Effective teaching begins with a teacher’s formal education, but it grows through a process of continuous improvement gained through experience, targeted professional development and the insights and direction provided through thoughtful, objective feedback about the teacher’s instructional implementation. Arkansas took a critical step toward ensuring high quality instruction and instructional leadership through the passage of the Teacher Excellence and Support System (TESS) that defines a system to support effective teaching and leading in Arkansas’s schools (Ark. Code Ann. § 6-17-2802). The 2011 Arkansas General Assembly introduced and passed this legislation to standardize comprehensive evaluation and support for licensed educators and non- licensed teachers employed in public charter schools under a waiver of teacher licensure requirements granted by the State Board of Education in the schools’ charters.
The passage of TESS culminated the early work of Arkansas educators seeking to reform the educator evaluation system. A teacher evaluation task force was formed in the spring of 2009 with the purpose of researching, evaluating and recommending a framework for summative evaluation that would include valid assessment of educator practice and professionalism, as well as evidence of educator impact on student growth and performance. A diverse group of 36 stakeholders met over a two-year period to accomplish this work collaborating with Charlotte Danielson, author of A Framework for Teaching. Stakeholders included teachers, principals and representatives from the Arkansas Department of Education, regional educational cooperatives, college deans of education, businesses, legislators, school boards, superintendents and school district human resource professionals. Many of the recommendations from the task force were incorporated into TESS.
Research revealed almost 90 percent of Arkansas school districts were using some type of checklist as their evaluation instrument in the prior evaluation system. Because there were no descriptors or rubrics, expectations were not clear. This lack of clarity provided little targeted feedback for teachers in improving their professional practice and improving student learning. The prior evaluation system relied on a vague checklist of classroom practices. Teachers did not have a clear sense of what the principal was looking for, so they played it safe and taught a familiar lesson – one they knew
would go well but did not improve teaching.
Using Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, Arkansas found a more in-depth process for measuring teacher practice performance. The state’s new evaluation system requires principals to spend more time in the classrooms observing and analyzing instruction, then following up with teachers to provide feedback. This process requires more time from the administrator and teacher but leads to a much more valuable conversation about improving instruction in the classroom.
The Arkansas Teacher Excellence and Support System provides statutory direction for reform of teacher and leader evaluation systems. Rules and regulations promulgated as a result of this legislation provide school districts and public charter schools with an initial blueprint to operationalize standardized, valid and reliable evaluation and support systems which focus on the professional growth of educators as measured by professional practice, as well as student growth. This evaluation and support system, coupled with Arkansas’s longitudinal data system teacher/student link, provides critical information to state, district and school educators in the form of essential data and feedback to ensure College and Career Readiness leading to access and achievement for all Arkansas students.
As stated in Arkansas’s Annotated Code Section 6-17-2802, the Arkansas General Assembly intended to promote the following objectives through TESS.
• Provide school districts a transparent and consistent teacher evaluation system that ensures effective teaching and promotes professional learning;
• Provide feedback and a support system that will encourage teachers to improve their knowledge and instructional skills in order to improve student learning;
• Provide a basis for making teacher employment decisions;
• Provide an integrated system that links evaluation procedures with curricular standards, professional development activities, targeted support, and human capital decisions;
• Encourage highly effective teachers to undertake challenging assignments;
• Support teachers’ roles in improving students’ educational achievements;
• Inform policymakers regarding the benefits of a consistent evaluation and support system in regard to improving student achievement across the state;
• Increase the awareness of parents and guardians of students concerning the effectiveness of teachers.
The intent of this legislation is to support effective instruction and leadership. The objectives of this legislation are congruent with the requirements in Principle 3 of the Arkansas ESEA Flexibility Plan. They provide a comprehensive approach to accountability for high quality instruction and instructional leadership. Teacher and leader evaluation is a critical area for reform if educational systems are to improve the effectiveness of instruction to ultimately close achievement gaps and ensure access to College and Career Readiness Standards for all students. TESS is a significant part of a comprehensive and coherent differentiated system for accountability, recognition and tiered support