Starting next year, those who want to teach in Hamilton County schools will have to pass one more test.
Despite concerns over the $300,000 price tag, the Hamilton County Board of Education recently agreed to buy an online system that will allow administrators to screen teacher, principal and support-staff applicants for their potential effectiveness in schools.
"If this could ensure that we have not only highly qualified, but highly effective teachers in the classroom, I can assure you [$300,000] would be well worth it on the student achievement side," said Connie Atkins, Hamilton County's assistant superintendent for human resources, as she presented the item to the board.
Officials say passing the assessment won't be mandatory for new hires. But information from the program provider, Gallup, says that principals and teachers who score 67 or 68 points on the test are much more likely to be effective in the classroom.
The screening process takes about 35 minutes to complete. It includes statements with which applicants must agree or disagree on a scale of one to five, as well as multiple-choice questions about the attitudes, beliefs and practices of successful teachers and principals.
"It's just a gauge," said school spokeswoman Danielle Clark. "You look at those who scored highest first, and then go down. But just because they scored low doesn't mean they won't be effective. They just may need more time to become effective."
The programs -- TeacherInsight, PrincipalInsight and SupportInsight -- will be paid for with money that Hamilton County received from Tennessee's Race to the Top win.
School board member Linda Mosley said she was concerned that Hamilton County had been hiring teachers too late in the year recently and wondered if the Gallup systems would help.
Atkins, who said she has wanted to purchase the program for years, said it would speed up the hiring process.
"The assessment is done electronically, that's the beauty of it. It will actually enhance our screening process," she said. "We do not have the staff to screen 1,000 teacher applicants."
Brown Academy Principal Lea Ann Burk said she didn't know much about the new Web-based programs, but anything that gives her more information about a potential teacher "would be great."
School board member David Testerman, who voted against buying the system, said he didn't feel he had enough information about the Gallup programs.
"I wanted to find out if there were other programs out there, to compare cost; it would be good to shop around," he said. "I think the concept is a great idea, but the cost does concern me a little."
Contact Kelli Gauthier at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli.