Legislators, One Last Thing Before You Go

Monday, April 23, 2018

The 110th Tennessee General Assembly is nearing the end, and for many the end cannot come soon enough. There are political races waiting and they are ready to hit the campaign trail as election season is about to launch in earnest. But before they exit Nashville, there is one last thing left for them to do: finish protecting our educators. Unfortunately, these flawed test scores can, and will, impact teacher evaluations. 

The Tennessee General prudently and quickly stepped in after the latest testing failure. Let’s make clear, this was the result of concerned stakeholders to make sure students, educators and districts are held harmless for this year’s TNReady invalid results. Our legislators deserve the recognition and the acclaim for their effort. Senate Bill 1623 was sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham, along with Senators Bowling, Massey, and Pody. House Bill 1981 was sponsored by Rep. Eddie Smith, along with Reps. Hardaway, Daniel, and Parkinson.  

Educators wanted to ensure that school districts could not base employment termination and compensation decisions for teachers on data generated by these statewide assessments. This was accentuated in SB 1623/HB1981. It must be noted that local districts have always had complete discretion in how they choose to factor test data into employment decisions like promotion, retention, termination, and compensation. Local school districts have considerable flexibility to pause any policies or programs that emphasize the use of TNReady results in these types of personnel decisions.

Previous legislation, now law: The Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act (T.C.A. § 49-1-302) adjusted the weighting of student growth data in an educator’s evaluation to lessen impact of TNReady on evaluation scores. TNReady factored into evaluation scores at 10 percent for the 2016-17 school year and will factor into evaluation scores at 20 percent for the 2017-18 school year and 35 percent for the 2018-19 school year and thereafter. Additionally, growth data from year one of TNReady will only be used if it benefits the educator. If it does not, the qualitative component of the evaluation composite will increase. 

So, despite the incredible work of Tennessee legislators, they needed to make sure that excluded test scores from this year do not impact teacher evaluations. It seems clear that the intent of the legislature was to ensure that the scores couldn’t harm teachers or students in any way, so we think this is an important part. However, they just missed a critical component. Even if employment decisions shouldn’t be based on them, the test results from this year still affect their scores and 3-year averages. 

We first raised these concerns on passage of the SB 1623/HB1981 Conference Committee report with a few policymakers. One teacher who contacted us really does want to be able to use her scores – her students are taking the paper and pencil science test next week, so they haven’t been affected by any of the issues this week. And they have worked really hard to be ready for the test. Others who may be affected negatively certainly would not want the test scores to be used. 

To solve the issue, it would be beneficial to teachers to replicate what was done in 2016 with the Evaluation Flexibility Act - SB2508/HB1419 (PC No. 172) - which stated that student growth composites would be excluded unless they resulted in higher evaluation scores, with the qualitative portion of the evaluation score increased in its place. Section 3 describes a similar provision for teachers without access to individual growth data.

"For the 2015-2016 through 2017-2018 school years, student growth evaluation composites generated by assessments administered in the 2015-2016 school year shall be excluded from the student growth measure as specified in subdivision (d)(2)(B)(ii) if such exclusion results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher or principal. The qualitative portion of the evaluation shall be increased to account for any necessary reduction to the student growth measure.” 

All the legislature would have to do is take the previous language from Sections 1 & 3 and change 2015-2016 to 2017-2018, and 2017-2018 to 2019-2020. Section 2 doesn’t need to be changed unless the phased in percentage schedule of (d)(2)(E)(i) - (d)(2)(E)(iii) is being updated. We don’t think that 49-1-302(d)(2)(E)(ii) needs to be adjusted or referenced, since it’s essentially just a circular reference to (d)(2)(B)(ii). Although we think this would make (d)(2)(E)(ii) obsolete, since if the test results would help they would probably just want to go ahead and use it for the full 35 percent as provided in (d)(2)(E)(iv).

The continued feasibility of using a complicated statistical method as an evaluation tool for teachers will certainly be further debated by stakeholders and policymakers in the foreseeable future. However, the issue that members of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly must address before leaving for home is making sure our teachers are not penalized by flawed test results and scores from this year on a teacher’s 3-year average. We know legislators can take action when they focus. The goal of the legislature is to ensure these flawed scores don’t harm our educators. We need legislators to finish the job and end what they started. 

Audrey Shores
Chief Operating Officer of Professional Educators of Tennessee

JC Bowman
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


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