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2013 TAP Conference Overview

13th National TAP Conference Spotlights TAP's Impact on Educator Effectiveness and Policy

Attracting more than 1,200 educators, policymakers and community members representing 20 states, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching showcased the success of TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement—one of the largest sustained, multi-state efforts to create comprehensive systems of support and improvement for classroom instruction. The 13th conference,TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, took place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, located just outside the nation's capital.

The conference provided leaders at all levels involved in TAP with a deeper understanding of the comprehensive reform system and fostered the exchange of experiences, skills and knowledge that attendees took back to their campuses and communities. On a larger scale, district, state and federal experts described how TAP's work in schools is influencing education policies and changing the landscape of the teaching profession today. Notable federal programs designed to drive the kinds of reforms embedded in TAP were discussed, including the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) and Race to the Top as well as state and district efforts that aim to take TAP's reforms to scale.

"Progress Where the Rubber Meets the Real Road"

Since the enactment of the Teacher Incentive Fund in 2006, more than $500 million has been awarded to districts and states using TAP as their reform model. President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have supported increases in TIF funding, which have helped to expand and sustain TAP and other initiatives working to strengthen high-need schools through leadership opportunities, targeted professional development, accountability and performance-based compensation for teachers.

Secretary Duncan praised TAP teachers in a video message. "Too often here in Washington, work takes place where the rubber hits the blue sky. You all in the TAP program are making progress where the rubber meets the real road, and for that, we are so grateful," he said. "I salute you for the courageous work that you are doing in your schools, in your classrooms, with our nation's children, every single day."

Carmel Martin, Duncan's Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, participated on the panel, "State Education Reform and the Role of Teacher Effectiveness," moderated by NIET Chairman and TAP Founder Lowell Milken. There, she elaborated on the U.S. Education Department's support of teacher quality and progress being made to put comprehensive systems in place to improve it.

NIET Chairman and TAP Founder Lowell Milken and policymakers at TAP conference

"I would like to thank you for all the amazing work that NIET does across the country in terms of helping to support teachers and school leaders in improving their practice," Martin said. "During the last four years from the Administration's perspective, we're incredibly thrilled with the amount of progress we have seen with respect to changes around the teaching profession."

"We know that teacher effectiveness was a priority in the in the first four years of the Administration," said Lowell Milken. "What policies, initiatives, and leaders will have the greatest impact on teacher effectiveness?"

Martin said that the U.S. Department of Education is particularly pleased with changes being made to state policy to support more effective instruction. Over 40 states have adopted college-and-career-ready standards, over 30 states have instituted sophisticated statewide systems for teacher evaluation, and states across the country are revamping their teacher preparation programs. She explained that the Administration's second-term agenda will focus on supporting states and districts in effectively implementing these ambitious changes to ensure that they lead to more effective teaching and learning. View the video.

State education chiefs Jason Glass of Iowa, Mitchell M. "Mick" Zais of South Carolina, former state superintendent James Guthrie of Nevada, and Sara Heyburn, Tennessee's assistant commissioner of teachers and leaders, were on hand to discuss their states' pioneering work to implement these reforms.

Tennessee, one of the first two states to be awarded a Race to the Top grant, uses the TAP Teaching Standards as the basis for the its statewide teacher evaluation system called the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM). "TAP is the best system I've seen in terms of the comprehensive picture," said Heyburn, who uses TAP schools in the state as models to follow.

Superintendent Mick Zais of South Carolina, which joined the TAP system in 2001, outlined the case for fair and rigorous teacher evaluation and compensation systems. "We don't pay our best teachers nearly enough," he said. "Our challenge is to get our most effective teachers in the schools that desperately need them." View the video.

"During the last four years from the Administration's perspective, we're incredibly thrilled with the amount of progress we have seen with respect to changes around the teaching profession."

- Carmel Martin, U.S. Department of Education

Education discussions in Iowa focus around developing systems of career advancement, professional development, teacher evaluation and competitive compensation—trends that Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass sees across effective systems in the U.S. and abroad. Iowa, in partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, recently received Teacher Incentive Fund grants to implement the TAP system in the Saydel and Central Decatur school districts. Glass often references TAP's elements to illustrate the education reform vision he hopes the state will adopt. These principles "allow educators to grow professionally, learn from each other, and create systems for educators to work together on instruction," he said. "If we don't focus on educator quality, we will not be a high-performing system as a country and as a state." View the video.

Another TAP supporter to address the conference was Louisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu whom Lowell Milken thanked for her "courage and conviction to support the mission of the TAP system." Landrieu secured $2 million in federal funds for TAP in Louisiana during its early stages of implementation, and has been instrumental as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to help secure funds for the Teacher Incentive Fund.

"I'm so proud of TAP in Louisiana," she said. "When it comes to student achievement, research has shown that the most important school-related factor is having a talented teacher in the classroom. We must demand excellence in teaching, and create supportive environments where teachers can learn, grow, and trade best practices."

Student Achievement: "The Song That Everyone is Singing"

The collaborative and supportive nature of TAP helps transform a diverse range of schools and districts. Sharing their experiences on the panel, "The TAP System: Advancing Educator Effectiveness in Practice," were TAP educators Mona Lise Dickson (Beaufort County Schools, South Carolina), Alyssa LaBrado (Lucia Mar Unified School District, California), Larry Minor (Iberville Parish Schools, Louisiana), Mark Oesterle (Deer Valley Unified School District, Arizona) and district superintendents James McIntyre, Jr. (Knox County Schools, Tennessee), and Patrice Pujol (Ascension Parish Schools, Louisiana). Lowell Milken moderated the discussion, and NIET President and CEO Gary Stark brought the local impact into the national context of K–12 reform.

Mona Lise Dickson is not new to turning schools around using TAP as the core strategy. Her first experience with TAP was transforming Whale Branch Middle School, also in Beaufort County, which was labeled by the state as "at-risk" prior to TAP, and serves a high population of students on free and reduced-price lunch. Thanks to implementing TAP with rigor, Whale Branch earned a TAP Founder's Award in 2012—NIET's highest honor. Dickson is now working to make similar strides as principal of Lady's Island Middle School.

"The TAP rubric makes it very simple to have conversations with teachers about their instruction," Dickson said. "If you don't have these conversations, it can be detrimental to children. When our children suffer, our economy suffers and our nation suffers." At Lady's Island, Dickson explained that once teachers started to carefully analyze their data and effectiveness levels on a regular basis, their attitudes changed from being resistant to embracing the opportunity to reflect on their teaching and what was best for children. "Student achievement is the song that everyone is singing," she said. View the video.

TAP Master Teacher Larry Minor at TAP conference

Larry Minor, a master teacher at East Iberville Elementary School in Louisiana, told a similar story about using TAP's strong foundation of support, coaching and data analysis to turn a reticent career teacher into a believer in the TAP model. "By coaching her, modeling lessons for her, and by her seeing student achievement gains in her classroom, the next year, she became a mentor teacher," he shared. "Now she's even followed me to a different district and school as a mentor teacher. She has become the biggest advocate for TAP in our school." View video.

In addition to TAP leaders in a school building, educators receive layers of support at the district, state, and—through NIET—national levels.

"What I love about TAP is that the professionalism of teachers is at the very core of what it stands for, and that is, indeed, what will move us."

- Patrice Pujol, Ascension Parish Schools, Louisiana

Knox County Schools Superintendent James McIntyre, Jr., has 18 TAP schools within his district; some served as pilot schools for Tennessee's statewide teacher evaluation system. Based on evidence from his schools that "TAP works," McIntyre has taken what he has learned from TAP's "common-sense elements of teacher collaboration, leadership, accountability through an excellent evaluation tool, and performance-based compensation" and integrated them into the non-TAP schools. View the video.

Similarly, in Ascension Parish Schools, Louisiana, Superintendent Patrice Pujol has leveraged the impact of TAP's best practices on its eight schools throughout the district.

"We have tremendous professionals who are there every day trying to improve their practice and move students forward—and we are asking teachers to move all kids to unprecedented levels," Pujol said. "If education reforms are going to work, we are going to need systems that value teachers. What I love about TAP is that the professionalism of teachers is at the very core of what it stands for, and that is, indeed, what will move us." View the video.

Putting teachers front and center and designing a system tailored to their needs have been hallmarks of TAP, and NIET has seen the elements resonate with educators across the country. Addressing TAP master teachers in the audience, NIET President and CEO Gary Stark asked, "How refreshing is it to see the centerpiece of your reform doing what you need to have happen every day?"

Awards and Accolades
TAP Founder's Award recipient North DeSoto Middle School at TAP conference

In the spirit of recognizing TAP schools and districts for their hard work, Lowell Milken and other leaders of NIET presented nine awards throughout the conference. Lowell Milken kicked off the festivities with the presentation of the prestigious 2013 TAP Founder's Award to North DeSoto Middle School, located in Stonewall, Louisiana. The award honors a school for distinction in TAP implementation and comes with a financial prize of $50,000.

Eight organizations and schools received 2013 TAP Recognition Awards. The 2013 TAP Awards of Distinction, which come with a financial prize of $10,000 each, were presented to Ascension Parish Schools, Louisiana, and Knox County Schools, Tennessee, for their commitment and dedication to TAP.

The 2013 TAP Ambassador Awards, each accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize, went to Battery Creek High School in Beaufort County School District, South Carolina; Constitution Elementary School in Deer Valley School District, Arizona; Donaldsonville High School in Ascension Parish Schools, Louisiana; Lincoln High School in the Lincoln Consolidated School District, Arkansas; Queen Palmer Elementary School in Colorado Springs School District 11, Colorado; and Southport Elementary School in the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township, Indiana. The Ambassador Award pays tribute to schools that go beyond their campuses to represent the principles of the TAP system and assist others in the state and region.

Learn more.

Preparing TAP Leadership Teams for Challenges Ahead

In between the plenary panels and award presentations, some 20 in-depth sessions were offered per training block, with topics ranging from coaching and examining the TAP rubric to hearing from experienced TAP educators about their successes and lessons learned.

Lynn Gallagher and Kim Day at TAP conference

NIET puts careful thought into designing sessions based on the needs of TAP teachers, schools and other partners involved with the day-to-day implementation of the reform system. Many TAP educators use the opportunity of the training sessions and expertise of NIET trainers to help identify their school goals and action plans for the coming year.

"Our hope is that our conference events are informational and inspirational, and most importantly, add to the richness of educators' TAP experiences," said Dr. Stark.


In addition to regional, state and national trainings, NIET connects with the education community all year long through its newsletters, robust websites and social media. Subscribe to updates here (TAP) and here (NIET), follow TAP and NIET on Twitter, and view videos on the TAP and NIET YouTube channels. We encourage you to join in the conversation to ensureteacher excellence…student achievement…opportunities for all.