published Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Gov. Bill Haslam says he's committed to teacher evaluations

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam says the independent review he sought last December of the state's controversial new teacher evaluation system was by no means a smoke screen for inaction.

The Republican governor told reporters this week that the review he requested from the pro-reform State Collaborative on Reforming Education, slated for release June 11, will help guide decisions on modifying the assessments if need be.

"We're going to use them," Haslam said. "That wasn't just a charade to have SCORE go through that. I'm firmly committed to the evaluation process, and for it to work, we need to make certain it's the best it can be."

Jerry Winters with the Tennessee Education Association, which represents more than 46,000 educators, said he thinks SCORE's report is "going to say what teachers have been saying since this evaluation system has come into being. I think the state wasted a great opportunity to make some changes months ago."

Calling problems "obvious," Winters said the multiple observations of teachers in the classroom are "far too time-consuming."

Moreover, he said, the portion of evaluations based on standardized tests is unfair to many educators. That's because subjects they teach like foreign languages, art, music and special education don't have standardized tests, so the teachers are judged by a school's overall performance.

"It tests too many teachers based on students they might not even teach," Winters said.

Faced with mounting political pressure on lawmakers from teachers, principals and some superintendents, Haslam last winter asked SCORE, a group created by fellow Republican and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, to gather feedback and input on the evaluations.

SCORE, which is headed by former state Senate Education Committee Chairman Jaime Woodson, a Knoxville Republican, has held regional roundtables and conducted an online survey of educators.

The group also met with groups of superintendent, principal and supervisor councils and others.

"I'm hopeful we'll see a lot of good, substantive feedback from a whole lot of educators," Haslam said. "My sense is there will be some questions about the number of evaluations and things like that."

The governor also acknowledged there "obviously" have been questions about how to judge teacher performance in noncore subjects that don't have standardized testing.

"I think that's one of the issues [where] we still have some wrestling to do," Haslam said.

Then-Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and state lawmakers committed the state to doing the more comprehensive evaluations as part of Tennessee's successful 2010 application for a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant.

Haslam, who took office in early 2011, then successfully pushed legislation tying evaluations firmly to the granting and maintaining of tenure protections.

The state's standards require that 50 percent of teachers' assessments come from student testing data with the remainder from classroom observations.

In January, the Tennessee Education Association pushed to make 2011-12 a "practice" year for educators, arguing the new evaluation system that will help determine teacher tenure was "flawed."

The effort didn't make it through the Republican-dominated Legislature as Haslam and his education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, argued the state needed to "let the process work" and let the independent review continue.

Winters said that although he hasn't been privy to SCORE's report, he believes state officials "could have listened to teachers six months ago and made those changes immediately and had a lot more credibility with teachers across the state."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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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