Unfortunate Updates from Tennessee’s New “Leadership”

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Did I write in a prior post (from December, 2014) that “following the (in many ways celebrated) exit of Commissioner Huffman, it seems the state [of Tennessee] is taking an even more reasonable stance towards VAMs and their use(s) for teacher accountability?” I did, and I was apparently wrong…

Things in Tennessee — the state in which our beloved education-based VAMs were born (see here and here) and on which we have been constant watch — have turned south, once again, thanks to new “leadership.” I use this term loosely to describe the author of the letter below, as featured in a recent article in The Tennessean. The letter’s author is the state’s new Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education — Candice McQueen — “a former Tennessee classroom teacher and higher education leader.”

Pasted below is what she wrote. You be the judge and question her claims, particularly those I underlined for emphasis in the below.

This week legislators debated Governor Haslam’s plan to respond to educator feedback regarding Tennessee’s four-year-old teacher evaluation system. There’s been some confusion around the details of the plan, so I’m writing to clarify points and share the overall intent.

Every student has individual and unique needs, and each student walks through the school doors on the first day at a unique point in their education journey. It’s critical that we understand not only the grade the child earns at the end of the year, but also how much the child has grown over the course of the year.

Tennessee’s Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, provides educators vital information about our students’ growth.

From TVAAS we learn if our low-achieving students are getting the support they need to catch up to their peers, and we also learn if our high-achieving students are being appropriately challenged so that they remain high-achieving. By analyzing this information, teachers can make adjustments to their instruction and get better at serving the unique needs of every child, every year.

We know that educators often have questions about how TVAAS is calculated and we are working hard to better support teachers’ and leaders’ understanding of this growth measure so that they can put the data to use to help their students learn (check out our website for some of these resources).

While we are working on improving resources, we have also heard concerns from teachers about being evaluated during a transition to a new state assessment. In response to this feedback from teachers, Governor Haslam proposed legislation to phase in the impact of the new TNReady test over the next three years.

Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system, passed as part of the First to the Top Act by the General Assembly in 2010 with support from the Tennessee Education Association, has always included multiple years of student growth data. Student growth data makes up 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and includes up to three years of data when available.

Considering prior and current year’s data together paints a more complete picture of a teacher’s impact on her student’s growth.

More data protects teachers from an oversized impact of a tough year (which teachers know happen from time to time). The governor’s plan maintains this more complete picture for teachers by continuing to look at both current and prior year’s growth in a teacher’s evaluation.

Furthermore, the governor’s proposal offers teachers more ownership and choice during this transition period.

If teachers are pleased with the growth score they earn from the new TNReady test, they can opt to have that score make up the entirety of their 35 percent growth measure. However, teachers may also choose to include growth scores they earned from prior TCAP years, reducing the impact of the new assessment.

The purpose of all of this is to support our student’s learning. Meeting the unique needs of each learner is harder than rocket science, and to achieve that we need feedback and information about how our students are learning, what is working well, and where we need to make adjustments. One of these critical pieces of feedback is information about our students’ growth.

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One thought on “Unfortunate Updates from Tennessee’s New “Leadership”

  1. What’s class size like in Tennessee? If it’s as large as it is in California, all the data in the world isn’t going to help the lone-and-largely-unsupported teacher in the classroom to meet the needs of each student! I have 31 fifth graders full-time, teach all the subjects, and have 36 students in the afternoons for social studies and science. Even if I could spend one-on-one time with each student each day, and did nothing else but that, I would only have slightly under 10 minutes per student. How are we supposed to raise the lowest kids and challenge the highest with those numbers? Kids needs lots of adult time and attention to thrive and grow, and the current paradigm in education does little to facilitate that. In addition to that, our society is not supporting families and children in the most important ways. Too many children live in poverty, and our society seems to not care; education can “fix it” — teachers, if whipped hard enough, can “fix it”. What has happened to our country, to be so uncaring towards our future, towards our children?

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