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Tennessee Teachers Score in Fight for Fair Evaluations

A new law will end the practice of evaluating teachers based on their students' standardized test scores.
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Shiny teacher's apple. Photo by Shutterstock.

Photo by Shutterstock.

On April 24, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill rolling back an evaluation system that used students' scores on standardized tests to judge teacher success.

Spurred by a lawsuit that the Tennessee Education Association, a teachers’ union, filed against the governor and the state education commissioner, the bill addresses the union's concern over what it called "arbitrary and irrational" evaluation methods.

The evaluations use a statistical tool known as TVAAS to calculate the impact teachers have on their students' academic performance. TVAAS uses data from state standardized tests in a "value-added" system to rank teachers.

The goal is not to do away with teacher evaluations but to improve them.

The lawsuit that spurred last week's development began when 8th grade teacher Mark Taylor didn't get a bonus.

It takes some stones to sue the governor over bonus money—but the union saw a larger problem in Taylor's situation. In a press release detailing the lawsuit, the union wrote that Taylor's bonus was denied even though the observation component of his evaluation showed that he was exceeding expectations.

Because Mr. Taylor taught several advanced classes that did not culminate in a state standardized test, his TVAAS score was calculated based only on the 22 students in the regular science class he teaches—that's less than 16 percent of his total students.

In other words, Taylor received a bad score on his evaluation due to calculations that reflected only a small part of his work.

But the deeper concern went far beyond teachers' bonuses. Under the state's previous education statutes, the department of education had the authority to revoke a teacher's license based on their TVAAS score.

Carolyn Crowder, executive director of Tennessee Education Association, explained that the group's goal is not to do away with teacher evaluations but to improve them.

"TEA is not against accountability," she said, "but evaluations should be fair and clear."

Molly Rusk wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Molly is a recent graduate of the program in Creative Writing at the University of Washington and an online reporting intern at YES! Follow her on Twitter @mollylynnrusk.

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