published Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Tennessee Education Association urges changes to new teacher evaluation system

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Education Association officials called on Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers Wednesday to correct what they call multiple "flaws" in the state's new teacher evaluation system.

The state's largest teachers' group also says educators who get an evaluation rating of "meets expectations" -- which is a 3 on a 5-point scale -- be eligible for tenure. Currently they are not.

TEA President Gera Summerford said at a news conference Wednesday 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," said Summerford, a math teacher at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School in East Tennessee.

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

Haslam and his education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, have refused to delay immediate impacts of the new evaluations on judging teacher performance and tenure, saying the decision to turn the 2011-12 into a pilot or practice year is a decision best made by local school systems.

Speaking to reporters in Clarksville, Tenn., later in the day, Haslam, a Republican, noted the evaluation system was proposed in 2010 by his predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, and passed by lawmakers at the time.

Moreover, Haslam said, a statewide panel with members including teachers spent two years "working on the process."

"My view is: We've just been doing it for six months," the governor said. "Let's let the process work out. Inevitably there might be some changes."

Last year, however, Haslam proposed and Republican lawmakers passed a law substantially changing state tenure laws for teachers and requiring beginning teachers to score at least a 4 or 5 on their evaluations before becoming eligible for tenure.

The state's standards require that 50 percent of teachers' assessments come from student testing data with the remainder from classroom observations. A number of principals have complained they don't have time to perform multiple evaluations of teachers and other issues such as school management and student discipline are suffering.

TEA-proposed changes include:

* Stopping the use of schoolwide data on achievement tests as a substitute to measure student growth for those teachers whose subjects such as art and music aren't covered by the tests. Appropriate tests or other measures for those subjects should be used, TEA argues.

* Reducing 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 four to six, TEA says.

* Basing evaluation ratings on actual observations of teaching and halting "manipulation" of overall ratings in a school or system to "fit a bell curve" of expected student growth data.

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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