Area teachers decry linking license to student test scores

Rick Wagner • Aug 26, 2013 at 8:29 AM

KINGSPORT — The Tennessee Board of Education’s recent vote to link student test scores to teacher licensure doesn’t sit well with some area teachers.

The state BOE on Aug. 16 voted 6-3 to approve contentious new rules on teacher licensure while delaying their implementation until 2015.

According to media accounts across the state, The Associated Press, the Tennessee Education Association and interviews of local teachers, many teachers oppose the changes because they tie licenses to student test data.

“Hopefully, they (the state school board) will change it,” said Athena Warren, a 21-year Sullivan County kindergarten teacher at Mary Hughes School and the immediate past Sullivan County Education president.

“It’s not really fair because not all teachers’ (students) are tested,” Warren said. Some grade levels and some subjects are not subject to standardized testing, so those teachers would be rated based on the performance of students in other subjects or students in other grade levels.

“I don’t really know enough yet to have an opinion on it. I hope they decide it’s not a good idea,” Warren said.

Two days before the vote, the TEA had a news conference to say it opposed incorporating the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data into license requirements.

“Your license shouldn’t be tied to those (TVASS) scores,” said Harry Farthing, District 1 UniServ coordinator for TEA. “Clearly the teachers feel like their profession has been attacked.”

He said teachers feel that way because in the past few years teachers have lost collective bargaining, which was replaced by collaborative conferencing; are under a new evaluation system; are under a new state salary schedule with collapsed lanes; and under a new tenure plan.

Gera Summerford, TEA association president, said teachers are concerned that flawed scores could cause qualified teachers to mistakenly lose their licenses, although the education department says there will be a way to appeal.

Currently, professional teaching licenses are renewed for 10 years without regard to effectiveness.

Under the proposal approved on Friday, a renewal would depend 50 percent on value-added data. Teacher evaluation and tenure status currently rely 35 percent on student test data.

In another local system, a 13-year Hawkins County middle school language arts teacher expressed concerns about the fairness of the licensure being tied so directly to test scores.

“How can a teacher be held accountable for test scores and licensure when the following occurs in the school system:

“•You’re accountable for test scores other than your regular class.

“•We teach in an impoverished county.

“•No parental support.

“We need to pass laws to hold politicians and governors accountable or pull their positions,” the teacher said.

A 25-year Hawkins County middle school science teacher agreed that if the licensure proposal is so good, it should be applied in other fields of work.

“We’re the highest educated and the lowest paid and the most picked-on or discriminated against than any other profession, even by those we’ve educated,” the science teacher said.

“I think we need to treat other professions such as doctors and lawyers by what their clients do as well,” the science teacher said. “If doctors have unhealthy patients, pull their license. If a lawyer has a client that is guilty, pull the license. How can we be judged on a number given at the end of the year when these scores are constructed by the school as a whole based on cut scores? There is no formula for scoring.”

At the state board meeting, Chairman Fielding Rolston of Kingsport acknowledged that people disagree with the licensure changes.

According to The Associated Press, he proposed approving the changes in order to give stakeholders an idea of the direction the board wants to go but delaying their implementation in order to give the board time to hear concerns and make changes.

Several board members opposed Rolston’s motion, saying they did not want to vote for a policy that contained elements they did not support.

Board member Janet Ayers said she was concerned about tying value-added data to licensure because the evaluations are still relatively new.

After extended discussion, the motion passed 6-3.

Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said that Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman showed the state BOE a video outlining the proposal, including the idea that the changes were designed to help identify teachers who may be having issues and allow school systems and the state time to help through professional development.

“What they (state education officials) failed to mention is how poorly funded we are,” Farthing said of Tennessee consistently ranking among the bottom 10 states in education funding nationwide.

But a 12-year Hawkins County middle school social studies teacher said her scores on a 1-5 scale have fluctuated wildly, which she attributed at least in part to a change suggested in professional development.

“Two years ago my scores were awful,” the teacher said, explaining that they changed after following a professional development “strong suggestion” to redo student schedules even though the semester already was under way.

That meant students had up to three “upheavals,” and then scores plummeted.

The teacher went from a Level 3 to a Level 1 to a Level 4 over three years.

“Everything he’s (Huffman) presenting to the (state school) board, they’re loving it,” the teacher said.

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