TEA files lawsuit against state’s teacher evaluation system

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s largest teachers union filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday that challenges how the state uses standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.

The lawsuit filed in Nashville focuses on those teachers whose evaluations are based substantially on standardized test scores of students in subjects they do not teach. That’s more than half of the public school teachers in Tennessee, according to the lawsuit.

“If you’ve got 20 teachers in a school and 10 of them teach tested subjects and the other 10 don’t, the other 10 are going to be evaluated based on how kids do on tests in those first 10 teachers’ classes,” said Rick Colbert, general counsel for the Tennessee Education Association.

The TEA has long argued that the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS data, shouldn’t be relied upon because it’s a statistical estimate and could lead to a flawed evaluation of a teacher.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say their overall evaluation scores dropped as a result of school-wide TVAAS estimates being used to calculate their scores. As a result, one person was allegedly denied a bonus, and another lost eligibility to be recommended for tenure.

The lawsuit states the evaluation practice violates “plaintiffs’ substantive due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

“Educators are not opposed to being evaluated,” said TEA president Barbara Gray. “We just want it to be done in a way that actually reflects the quality of our individual work and contributions to student success.”

Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed legislation that includes adjustments to the way teachers are evaluated. One change would lower the weight on TVAAS in non-tested subjects from 25 to 15 percent.

Currently, 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation is comprised of student achievement data.

The Republican governor told reporters after speaking at a legislative preview session held Thursday by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association that he didn’t have a comment about the lawsuit. But he said he was aware of teachers’ concerns after talking to a number of them around the state.

“It just felt fair for us on the non-tested subjects to drop that down,” he said.

Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation that prohibits standardized test scores from being tied to teacher licensing. Haslam signed the measure.

Note: The TEA news release is below.

News release from Tennessee Education Association:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Education Association, with support from the National Education Association, has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s use of TVAAS estimates in teacher evaluations.

More than half of the public school teachers in Tennessee receive evaluations that are based substantially on standardized test scores of students in subjects they do not teach. The lawsuit seeks relief for those teachers from the arbitrary and irrational practice of measuring their effectiveness with statistical estimates based on standardized test scores from students they do not teach and may have never met.

“TEA has been pushing back against the inappropriate use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation since the new system was first implemented in 2011,” said Barbara Gray, Arlington Community Schools administrator and TEA president. “TEA is committed to ensuring that teacher evaluation systems function effectively to identify both teachers who are performing well and those who need assistance to improve. The imprecise and volatile statistical estimates in TVAAS do not serve these purposes.”

In addition to TEA, additional named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are an Anderson County educator, a Metro Nashville educator, the Anderson County Education Association, and the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association. Both teachers included as named plaintiffs teach grades and subjects in which student learning is not measured by a state standardized test. Each educator saw their overall evaluation scores drop as a result of school-wide TVAAS estimates being used to calculate their scores. As a result, the Metro Nashville educator was denied a bonus and the Anderson County educator lost her eligibility to be recommended for tenure.

TEA’s claims include the violation of Tennessee educators’ due process and equal protection rights granted under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit asks the courts to stop the continued high-stakes use of TVAAS estimates for teachers of non-tested grades and subjects.

This lawsuit is one more piece of TEA’s fight against the use of TVAAS in any high-stakes decisions for Tennessee educators. The association has two other lawsuits currently pending on behalf of individual educators harmed by the state’s improper use of TVAAS estimates.

“Educators are not opposed to being evaluated. We just want it to be done in a way that actually reflects the quality of our individual work and contributions to student success,” said Gray.