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Governor’s proposal may offer flexibility for teacher evaluations

Educators, administrators, parents and students have expressed concerns about the weight of TNReady student scores towards students’ grades and teachers’ evaluations. In response, Governor Bill Haslam proposed on February 17 that teachers be given the option of including or excluding students’ results as part of their own evaluation scores.
“Tennessee students are showing historic progress,” said Haslam in a press release. “The state made adjustments to teacher evaluation and accountability last year to account for the transition to an improved assessment fully aligned with Tennessee standards, which we know has involved a tremendous amount of work on the part of our educators. Given recent, unexpected changes in the administration of the new assessment, we want to provide teachers with additional flexibility for this first year’s data.”
In 2014, Haslam met with educators at over 150 schools across the state and from these encounters, assembled a list of three major concerns:
1. The transition to a new assessment in 2015-16 will negatively impact individual growth scores.
2. Too much weight is being placed on student growth data for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects.
3. School districts are going to be forced to make decisions on hiring, placement and compensation based strictly on student performance on state assessments.
In response, the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act was born in 2015 to phase in the weight of student scores for teacher evaluations over the course of three years from 10 percent this year, to 20 percent next year and 35 percent for the 2017-18 school year. Based on this, student scores are scheduled to count for 10 percent of teachers’ Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) scores.
Elizabethton Board of Education member Dr. Grover May said in a recent board meeting that even 10 percent is too much to count, considering the variables at play with the new format and platform. For this reason, the board in January voiced its concerns to the state legislature, requesting that scores not be counted for or against teachers this school year. If Haslam’s proposal passes, they may have that option.
“The thing about the Governor’s proposal that’s fantastic is it’s giving teachers the option to count grades if it helps them,” said Director of Elizabethton Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour. “It rewards teachers that have prepared their students well and teachers who feel the testing process was not what they had hoped it would be or who thought it may have had an adverse affect on their scores — it’s really the best of both worlds. So I’m hoping it will come into effect and give them some relief.”
Student growth scores currently count for 25 percent of evaluations for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, this will be reduced to 10 percent for the 2015-16 school year as well, and will increase to 15 percent for subsequent school years. If the proposal becomes legislation and passes, use of these scores may be optional for these teachers as well.
“I think teachers would be very happy with that this year, with everything going on with testing and because the test itself is new,” said Jerri Beth Nave, Director of Federal Programs and Testing in the county schools. “I think that would be a relief because it can be very stressful when it counts for such a big part of teachers’ evaluations.”
Though Nave said accountability measures are federally mandated and must be considered, the way they are measured against teachers can me manipulated.
Teachers are not the only ones affected by unforeseen issues with the testing platform. Students must continue to prepare for and adapt to paper and pencil testing, though the grades will not count towards their final scores.
School districts were given the opportunity to decide whether testing would be counted towards students’ final grades, and Elizabethton and Carter County Schools elected not to count them. Gardenhour said they had to make this decision before any testing began in November, and that because they had no idea when test scores would be returned to the schools, they opted not to include them in final grades.
Although they will not be counted for the students, Gardenhour said these grades will still be used to make decisions regarding testing and focus areas for the next school year.
“When we’re looking at situations like these, it comes with disruption,” said Gardenhour. “We can’t really expect it to be a normal test year; however, we will encourage our students to do their best because we use that data to help us make programmatic decisions to see where we need to spend more time in subject areas, so I think our students will perform up to expectations.”
Along with the transition from anticipated online testing to assessments with paper and pencil, students must also acclimate to a new testing schedule. The school systems will communicate with parents when these testing windows are to begin.
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent out letters to educators and parents thanking them for patience and hard work as well as apologizing for inconveniences of the testing platform malfunction.
The extended testing window for Part I testing began Monday in some districts. McQueen assured that testing online is the plan moving into the future, despite issues encountered this year.
“We don’t believe students should learn how to use technology just to take a test, but we believe technology integration is part of the modern day teaching and learning cycle,” McQueen wrote in a letter to parents. “Technology investments have helped personalize learning well beyond assessments and have given students opportunities to interact with content in more individualized and engaging environments. So, all of this hard work to improve technology infrastructure and device access will still benefit students’ learning.”