Tag Archives: teachers

TN student testing hours to be cut next year

After weeks of hard conversations prompted by the rocky debut of Tennessee’s new assessment, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Monday that the state will reduce the number of hours that students spend taking TNReady in its second year.

Further from Chalkbeat Tennessee:

Beginning in 2016-17, the State Department of Education plans to scrap TNReady Part I in math and streamline the English portion of Part I, she said. Department officials will determine how many hours of testing the changes will save students in the coming weeks.

On average, third-graders this year will have spent 11.2 hours taking TNReady end-of-course tests; seventh-graders, 11.7 hours; and high school students, 12.3 hours. Educators, parents and students alike have said that that’s simply too many hours devoted to testing, especially considering the hours that students spend taking practice tests and screeners through the state’s 2-year-old Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI-squared) program.

“We’ve always maintained we had two goals: strengthen content and reduce testing time,” McQueen told reporters during a conference call.

The changes were announced before even the completion of the first year of TNReady testing and amid widespread criticism of the rollout of the state’s new standardized test,which was marred by technical problems and delays, as well as growing concerns about overtesting in Tennessee.

In addition to revising next year’s test to reduce testing time, McQueen said the department is working to ensure smoother administration of TNReady Part II this spring. The state is pre-printing tests to include students’ names and other identifying information. She said tests will be shipped to schools before the testing window begins on April 25.

The time spent testing in Tennessee classrooms has been at the center of the state’s nascent opt-out movement, as well as calls from districts to ditch TNReady altogether in favor of the ACT suite of tests, which take less time overall.

House debates denying pensions to teachers, legislators for minor sex crimes

A bill denying pension benefits to teachers convicted of misdemeanor sexual crimes has been revised on the House floor to apply to state legislators as well.

The change to the bill — SB1656 — was proposed by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, and endorsed by the sponsor, Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, as a “friendly amendment.” Lamberth echoed Fitzhugh’s comments that “if we’re going to hold teachers accountable,” it is only fair that legislators face the same standard.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, who normally rallies GOP opposition to Democrat-proposed amendments, commended the Democratic leader for his proposal, declaring Republicans “have long worked to address to sexual harassment.”

But the bipartisan show of support for the bill and the amendment was matched by a bipartisan voicing of misgivings during Thursday’s floor debate, perhaps most notably from Reps. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and John DeBerry, D-Memphis.

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Blackburn would mandate teacher background checks

News release from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn
Washington, D.C. — In 2015, 496 school employees were arrested nationwide for child abuse, and a publication recently suggested it’s occurring in Tennessee. As a result, Congressman Blackburn introduced H.R. 4666, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act.

This legislation requires schools receiving federal funds to perform background checks on all existing and new employees as well as contractors who have unsupervised access to children. The background checks must be vetted through multiple state and federal databases. Under the bill, a school may not hire a person if he or she has committed certain crimes, including any violent or sexual crime against a child.

A study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the average offender, who is a school employee, abuses 73 children over a lifetime.
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Lawsuit challenging TN teacher evaluation dismissed

If Tennessee’s teachers want to change the way they are evaluated, they need to vote, not sue, a federal judge said in a ruling dismissing a Knox County case that challenged the constitutionality of the state’s evaluation scheme, reports the News Sentinel.

U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr., in a ruling made public Wednesday, has tossed out of court lawsuits filed by two Knox County teachers and later adopted by the Tennessee Education Association challenging the use of test scores from the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, in evaluations that determine such things as bonuses.

The lawsuits, filed in 2014 by teachers Lisa Trout and Mark Taylor, were said to be test cases for the entire state, but Mattice ruled the teachers flunked because they could not show either through their situations or relevant case law the state’s evaluation process violates teachers’ constitutional rights. At most, Mattice said, the teachers could make a case for breach of contract, but that is a state court claim best left for the state judicial system.

In striking down the lawsuit, Mattice was not unsympathetic to the teachers’ claims the evaluation process, particularly with its use of TVAAS scores measuring student growth — not teacher performance — using an algorithm that is not fail proof.

“The court notes that (teachers’) criticism of the statistic methods of TVAAS are not unfounded,” he wrote.

But their beef, the judge ruled, is not with the constitution, but the Tennessee Legislature.
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Haslam offers teacher option: TNReady or Not

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he would seek additional flexibility for teachers as the state continues its transition to the TNReady student assessment.

Under the proposal, teachers would have the choice to include or not to include student results from the 2015-2016 TNReady assessment in his or her evaluation score, which typically consists of multiple years of data. The proposal keeps student learning and accountability as factors in an educator’s evaluation while giving teachers the option to include this year’s results if the results benefit them. The governor will work with the General Assembly on specific language and a plan to move the proposal through the legislative process.
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Bike bill transformed into attack on teachers union PAC

UPDATE: The bill passed the Senate 21-9 Monday.

A bill that originally addressed how students should wear bicycle helmets will hit the Tennessee Senate floor today with an amendment critics say aims to punish the state’s largest teachers union for legal political activity, reports the Times-Free Press.

Sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, Senate Bill 151 began life last year as a measure urging the state Department of Education to include information in a pilot bicycle safety program about “the proper use and positioning of bicycle helmets.”

In last week’s Senate Education Committee meeting, Gardenhire introduced an amendment, quickly adopted, that completely rewrote the bill.

It no longer mentions bicycles or helmets.

Now the bill zeroes in on educators’ automatic payroll deductions to a professional organization that also runs a political action committee.

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA), which has thousands of members, is the only teachers group that fits the description. Another group, the Professional Educators of Tennessee has no PAC.

Gardenhire’s “Fair Access to Collection of Teacher Support Act” would bar employee dues check-offs by local school systems “for a professional employee organization, if any of that organization’s funds are contributed in any way to another organization that engages in political activity.”

TEA leaders, who had no inkling of what Gardenhire planned, were stunned.

“It would target TEA for its political activity,” charged Jim Wrye, TEA’s chief lobbyist. “It would eliminate payroll deduction for our members. We’ve had payroll deduction for decades. It’s just a slot on a paycheck just like United Way or the Farm Bureau or any other entity.”

Wrye argued that “teachers need to be politically active, you know, when we have all of these out-of-state special interests pouring in tons of money. We need to stand up for our schools and our communities.”

Asked about the amendment Sunday, Gardenhire said “one group has a monopoly of collecting dues” because many districts say their computers can’t work in other groups for automatic deductions.

“We’re giving an unfair advantage to a particular association and there’s other associations that are vying for membership and have a good representation. And we ought to treat them all equal.”

Moreover, Gardenhire also said he’s seen where TEA is “even now working on a way to set it up [dues deduction] up outside [local school systems], with people writing a check or through a credit or debit card. They’re already anticipating this. So I thought it would be a good time to get the process going and make sure everyone’s on an equal footing.”

But Gardenhire, vice chairman of the Education Committee, acknowledged the TEA’s political activity factored into the bill.

“That was certainly part of it,” the lawmaker said, but quickly added, “They’ve given me political contributions in the past. I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

Boards, bill would stop use of test scores in teacher evaluations

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville’s school board has joined Knox County Schools in calling for test scores to not be used for teacher evaluations this school year.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1PqXUQg ) reports that the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board unanimously voted Tuesday in favor of a resolution that urges state officials to either provide a waiver this year in using TNReady for teacher evaluations or allow districts to use only observation data for teacher evaluations.

School board member Jill Speering says she agrees with many teachers who have said that using TNReady scores in its first year is inappropriate.

The Knox County school board approved a similar resolution last month.

Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, has filed a bill asking for a two-year exemption of TNReady student growth scores on teacher evaluations.

Memphis teacher unions’ dispute goes to court

A question of whether Shelby County Schools is taking money out of teachers’ paychecks against their will has dragged the school district into an ongoing feud between local and statewide teacher unions, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The Memphis Shelby County Education Association is suing SCS for continuing to collect dues out of teachers’ paychecks for the Tennessee Education Association, even after the two groups disaffiliated last year. According to court documents, that amounts to about $67,000 every pay period and affects about 4,200 employees.

A chancery court judge ruled Monday, however, that SCS can continue making the withdrawals until the court matter is resolved. A hearing date has been set for Feb. 8.

SCS attorney Rodney Moore said no money has been given to TEA against employees’ wishes. He said because of the separation of the two union groups late last year, SCS has been continuing the payroll deductions for TEA union dues, but hasn’t yet transferred that money to TEA pending approval of each employee.

Moore, who noted “we don’t understand the complaint,” said the issue is between MSCEA and TEA — which wasn’t even listed as a party on the lawsuit. TEA is fighting that, and has filed a petition to intervene in the case. Moore also noted the school board voted in November to stay neutral in the fight between the two unions.

MSCEA executive director Keith Williams said the group is suing the school system and not TEA because it is the school system that deducts the money from employees’ paychecks.

Williams said Monday morning’s hearing was the first time he’d heard SCS say they were holding on to the dues and not yet giving the money to TEA. He said he thinks dues have only been collected erroneously for one or two pay periods.

MSCEA attorney Michael Floyd argued in court that SCS violated a memorandum of understanding that outlines payroll deduction procedures.

“My complaint says they stole this money from these people,” Floyd said.

Seven TN educators still receiving pensions after criminal convictions

Nashville television station WSMV reports finding seven Tennessee teachers and education administrators still collecting state pensions after conviction of crimes related to their jobs.

The offenses range from falsifying records to assault to sexual battery by an authority figure.

… “This is not a loophole,” said Shelli King, the spokesperson for the Department of Treasury. “We are following the letter of the law.

(State law bans pensions for persons convicted of felonies related to service in a public office, but it doesn’t apply to those “grandfathered” into pension systems before the conviction in some situations. And it doesn’t apply to misdemeanor convictions. Two of the cited cases were misdemeanors.)

…“They need to be held accountable,” said Senator Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.

Tracy said he is considering drafting legislation after reviewing the I-Team’s findings. Tracy, a former teacher, serves on the Senate Education Committee.

“I think teachers should be held to a high standard so the parents can have confidence in the system,” Tracy said. “If you betray this trust – if you betray the citizens’ trust – you don’t deserve those benefits.”

The I-Team reached out to all the former educators featured in this report. No one responded by deadline, but we did find Mary Ann Williams at home.

“What do you think the victims would say, the people who accused you of child abuse?” asked Autler. “Do you think they would agree that it’s OK you keep receiving pension?”

“I don’t know,” Williams said.

The former Lewis County teacher said she believes she deserves her pension because she paid into the system.

Task force recommends scrapping some tests

From Chalkbeat-Tennessee:
Amid concerns that Tennessee is over-testing its students, a state task force recommended on Tuesday eliminating the option to test kindergarten and first-graders, as well as dropping two mandatory college preparatory tests for eighth- and 10th-graders.

The panel, charged with reviewing K-12 tests and testing policies, also recommended releasing test questions from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), including the state’s new TNReady assessment, despite the likely high financial cost to the state.

The recommendations come as Tennessee makes a major shift in testing this year with the launch of the TNReady assessment in math and English language arts for grades 3-11. Tennessee students will begin next spring taking the Common Core-aligned test, which will replace the previous exam that doesn’t align with the state’s current academic standards.

The task force urged the release of TCAP questions in order to increase testing transparency — something that teachers have pushed for as tests have become more critical in Tennessee’s teacher evaluation process.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she was unsure of the cost for releasing test questions, since developing new questions each year likely would be expensive. But, she said, the cost is worth it to build trust among students, parents and teachers.

“This is a new time, a new era, and so we believe transparency is more important than ever,” McQueen said during a morning press briefing on the report.

Note The Department of Education’s press release is below.
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