published Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

TEA Officials call for corrections in Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system

NASHVILLE _ Tennessee Education Association officials today called on Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers to correct what they call multiple “flaws” in the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

TEA President Gera Summerford said in a news conference that this year should be a “practice” year for evaluations with no negative consequences for teachers.

“Tennessee's teacher evaluation system and supporting data system are so flawed that they diminish the education program for Tennessee students,” Summerford, a math teacher at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School in East Tennessee.

As a result, Summerford said, “students suffer as teachers and administrators are distracted from focusing on student learning in order to meet the demands of the evaluation system.”

Haslam and his education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, have previously refused to delay immediate impacts of the new evaluations on judging teacher performance and tenure, saying the decision to turn the 2011-2012 school year into a pilot or practice year is a decision best made by local school systems.

Other TEA-proposed changes include:

* Stopping the use of school-wide data on achievement tests as a substitute to measure student growth for those teachers whose subjects aren’t covered by the tests. Appropriate tests or other measures for those subjects should be used, TEA argues.

* Provide that teachers who receive an evaluation rating of “meets expectations” _ which is a 3 on the 5-point scale _ be eligible for tenure. Currently, they are not.

* Reduced the number of required classroom observations for teachers. Teachers with a rating of 3 or higher should undergo only one observation a year instead of 4 to 6, TEA says.

* Based evaluation ratings on actual observations of teaching practice and halt “manipulation” of overall ratings in a school or system to “fit a bell curve” of expected student growth data.

The tougher evaluation system was passed in 2010 by state lawmakers at Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s request to help the state win a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant. Last year, Republican Haslam proposed and GOP lawmakers approved legislation tying the new evaluations firmly to teacher tenure.

Haslam has tried to stave off a brewing revolt among a number of lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, by shuttling questions about the evaluation system over to SCORE _ the nonprofit State Collaborative on Reforming Education created by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to survey teachers and recommend tweaks but not big changes.

SCORE is headed by former Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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