Despite federal reprieve, Tenn. will continue using test scores to evaluate teachers

The U.S. Department of Education will consider states’ requests to forgo the use of test results in teacher evaluations for at least a year, secretary of education Arne Duncan announced Thursday. But Tennessee education commissioner Kevin Huffman quickly said that the state would continue one of its most controversial practices anyway, and keep using test scores to evaluate teachers.

Huffman told the New York Times that he hoped states would decide whether to use the evaluations “based on the best interests of kids rather than political expediency for adults.”

In a blog post Thursday, Duncan said that teachers might need another year to adjust to new standards and assessments. Tennessee adopted new standards in 2010, but will not have a new assessment until at least 2016.

Spurred on by the federal education department, Tennessee has made test-score based teacher evaluations a centerpiece of education policy in recent years.

Tennessee had computed a value-added score, called TVAAS, for teachers based on the amount their students improved on tests since 1992. But it was not until the state passed the First to the Top Act in an effort to win a federal grant competition that the state department of education began including the value-added score in teacher evaluations. To win a U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant, states had to make several reforms, including implementing test-score based teacher evaluations.

Tennessee won the competition in 2011, and student performance now accounts for at least 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score.

The biggest opponent of that evaluation model is the Tennessee Education Association. The 46,000-member association has filed two lawsuits against commissioner Huffman and Governor Haslam regarding teacher evaluations, arguing that the use of TVAAS in evaluations is unconstitutional.

Duncan wrote the federal education department decided to allow flexibility in teacher evaluations at least in part in to reduce time spent on standardized tests.

“Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress,” he wrote.