Tennessee: De-privatizing the Culture of Teaching and Feedback Through Student Growth Portfolios

In 2011, Tennessee implemented a statewide teacher evaluation system, the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM), which consists of frequent observations, feedback, and student growth measures.

Problem of Practice

Based on the results from Tennessee’s annual educator survey, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) learned that educators in the state want more frequent and specific feedback on their performance. In addition, during the 2016 legislative session, the Tennessee General assembly passed the Pre-K Quality Act, which requires all districts to utilize a student growth portfolio model for their prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers. Student growth portfolios measure student growth for teachers in nontested grades and subjects. This measure was previously only available for teachers of physical education, fine arts, world languages, and first grade.

TDOE needed to train 6,000 teachers and staff in 142 districts to implement this new requirement. As a result, Tennessee identified its problem of practice for the Collaborative as the following: Ensure that the peer review process included in the student growth portfolio models results in valid and reliable scores that foster credibility and trust in the process and continuous improvement through feedback and coaching. Given the Act, the state initiated this work with prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers.

Four Strategies

The four key strategies include:

  1. Professional Learning. Developed and facilitated district trainings on the new academic standards (see below) and the portfolio model via a train-the-trainer model. For TDOE, it was not possible to train all 6,000 prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers all at once on the new standards and the portfolio model, so implementing a train-the-trainer model established a consistent state message and gave districts ownership in the process.
  2. Policy Nonnegotiables and Flexibility. Clearly defined for districts which policies were nonnegotiables and which policies had built-in flexibility. For example, one nonnegotiable requires every district to provide a particular number of peer evaluators who are trained to review and score the portfolios. Districts have the flexibility to determine who will serve in this role.
  3. New Academic Standards. Created alignment between what the portfolios capture and the new English Language Arts and Mathematics Learning Standards to ensure the portfolios capture rigorous instruction reflective of the new standards.
  4. Communication. Integrated communication about changes within the student growth portfolio model, such as implementing a new online platform.

Year 2 Work: Modeling Coherence

During the second year, the TDOE is engaging in state-level efforts to intentionally integrate TEAM with other initiatives. To support this effort, the GTL Center and Collaborative partners are providing ongoing feedback on the TEAM framework and are assisting in identifying connections to other initiatives, such as Response to Intervention (RTI), professional learning, human capital management, and accountability. The goal of the TDOE is to ensure that all communication, training, support, and refinements are conducted in a way that models integration for districts and builds coherence at the state level.


Paul Fleming
Assistant Commissioner, Teacher & Leaders Division
Tennessee Department of Education