Bredesen wavers on use of test scores in education reform

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 4:23pm

Only days before the start of a special legislative session on education reform, Gov. Phil Bredesen appears to be waffling on a key point of disagreement with the teachers’ union.

Bredesen has called the special session beginning Tuesday to consider an agenda that includes mandating the use of student achievement scores in evaluating teachers and principals and in deciding tenure. When he announced the session last month, he said the weight given to the state's value-added scores in evaluations "would have to be 50 percent or north to really engage the issues."

But on a statewide tour this week to tout his legislation, the governor has equivocated, saying the state school board should decide the issue and insisting he never intended to suggest a firm number should be placed in the law.

“First of all, 50 is not my number,” Bredesen told reporters in Memphis when asked about his main sticking point with the Tennessee Education Association. “What I think should happen is that the school board should have the ability to design a system the way they think it would work best. …

“It might be 50. It might be 30. I don’t know. … There’s an awful lot of pressure from the TEA to put something specific in the law. I suppose it’s probably fair to say they’d love to see 10, which in my mind wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t do it at all. And we may in fact end up with some specific number in the legislation and, if that were the case, 50 I guess would be OK. I still think a much better solution would be to give the school board that flexibility.”

The governor has been negotiating with the TEA, whose support is crucial to passage. Asked about Bredesen’s latest remarks, TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters said, “I’m glad to hear that the governor is more flexible on that percentage. That’s been part of what we’ve been proposing all along, that there be more flexibility. We’ve said all along that student achievement data could be part of the process. The debate has been around how much.”

But Winters said the TEA would oppose turning over the issue to the state school board. Mostly businessmen, the board is appointed by the governor.

“I would hope that we could find a way that we could come up with a whole new evaluation system,” Winters said, “letting professionals decide something based on research and not just pulling something out of the air. We would not want to give the board of education a blank check.”

Bredesen has given the legislature only one week to enact reforms, contending hundreds of millions of dollars in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition are at stake.

Also in Memphis, the governor expressed confidence he will succeed in the special session. But he may have overstated the support of one key legislator — House Democratic caucus chairman Mike Turner.

Describing Turner as “very supportive of employee unions,” Bredesen said, “Mike’s totally for this. He’s helping us pushing it forward.”

Asked whether Bredesen accurately stated his level of support, Turner said, “Mike Turner is totally for working this thing out where we can get the federal money and make everybody happy. That’s what I think the governor meant by that.”


4 Comments on this post:

By: Dragon on 1/6/10 at 6:33

Regardless of how much weight test scores are given, the evaluations must be 100% objective.

That assumes that the TEA will allow it.

By: ididntdoit on 1/7/10 at 9:57

I think that's all the teachers want: objectivity. It will never be objective because public schools are still political machines.
So, we make test scores a large part of an evaluation...If they want to get rid of a teacher (probably for reasons that have nothing to do with his teaching), they'll make sure he gets the lowest-performing, worst-behaving kids in the school. He gets the kids who don't come to school, who won't or can't do homework, who have parents who won't come to the school or answer their phones, or kids who just don't have parents. How is it objective to expect him to work miracles that another teacher doesn't have to perform?

I don't think the TEA is trying to protect bad teachers. I think they are trying to protect all teachers. I don't know the answer to the problem, but maybe we need to redefine the problem. Our society is deteriorating. How can a teacher fix a broken family? How can a teacher make a kid spend more time reading a book than playing Halo? How can a teacher force a parent (or really a community) to value education?

By: nashvillejefferson on 1/7/10 at 11:13

The key point will be for the legislature to make some *baseline* (e.g., 30% or more) use of value-added data MANDATORY. If the language that comes out is permissive, you can bet that any use of value-added data (or any non-token use) will be torpedoed in collective bargaining.

By: Mphteach on 1/7/10 at 7:51

I have been a teacher for many years. I have always taught in inner city schools and have furthered my education to achieve my Education Specialist degree. Because of my dedicated teaching and prayers, my TVASS scores have shown gains each year; however I find it utterly ridiculous to evaluate a teacher with the use of data. The people designing or throwing out ideas to which they have never been in a classroom is extremely unfair.

Take a class population with many disruptive behavioral issues, no parental support, no administrative backing, special needs students(whose scores are included), and can I forget our ESL students? Yes, if you have taught as long as I have you are fortunate to acquire a class population such as above. Oh, I failed to mention all the paperwork and "fly by night" interventions to which we are not properly trained.

Despite all the above challenges, my TVASS gains are in black in white. I would wish lawmakers would not threaten us with scores as effective teaching! Utilize the scores to provide some sort of acknowledgement to effective teaching, not for evaluative practices. That is extremely unfair to many professionals struggling to teach and reach their students. There are so many factors to determine student achievement that teachers have no control.

This data should and is utlized by me to self relect my teaching practices and improve my methods for my students.