Research News

2013 ‘First to the Top’ survey findings on teacher evaluations released by Tennessee Consortium

Teacher and pupil

Teachers and their observers viewed Tennessee’s teacher evaluation process more positively in 2013 than in 2012, according to a broad-based independent survey by the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development.

Established in 2010 as part of Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant, the consortium is responsible for carrying out a detailed, focused program of research and evaluation around key grant initiatives. This is the third annual First to the Top survey, which solicits educator experiences of and attitudes toward the Race to the Top initiatives and reforms.

As Tennessee moves into its fourth year of Race to the Top implementation, the 2013 results suggest that the more than 26,000 educators who completed the survey more fully support the teacher evaluation process that is a key component of the education reforms included in Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant, especially when they perceive that feedback is focused on improving teaching rather than judging performance.

However, half of responding teachers remain unconvinced of the value of the current evaluation system.

Among this year’s findings:

  • Both teachers and observers perceived the teacher evaluation processes more positively in 2013 than in 2012.
  • Teachers surveyed 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.
  • Teachers in 2013 were more likely than teachers in 2012 to agree that evaluation processes would improve their teaching and improve student achievement.
  • Teachers who perceived the feedback from teaching observations to be primarily focused on helping them improve generally had more positive attitudes about their evaluation systems.
  • More than half of responding teachers still believe that the process of evaluating their teaching takes more effort than the results are worth.
  • Most of the teacher respondents reported that the feedback they received from teaching observations included recommendations targeted to help them improve performance. However, nearly half of teachers reported that their evaluator never followed up about areas in need of improvement.

“Results from our investigation suggest that teachers’ attitudes about changes to Tennessee’s teacher evaluation systems are becoming more positive,” said Mark Ehlert, lead author and research associate professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia. “[rquote]We also noted that teachers who perceived the feedback from their evaluations to be more focused on helping them improve their teaching were more likely to have positive perceptions and attitudes about the evaluation processes being used in their schools.[/rquote] This latter finding may prove to be important as it suggests a mechanism that could reduce the share of teachers who still believed in 2013 that the benefits from their evaluations were not worth their time and effort.”

Tennessee was one of only two states to be awarded a grant in the first round of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2010 Race to the Top competition. The $501 million award to Tennessee included new curricular standards, assessments, and a new system of educator evaluation.

The Tennessee Consortium was established at Peabody, the nation’s leading graduate school of education, in 2010 as part of the state’s initiative and is the lead external evaluator of these reform efforts. Learn more about the consortium at

In addition to Ehlert, team members included Matthew G. Springer, Susan F. Burns and Matthew J. Pepper, all of Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, and Eric S. Parsons, also of the University of Missouri.