The first meeting of Gov. Haslam’s Teacher Cabinet was held at the Tennessee State Capitol in mid July. This diverse group of 18 educators from across the state will meet quarterly with the governor to provide him with input on what is going well and what still needs to be addressed in Tennessee schools.
The inaugural meeting focused on sharing the successes and challenges of the past four years and strategies for approaching the critical work still ahead. The governor’s office presented on the growth in both fourth and eighth grade achievement in math and English language arts from 2011 to 2013 as measured by NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card, and improvements on ACT, as well as significant reforms that have boosted these improvements, such as teacher evaluation. Commissioner McQueen also shared an overview of the department’s main priorities and strategic plan. In particular, Dr. McQueen emphasized the department’s intentional focus on improving reading in the early foundations portion of the strategic plan. The work in the early years of school will be called Ready to Read and the work in the later years will be called Reading to be Ready.
Feedback from the Cabinet
After the governor’s opening remarks about why the Governor’s Teacher Cabinet was formed and why it is critical in maintaining a feedback loop with those on the ground, the governor shared some of the concerns he heard during his listening tour with teachers last summer. He then asked the teacher cabinet members to share openly about what it has been like being a teacher these past few years given the changes that have occurred in education. In particular, teachers on the cabinet shared that they felt positive about the direction that education is going in Tennessee, especially now that there will be alignment between standards and the new TNReady assessment. After being asked for feedback, teachers noted the following concerns and challenges:
- Obtaining parent support and buy-in for higher expectations
- Aligning district tests and formative assessments with annual tests
- Continuing to ensure that data is driving instruction and teachers know how to use data
- Varying usage of data across districts
- Ensuring kindergarten readiness
- Needing new accountability options for K-2 teachers
- Needing to see modeling of standards to take them to the next level and to the level of rigor required by the standard
- Desiring more peer coaching to continuously improve
- Desiring to know more about the operational social studies test
- Getting schools ready for online testing
- Getting kids ready for writing online
- Desiring to improve RTI implementation and use of screeners
- Ensuring teacher preparation matches needs in the field
- Continuing to improve teacher evaluation feedback and use it to inform professional development
As a response to some of the concerns and questions raised, the following information was shared with the cabinet:
- The department has created two TNReady (state’s new and improved TCAP in math and ELA) guidebooks for schools and parents which are now available on the department’s website.
- During the transition to TNReady, the Governor’s Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act (passed in the General Assembly this spring) will lessen the weight of the 2015-16 test in the teacher growth measure on teacher evaluation as the state transitions to the new assessment over the next two years.
- The department continues to use feedback from teachers with the recent results of the social studies field test from last year to build the operational social studies test for this year. The social studies test blueprints and guidance will be available to teachers in early August.
- An assessment task force, convened by Commissioner McQueen, will complete its work on crafting assessment principles and recommendations by September. The task force is focusing on guidance around how districts should conceptualize and use formative assessments. In addition, the task force is looking at the number of assessments – both annual and formative – that area administered across the state.
- Pearson will discontinue the optional district assessment, SAT-10, at the end of the 2015-16 school year. The department is considering another option created for Tennessee teachers.
- The new science standards draft created by Tennessee teachers will be posted on a public website for review beginning in August and will go through a similar review process as math and English language arts. New science standards implementation and the adoption of the new science textbooks will align in the 2018-19 school year.
- At the request of the governor, the department will explore a research question that surfaced: “Do districts that test more (more district formative assessments) do better in terms of growth and achievement?”
Finally, the governor engaged the teachers in discussion about what they would do “if they had a magic wand” and could change Tennessee education. One teacher noted the importance of communication and clarity of expectations while another said she would ensure that the leadership was in place in every school to support the instructional shifts that must occur to get more students to college. Finally, another teacher wanted to celebrate teachers and encourage our best and brightest to enter the teaching profession. The governor commented that he agreed and knew that the teachers he had the privilege of engaging with were exceptional and put children first.
The next Governor’s Teachers Cabinet meeting is set for Nov. 5. For more photos from the first meeting, please see the Governor’s flickr page.