Sara Heyburn Takes Your Questions

Assistant Commissioner of Teachers & Leaders Sara Heyburn

The department sends out a monthly Educator Update to teachers across the state, including top resources and current news (you can subscribe to the Educator Update from your district email address).  In our February edition we launched a monthly Q&A series on education issues based on the recommendation of one of your fellow teachers. Our first Q&A was with Sara Heyburn, Assistant Commissioner for Teacher & Leaders at the Tennessee Department of Education.
Sara’s division oversees teacher preparation, licensure, evaluation, and professional development. While we got a slew of insightful questions from teachers, we chose three that were both commonly asked and seemed relevant for most readers.
  1. Does the state have plans to create alternative evaluation rubrics (Ex. interventionists, early child education, etc.)?
  2. There is a perception that earning a five on observation is unattainable. Is that true?
  3. How does TVAAS data show student growth on a high school End of Course exam without a pre-test/post-test format?

Sara sat down to answer these questions.

1: Does the state have plans to create alternative evaluation rubrics (Ex. interventionists, early child education, etc.)?

We currently have four TEAM observation rubrics available for schools to choose from:

  • General Educator Rubric
  • School Services Personnel Rubric
  • Library Media Specialist Rubric
  • Administrator Rubric

Because  educators often teach in situations that are unique and variable, we have explored ways to support educators as they use the TEAM rubrics in a variety of contexts. In addition to the specilalized rubrics for school services personnel, library media specialists and adminsitrators, in the spring of 2012, we worked closely with educator groups to create additional guidance documents to accompany these rubrics  to  help evaluators when they observe content areas where certain indicators may require a slightly different lens in order to accurately observe. These documents help evaluators focus their attention to specific instructional areas based on the unique  service or setting of the educator. They are meant to supplement, rather than replace, the existing TEAM observation rubrics.

Observation guidance documents have been created for the following areas:



Early Childhood School Counselors
Special Education School Audiologists
Career and Technical Education (CTE) Speech/Language Pathologists (SLP)
Online Educators School Social Workers (SSW)
Alternative Educators Vision Specialists
School Psychologists

Each of the documents includes:

  • Key areas of focus for evidence gathering
  • Examples of appropriate evidence/artifacts the evaluator may collect
  • Examples of pre-conference questions
  • Additional context for the evaluator when considering the responsibilities of each educator
  • Detailed examples to illuminate some of the key indicators and areas for evidence
  • A platform for meaningful discussion between educators and evaluators around best practices

The TEAM rubrics and observation guidance documents can be found here.

2: There is a perception that earning an overall five on observation in the evaluation system is unattainable. Is that true?

No. During the 2012-13 school year nearly 30 percent of educators earned a 5 on observation overall.  This was an increase compared to roughly 23 percent during the 2011-12 school year.  At the mid-year point of the 2013-14 school year, around 30 percent of educators are on pace to earn a 5 on observation, similar to last year. While a 5 on the TEAM rubric represents extremely nuanced and advanced instructional practice, it is definitely attainable, both on individual indicators and overall.

As a tool for targeted development, it is important for the rubric to reflect high expectations for instructional practice and to clearly differentiate between different levels of practice.  High expectations and differentiated support allows all educators to continuously improve their practice over time and provides important information that can be used  to inform other decisions such as identifying teacher leaders to provide peer coaching in specific areas of the rubric.

3: How does TVAAS data show student growth on a high school End of Course exam without a pre-test/post-test format? 

I’ll begin by noting that TVAAS measures student growth, not whether the student is proficient on the state assessment. This means that students with low achievement scores, high achievement scores, or average achievement scores can all show growth, and their teachers can earn strong TVAAS scores.

To measure growth in an End of Course subject, we need to know students’ entering achievement and their achievement at the end of the year. We can understand students’ entering achievement by looking at their performance on previous tests. The students’ testing history gives us pieces of evidence for how we can expect them to perform. Consider U.S. History – students who are strong readers and writers tend to perform well in history courses. Additionally, students with a record of success in social studies courses (regardless of how directly the content is related to U.S. History) tend to perform well on the U.S. History assessment. As a result, we can look at how students who exhibit similar patterns in testing results (such as strong ELA and social studies TCAP scores) perform in U.S. History in comparison to students with a similar testing history.

We next ask, “Did students in this class grow at a similar rate to their peers with similar levels of achievement on prior tests?” To look at a teacher’s effect on his or her class, we see if his or her students tended to grow at a slower rate, a similar rate, or a greater rate than their peers across the state with similar prior achievement.


Next month’s Q & A will be with Joey Hassell, Assistant Commissioner for Special Populations. Joey’s division is dedicated to ensuring that all kids have the tools they need to be successful. The division oversees programs for English language learners, special education, early childhood education, and Response to Instruction and Intervention among other things.

Please email your questions to by Friday, April 4. You can subscribe to the monthly Educator Update from your district email address.