Nashville’s schools chief has asked the state to exclude this fall’s student survey results from teachers’ evaluations this year, citing a “problematic” rollout.

Jesse Register said the measure should be excluded from evaluations for the moment because teachers had not gotten to see the first round of survey results until this week. But he told teachers and principals in an email this afternoon that he stands by the survey, called TRIPOD, as “one of the most valid and reliable measures” that the district uses in its teacher evaluations.

Under Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, survey results factor into some teachers’ annual ratings. (Memphis has used the survey in its teacher evaluation system for years.) The Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching study found that student feedback and teacher observations combined were more closely correlated with teacher effectiveness than observations alone, or any number of other attributes of teachers.

But teachers in Tennessee and beyond have criticized the measure, arguing that it could give teachers an incentive to put student approval ahead of student learning.

“It’s a popularity contest,” said J.C. Bowman, president of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a teacher advocacy group. “If you’re really tough, students are going to give you a low grade. … It’s subjective, not objective.”

Register told teachers that “analysis of tens of thousands of surveys in other districts” had shown that bias swayed survey results only 1 percent of the time.

Instead, he signaled that his objection to using the survey results in evaluations focused on the fact that teachers had not gotten to see how students had rated them last spring until this week. The district is analyzing the results and will produce a guide to help teachers understand their scores soon, Register wrote.

The surveys are being administered over the next couple of weeks, but Register told teachers that he would not know whether Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman would approve his request until after the survey period.

Register’s full letter to Huffman and Assistant Commissioner Sara Heyburn is below:

From: Register, Jesse
Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 2:10 PM
To: MNPS Teachers – All
Cc: MNPS Principals – All; Thompson, Susan; Stenson, Christine M; Cour, Katie; Black, Shannon
Subject: TRIPOD Letter to Commissioner Huffman

Dear Metro Schools teachers and administrators:

Today I sent an official request to Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Assistant Commissioner Sara Heyburn asking that the TRIPOD fall survey not be linked to teacher evaluation. I do not expect to know if our request is granted until after the fall survey period ends. I have also requested for each teacher to have the choice of using the spring administration as a part of your evaluation for the year.

I made this request because you did not have the opportunity to review the results of the TRIPOD survey administered last spring until this week. Last year’s TRIPOD information is starting to appear in CODE now, and our Human Capital and Assessment Departments are working on a guide to explain teacher results and will send it to you soon.

Although the rollout has been problematic, in the long run I expect the TRIPOD survey will be recognized as valuable information for teachers to use in improving their practice. I also believe, although the survey will be a small part of teacher evaluation, it will be viewed as one of the most valid and reliable measures that we use.

TRIPOD has been extensively validated and is designed so it is not a popularity contest. Analysis from tens of thousands of surveys in other districts indicates less than one percent of students answer the survey in a biased manner. TRIPOD correlates strongly to student growth and gives us valuable information. Memphis is in its third year of using TRIPOD as part of their teacher evaluation model with good results. We believe that TRIPOD can be a positive and very valuable component of the TEAM evaluation process.

I know this uncertainty is difficult and I appreciate your patience. We will keep you informed of further developments.

Sincerely,

Jesse B. Register, Ed.D.
Director of Schools