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Nathan Baker

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Teacher Licenses: Hill's bill passes two tests

March 12th, 2014 9:25 pm by Nathan Baker

Teacher Licenses: Hill's bill passes two tests

A bill that would forbid the granting and renewal of teacher licenses based on students’ standardized test scores took steps toward passage this week, despite opposition from the State Education Department.

The “Educator Respect and Accountability Act” passed out of the House Education Subcommittee Tuesday and the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

Jonesborough’s Rep. Matthew Hill, the driving force behind the legislation, said the 8-1 vote in the House subcommittee showed promise for its passage.

“I think it’s a very good sign,” he said Wednesday morning from Nashville. “It’s going to run next week in the full committee, and I think that margin means the chances are good of it getting out.”

The bill has strong backing in the House, with 82 co-sponsors signed on, according to Hill’s last count, demonstrating what the legislator said was overwhelming interest in protecting teachers’ livelihoods.

Hill proposed the law even before the General Assembly convened in January in response to a new policy enacted by the Tennessee State Board of Education that would have tied teachers’ licenses to growth scores determined using students’ performance on standardized testing.

The board has since rescinded that provision in the licensure policy on first reading, but the legislator said he still plans to pursue the law to ensure the scores won’t be used in the future.

Hill, who said he isn’t against using the data generated by the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, to hold educators accountable, including as a determinate for pay raises and hiring and firing, said permanently denying them the ability to perform their chosen profession in the state based on the figures was “unequivocally wrong.”

In the Senate Education Committee Wednesday, where the measure passed 7-2, Johnson City Sen. Rusty Crowe used similar language, calling the licensure policy “just wrong.”

Crowe, before casting his vote to advance the bill to the Senate Calendar Committee, said the TVAAS system, which he voted to put in place years ago, does not work, and said the calculations should not be used to make such weighty decisions.

The bill has seen wide-ranging support from teachers unions in the state, including the local Washington County and Johnson City chapters of the Tennessee Education Association, but Department of Education Assistant Commissioner of Policy and Legislation Stephen Smith asked the subcommittee’s members to not tie the state’s hands from being able to setting license requirements.

“This bill eliminates student achievement growth objective data from any licensure policy at all,” Smith told the legislators Tuesday. “We don’t think that’s the right policy to say student achievement will never be a factor in any licensure decision.”

Smith said using TVAAS scores would set a minimum bar for teachers in the state, and would only affect a small number of educators.

A similarly themed bill also passed by the subcommittee Tuesday, sponsored by Athens Rep. John Forgety, did garner the support of the Education Department, because it stipulated that teacher licenses couldn’t be based solely on TVAAS data.

Hill said he believed Forgerty’s bill wasn’t broad enough, and could allow standardized test scores to unfairly affect teachers’ licenses.

If Hill’s bill advances out of the full committee, it will have to pass through the Finance, Ways & Means and the Calendar and Rules committees before a full vote on the House floor.

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