Hill vows to keep pushing teacher bill forward

Nathan Baker • Feb 3, 2014 at 9:26 PM

A local legislator’s bill to prohibit the Tennessee Board of Education from basing the granting and renewal of teacher licenses partially on students’ standardized test scores will continue on in the General Assembly despite the board’s recent reversal of the controversial policy.

Jonesborough state Rep. Matthew Hill said Monday that he will continue to push for passage of his Educator Respect and Accountability Act, filed Friday — the same day that the state board met in Nashville for a first reading of changes to the licensure policy his bill aims to forbid.

“I do appreciate the fact that they reversed it, that means they’re finally listening,” Hill said. “But we’re going to redouble our efforts and pass the bill, because the second reading of their policy changes isn’t until April, and that’s when the legislative session ends.”

Hill’s bill bars the state BOE and the Department of Education from adopting any rule that “grants, renews, advances, restricts, revokes or penalizes the professional license of any public school teacher on the basis of standardized test scores or any statistical estimate utilizing standardized test scores.”

He said he was convinced to file the legislation after receiving an outpouring of calls from educators and parents in his district, critical of the new policy approved during the board’s August meeting that would have kept teachers from attaining a license or having their licenses renewed after three years of poor in-class assessments and growth scores calculated using students’ standardized testing scores.

Hill and teachers across the state say the method used to calculate growth scores are inaccurate and should not be used to determine teachers’ eligibility to practice their chosen profession.

The Jonesborough legislator’s bill sets up an electronic form on the Department of Education’s website allowing residents to file complaints against teachers if they feel a license review is warranted.

If an educator-licensing official feels disciplinary action is warranted, the complaint would be forwarded to the local board of education.

“It’s a simple, top-to-bottom approach that mirrors what lawyers in this state have,” Hill said of the complaint policy.

In the House, the bill already has 60 co-sponsors signed on, a promising sign for its passage, but Hill said nothing in the legislative process is ever certain.

“This is a fight, it’s the real deal,” he said. “There is a lot of support for it, but we still have to get it out of committee, and the administration is probably going to get engaged in this.”

The licensure policy is advocated by state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, whose reform efforts over the past few years have been fervently supported and defended by Gov. Bill Haslam.

Hill said he has not spoken with members of Haslam’s administration to ask whether the governor will support the bill, but said he wanted to be sure of the support in the legislature for the bill before filing it.

A slew of bills have been filed in the General Assembly this year concerning the practices and makeup of the state Board of Education, some aiming to reverse its policies and others hoping to give control over its member appointments to the legislature or to make the seats elected.

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