Tennessee education officials are somewhat perplexed about the growing chorus of school boards asking the state to waive data from the state’s new assessment in this year’s teacher evaluations.
That’s because, according to state officials, school districts already have flexibility under a new state law about how they choose to use teacher evaluations this year, the first for TNReady.
The Teacher Evaluation Enhancement Act, passed last spring, gives districts flexibility when it comes to using teacher evaluations for any personnel decisions in 2016. However, the law stipulates that evaluations must be partially based on test scores, according to state Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball.
“Districts have complete discretion to choose how they want to factor that data,” Ball said Thursday. “They don’t have to use TNReady or growth data in hiring, firing, retention or promotion.”
This school year’s rollout of TNReady has been greeted at the local level with trepidation and anxiety on issues ranging from its impacts on teacher evaluations to technical difficulties that may accompany the switch to an online assessment. Several school boards, including Knox County and Metropolitan Nashville, have passed resolutions asking the state Department of Education and the legislature to approve a moratorium on the use of this year’s test scores in teacher evaluations.
A similar resolution, scheduled for a vote next week in Memphis, reads: “The Shelby County Board of Education strongly urges the General Assembly and the State Board of Education to provide a waiver from utilizing the TNReady data for the use of teacher evaluations for the school year 2015-2016.”
Shelby County board member Miska Clay-Bibbs said she will vote for the resolution. “We need to make sure … that we will be working with teachers … to make sure that they get professional development around how to assess the scores, so that they can be on top of what it will look like next year,” she said during a board work session on Tuesday.
The use of new TNReady data in teacher evaluations is a big deal because the evaluations can impact issues such as salary, hiring and firing.
State education leaders tried to address concerns through the new law, which still requires inclusion of the data in teacher evaluations but temporarily reduces the weight of test scores during the transition to a new assessment.
Educators and some lawmakers insisted they didn’t want any data included at all during the transition — a move other states have made. But Ball emphasized Thursday that the new law gives local districts discretion in whether or how they use teacher evaluation scores during the first year of TNReady.
That message hasn’t reached local district leaders.
Metro Nashville school board member Will Pinkston said he’s never received communication from the state outlining flexibilities granted under the new law. And even if he had, it doesn’t matter, he said, because teachers have mistrusted the quantitative side of teacher evaluations since Tennessee became one of the first states to use growth scores for teacher evaluations tied to pay and personnel decisions.
“It’s almost moot what (the department is) saying because we have an obligation to speak on behalf teachers,” Pinkston said. “Teachers are absolutely fatigued.”
TNReady is the state’s new assessment for measuring student achievement in math and English language arts in grades 3-11 and marks a historic shift in state testing for Tennessee students. Developed for the state for $8 million by North Carolina-based Measurement Inc., the test is being administered completely online for the first time — raising concerns about technical glitches and students’ proficiency at keyboarding. It also is aligned with Tennessee’s current academic standards and, instead of multiple-choice questions, uses open-ended questions aimed at comprehension instead of rote memorization. State officials have said TNReady is more rigorous than the state’s previous tests, and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen says she anticipates an initial dip in state test scores in the transition.
In addition to local board resolutions on the use of student score data in teacher evaluations, a new bill filed in the legislature would require a two-year moratorium on using any achievement data in teacher evaluations. That bill, filed by Rep. David Byrd, a former educator from Waynesboro, has yet to be scheduled for committee.
Memphis reporter Micaela Watts contributed to this report.