By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The head of an education foundation commissioned by Gov. Bill Haslam to review Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system says it has identified a key concern teachers have about the testing data used to evaluate them and will propose recommendations to address it.
Former state Sen. Jamie Woodson, a Knoxville Republican, met with The Associated Press late last week to discuss the report to be released on Monday by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, which was launched by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.
Haslam announced in December that he was commissioning an outside review to help “separate the anecdotes from flaws” in the new system, which has been heavily criticized by educators and lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans. The governor, a Republican, asked the recommendations be reported back to the state this summer.
Woodson wouldn’t reveal the specific recommendations before the release of the report, but she did highlight three main concerns gathered in feedback from nine roundtables and more than 16,000 teachers and administrators who participated in a statewide questionnaire.
— The system is often viewed as overly focused on accountability and not enough on improving instruction in the classroom.
— Many teachers do not have access to high quality professional learning tied to their evaluation to help them improve their practice.
— The majority of teachers do not have individual value-added student growth data for their grades and subjects.
The latter has been a major criticism of the new system, which requires half of teachers’ assessments to come from testing data, and the other half from classroom observations. Many teachers have voiced concerns that their subjects are not covered by standardized tests.
The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, gauges teachers’ value based on how much their students gain in one year. Thirty-five percent of the evaluation is comprised of students’ value-added test scores.
After the new system was announced, the Tennessee Education Association provided the AP a list of nearly 30 questions about the new system. Most of the questions involved the use of the value-added test scores.
“There was a significant amount of feedback that over two-thirds of our teachers in this state do not have comparable value-added data yet,” Woodson said.
Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, said a lack of value-added data means school-wide data will likely be used, “which doesn’t make a lot of sense that you’re evaluating teachers based on students that they might not even teach.”
“I just think to use school-wide data to evaluate an individual teacher on their performance, it’s unreasonable and unfair, and really casts serious doubts about that whole system,” he said.
Overall, Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he hopes the report will provide information to allow lawmakers to make legislative changes to improve the system.
“I hope it’s a report that has some factual basis to it and takes into account what I understand to be a lot of input from educators, both in the supervisory capacity and the classroom capacity,” said Fitzhugh, who spoke at the Tennessee Education Association conference last week in Nashville.
Republican Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett, a vocal critic of the new system, said he also wants to see the report to possibly get an assessment of the morale of Tennessee teachers.
“I’m concerned … we’re going to have a shortfall in the number of teachers that are going to pursue that as a career choice,” said Coley, who also spoke at the conference.
“That was one of the four great professions that people used to try to get in: one would be a preacher, an attorney, a physician or a teacher. And I think teaching is getting a black eye.”
Woodson said the foundation and the state are committed to making the evaluation system fair and effective.
“We strongly believe and will be specific in our recommendations that this is an ongoing process that requires for it to be successful and fully realize its potential to impact student learning and to improve effective teaching,” she said.