A week after an unprecedented testing snafu, teachers across Tennessee are getting what they have long demanded: evaluations that don’t count test scores from the state’s new test.
During a Senate hearing Wednesday on the state’s online testing troubles, Gov. Bill Haslam made the surprising announcement that he would ask legislators to exclude scores from this year’s test from teacher evaluations. The ratings have included test scores since the early 1990s and have influenced teachers’ salaries and tenure status for the last five years.
The announcement marked a reversal for Haslam, who has staunchly defended the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, even as other states moved away from the practice and Tennessee overhauled its exams.
This year’s evaluations will still include scores from the final two years of “TCAP,” the all multiple-choice test Tennessee used until last school year.
But his support was no match for the groundswell of criticism that came after a server crash crippled the state’s first round of online testing on Feb. 8. At first, state officials said switching to paper-and-pencil exams would preserve the value of this year’s scores. But that change has not gone smoothly, and calls to discount the scores have grown.
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“Given recent, unexpected changes in the administration of the new assessment, we want to provide teachers with additional flexibility for this first year’s data,” Haslam said in a statement.
The proposal would let teachers choose to include test scores from this year’s assessment in their ratings. But few are likely to, given longstanding skepticism about “the value-added formula,” called TVAAS, that the state uses to calculate how much impact teachers have had on their students’ learning.
Teachers unions across the country tend to oppose the use of value-added measures.
Indeed, the Tennessee Education Association, which represents more than 40,000 of the state’s teachers, said Wednesday’s announcement did not go far enough.
“While the governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction toward decoupling standardized test scores with high-stakes decisions, these measurements have proven to be unreliable statistical estimates that are inappropriate for use in teacher evaluations at all,” TEA President Barbara Gray said in a statement. “TEA will continue its push to eliminate all standardized test scores from annual teacher evaluations.”
This is not the first time that the state has tweaked teacher evaluation rules. Last year, legislators passed a new law, the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act, to address teacher evaluations during the transition to the state’s new test. That law reduced the weight of test scores temporarily to 10 percent — from 35 to 50 percent — this year. But Haslam refused to exclude the scores altogether, and the law stipulates that TNReady scores must count for at least 35 percent again by the 2017-2018 school year.
Wednesday’s announcement is also not the first concession to testing critics this year. The administration also plans to release test questions to the public, which educators and parents have called for.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who has long supported the inclusion of new scores in teacher evaluations, praised Haslam’s proposal but emphasized that the change does not reflect a lack of confidence in the tests themselves.
“Providing teachers with the flexibility to exclude first-year TNReady data from their growth score over the course of this transition will both directly address many concerns we have heard and strengthen our partnership with educators while we move forward with a new assessment,” she said. “Regardless of the test medium, TNReady will measure skills that the real world will require of our students.”