By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said Monday that he favors a proposal to close public access to teacher evaluation data because of the lack of confidence many educators have in the new evaluation system.
The measure is headed for a full Senate vote, and the companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday.
Sponsors say access to the data should be limited to school officials and not available to the general public.
Winters spoke to reporters on Monday after hearing a presentation from a Tennessee Department of Education official on the implementation of the evaluation system.
Under recent changes to state law, half of teachers’ assessments must derive from testing data, while the rest comes from classroom observations.
The state has been implementing more data-driven approaches to education as part of federal Race to the Top grants and through Gov. Bill Haslam’s own policies since he took office two years ago.
The changes in the evaluation system that could affect a teacher’s tenure status have been widely criticized by educators who say the state is moving too quickly to implement a new process that is unproven.
“There are still enormous concerns about it,” Winters said.
For that reason, he said teachers are uncomfortable with the idea of the data being made public and possibly being printed in a newspaper or posted on the Internet.
He said the data should be “something that’s used between the employer and employee for improvement of teachers.”
“We generally support transparency and the public’s right to know,” Winters said. “But the problem with this situation is that would be putting a great deal more credibility on these teacher evaluations than we think it deserves. There are a lot of unanswered questions about it.”
Emily Barton, assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction with the Education Department, said state officials are trying to address the concerns.
She told a joint legislative committee on Monday that members of an evaluation team have met with over 6,200 educators across the state and answered more than 2,450 questions about the new system.
As for the privacy issue, Barton said educators have made their concerns known.
“Teachers have strong opinions about this, on both fronts,” she said after the meeting. “We and the governor support the legislation to maintain privacy of that information.”
Haslam told reporters after a jobs announcement at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga last week that he believes the best feedback occurs when “people feel like it really is between them and the employee.”
“And the thought is that if that feedback is going to be in the paper the next day, you may or may not get as much honesty and then you won’t get as much opportunity for the employee to improve,” he said.
Read SB1447 at http://capitol.tn.gov