State lawmakers pondering reversal of teaching policy

Nathan Baker • Aug 31, 2013 at 9:25 PM

State legislators are poised to take action to reverse a state Board of Education policy that they say goes too far and could cost Tennessee hundreds of dedicated educators.

The new policy bases the granting and renewal of professional teaching licenses on in-class assessments and a growth score derived from students’ standardized testing scores. If a teacher scores a 2 out of 5 in either of the categories in the two previous years, they could be put on probation and then lose their license to teach if the scores don’t improve.

“Years ago, when we decided to use TCAP and (Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System) data to measure student progress, we intended it as a tool to help administrators and teachers track student progress and learn how to provide student with what they needed,” state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said Friday. “Then the legislature decided to utilize that system as part of the teacher evaluations. Now it’s just being used too much.”

Crowe, a member of the state Senate’s Education Committee, said the move by the Board of Education to hang professional licenses on the scores was misguided and could cause the state hundreds of quality educators.

“I can’t imagine using something as intangible as they are to take someone’s license,” he said. “There’s just so much that a teacher can’t control. You could be best teacher in the world, but, as they saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink.”

The senator said there is support among his fellow legislators to scrutinize the policy and possibly reverse it.

“I can tell you, I’ll be looking for some legislation to turn it around,” Crowe said.

While he doesn’t expect to sponsor a reversal bill, Crowe said he will consider it if none has been introduced by mid-January, a couple of weeks before the deadline for new legislation.

If he does, state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said he is “absolutely taking a look at being the prime sponsor” of the companion bill in the House.

“The irony of the situation is that the state Board of Education is a creation of the legislature, yet we are getting no feedback or communication from their leadership,” Hill said. “They’re passing all these policies, and we just want to know what the end game is.

“So far all they’ve done is made the teachers mad and set precedence that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he added.

Among the professions that require licenses in the state, from dental hygienist to attorney, Hill said none are dependent on performance scores for renewal of those licenses.

“A lawyer doesn’t get their license renewed based on the number of cases won, doctors don’t get licenses for the number of patients they help, I don’t understand why we’re doing that for teachers,” he said. “There were things passed in their past two meetings that would have never passed in the House and Senate.”

Board of Education officials did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education, where Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has long advocated the change, emailed a brief comment Thursday expressing the department’s intent to uphold the board’s decisions.

In approving the changes with a 6-3 vote, the BOE put off implementation of the licensure policy until summer 2015 with the intent of examining it and possibly making changes before it goes into effect.

The state General Assembly will reconvene after the first of the year, but Crowe said the license rules could be discussed at an Education Committee meeting later this month.

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