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Steve Ahillen
By Steve Ahillen April 6, 2012

Teacher evaluation still being evaluated

In a debate in Cookeville on Sept. 14, 2010, candidate Bill Haslam said he supported the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System as a gauge of teacher performance.

The TVAAS, according the Tennessee Department of Education website, is "a statistical analysis of achievement data that reveals academic growth over time for students and groups of students, such as those in a grade level or in school."

As it stands now the TVAAS scores count for 35 percent of the evaluation grade teachers will receive. Another 15 percent of a teacher's score is made up of achievement measures chosen by the district and 50 percent is based on classroom observations and other measures.

We asked the governor's office about how this plan is going and on Jan. 4 received this response: "Yes — this (TVAAS) is a key part of the evaluation system, teacher prep program report card, etc. It is an ongoing process that is well underway."

There is a little oddness to the promise in that  it basically was fulfilled before it was made. The use of TVAAS data in teacher evaluation was part of the "First to the Top” legislation proposed by then Gov. Phil Bredesen in January 2010 and quickly approved in a special session of the Legislature.

Haslam, who is the first governor charged with actually instituting the plan, vowed to support using the TVAAS, a part of the teacher evaluation method that has drawn fire from teachers, especially through the Tennessee Education Association. One point of concern is for teachers who don't teach subjects covered by the state tests. For now, their scores will be based on an average of their school's test scores. The TEA also wants a "pilot" year for the program in which the evaluations would be used as a practice drill before it would take effect for real the following year.

Although Haslam has said he does not favor a pilot year, he retained the private education-reform advocacy group SCORE, founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, to survey teachers and recommend tweaks.

We talked with David Mansouri of SCORE who explained the group has been holding a series of roundtables across the state including ones in Memphis on April 2 and Jackson on April 3 and has put together a "statewide teacher work team" as just two of the steps it has taken to evaluate the new teacher evaluation system. Mansouri said SCORE will have the results of its work and a "range of possible policy considerations" to the Department of Education and the Board of Education by June 1.

Mansouri also explained that although this plan was mandated by the Legislature in 2010 the law is "broad" and allows flexibility on the specifics, meaning it will be possible to make some adjustments to the evaluation system should the need be determined.

The plan to use TVAAS as part of the teacher evaluation process was approved before Haslam took office, but it's clear this is not a done deal and won't be until after the SCORE report is received and a decision is made on how to go forward. So, we give it an In the Works for now.

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