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. However, only one-quarter felt they would need to change their professional practice to earn either type of award. The study did not find evidence that the existence of strategic compensation programs reduced teacher turnover in participating schools. The study found little evidence indicating a statistically or substantively significant impact of program participation on student performance in reading or math.

Evaluation of Tennessee’s Strategic Compensation Programs: Interim Findings on Development, Design, and Implementation (2012)

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 reforms that year as well that were happening statewide. They 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.

Beginning in 2011 and continuing annually, the Tennessee Department of Education, as part of the ongoing research partnership with Peabody College, has conducted a survey of Tennessee educators. Originally known as the First to the Top survey and now known as the Tennessee Educator Survey, the annual survey provides an in-depth look at educator opinion on key issues in the field such as educator evaluation, professional learning, and school climate and culture

2018 Tennessee Educator Survey Overview

Want to know more about the 2018 Tennessee Educator Survey? Read this one-pager to find out why we give the survey each year, what happens with the data we collect, and how taking the survey helps support Tennessee principals, teachers, and students.

Educator Insights: Takeaways from the 2017 Educator Survey (2017)

Results from the 2017 Tennessee Educator Survey indicate the importance of professional learning and evaluation in teacher’s practice. Three out of four teachers report that professional learning enhances their practice and their ability to respond to students’ needs. However, teachers indicate that they have relatively few opportunities for professional learning that is personalized to their needs. Survey responses also indicate the importance of evaluation in teacher practice: three out of four teachers report that the evaluation process advances their teaching. Teachers who found evaluation useful were more likely to have received feedback. The 2017 Tennessee Educator Survey Report was prepared by the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Voices from the Classroom: Results from the 2016 Tennessee Educator Survey (2016)

Results from the 2016 Tennessee Educator Survey showed high levels of teacher workforce satisfaction and increased support for the teacher evaluation process. Almost eight in ten educators indicated that their workplace had a respectful atmosphere, and that they felt “appreciated” for their work. In 2016, seven out of ten teachers agreed that the evaluation process has helped their teaching, as opposed to four out of ten teachers agreeing with the same statement in 2012. Although teachers increasingly value the statewide evaluation system, they indicate that they are not receiving sufficient support for improvement, in terms of both direct feedback from administrators and in resources and time for peer collaboration. This report was prepared by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Tennessee Educator Survey Report (2015)

The 2015 Educator Survey received high levels response: sixty percent of teachers and administrators participated in the survey, up from about forty percent the previous year. While teachers indicated satisfaction with their workplace and increasingly positive attitudes toward teacher evaluation processes, they indicated concern over instructional improvement. Most teachers reported that they received insufficient time for collaboration with other teachers and insufficient access to instructional resources. Furthermore, most Tennessee teachers believe that too much instructional time is devoted to preparing for statewide exams. While teachers expressed more positive attitudes about the teacher evaluation process than in previous surveys, they still believed the process to be burdensome. The 2015 Tennessee Educator Survey Report was prepared by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Educator Evaluation in Tennessee: Findings from the 2014 First to the Top Survey (2015)

The 2014 version of the First to the Top survey expanded on the earlier surveys and included new questions on teacher efforts to improve instructional practice. Teachers were more likely to report that feedback from teaching observations was more useful when they were observed multiple times by individuals in the same position (usually their principal or assistant principal). Almost all of teachers attempted to improve their instructional practice in 2013-2014 and about half focused their improvement efforts on specific rubric indicators. On average, each teacher reported that two-fifths of the indicators they addressed had been identified as needing improvement during the evaluation process. Teachers most frequently cited a lack of quality training and learning opportunities and a lack of time as barriers to improvement.

Educator Evaluation in Tennessee: Initial Findings from the 2013 First to the Top Survey (2013)

The 2013 First to the Top Survey focused heavily on educator perception of the state’s evaluation system. Teachers in 2013 were more likely than teachers in 2012 to perceive the feedback from teaching observations to be more focused on helping them improve their practice than on judging their performance. A larger share of teachers indicated that they perceived the evaluation system to be fair to them and that their observers are qualified to evaluate their teaching. Teachers in 2013 also were more likely than teachers in 2012 to agree that evaluation processes would improve their teaching and more likely to agree evaluation processes would improve student achievement.

Educator Evaluation in Tennessee: Preliminary Findings from the 2012 First to the Top Survey (2012)

The 2012 First to the Top survey focused heavily on the implementation of the state’s new teacher evaluation system, which was implemented during the 2011-2012 school year. Survey results revealed overall, three out of four teachers were dissatisfied with the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) evaluation model, while two out of three administrators were satisfied with the model. Two out of three administrators and instructional specialist observers using the TEAM evaluation felt the process was burdensome. Respondents rated their confidence in the three possible input measures that made up the evaluation rubric: teacher observations, student growth on assessments, and student achievement based on a measure chosen by the educator in concert with the evaluator. Teachers showed the highest level of support for the measure of student growth within the overall rating and the lowest level of support for the achievement measure, while administrators had the most confidence in the observation measures.

Summary Findings: 2011 First to the Top Survey (2011)

The 2011 Tennessee Educator Evaluation Survey was specifically designed to obtain feedback from educators relative to possible teacher evaluation models under consideration by the committee tasked with designing the state’s new teacher evaluation models. Educators were surveyed on their experiences with the model used in their district, which was one of four total models under consideration. Respondents were generally positive about the potential models. They indicated that all four teacher evaluation models were generally implemented with fidelity. Teachers were less positive than evaluators that the evaluation system led to greater collegiality and professionalism.