By Sally Absher

When the Knox County Board of Education passed Amber Rountree’s resolution to exclude the new TNReady state test scores from teacher evaluations this year, even she didn’t know how far reaching it would be.  The very next morning, Rountree reported that she had already gotten requests for a copy of the resolution from Williamson Strong and a PTA in the tri-cities area. The list keeps growing.

Last week, Melanie Balakit at the Tennessean reported that several education groups, under the name Tennessee Strong, started an online petition to give teachers, parents, and citizens the opportunity to make their voices heard ( “I oppose the use of TNReady data for the use of teacher evaluations for school year 2015-16 and urge the General Assembly and State Board of Education to provide a one year waiver,” the petition says.

This is only fair. The state granted a one year waiver to the state requirement that the new online TNReady assessment scores be included in student grades for one year, as districts adjust to the new test. Students in grades 3-11 will take the TNReady assessment, which replaces the TCAP test for English and math, in 2016. High School students who are in block scheduling just completed the TNReady assessment for fall semester classes.

Obviously there were concerns about the impact of the new test on teacher evaluations. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act to temporarily limit the impact of state test scores on teacher evaluations.

The TNReady data is used to calculate Value Added Modeling (VAM) scores, better known as TVAAS (Tennessee Value Added Assessment Scores). This is a statistical misuse of data to calculate students’ year-to-year growth. The scores will still count on teacher’s evaluations this year, but will be phased in, counting 10% of the evaluation score this year to 20% the following year and back to the current 35% by the 2017-2018 school year.

But Andy Spears at Tennessee Education Report noted earlier this year that there is no statistically valid way to predict expected growth on a new test based on the historic results of the TCAP. “Since Tennessee has never had a test like this, it’s impossible to predict growth at all. Not even with 10% confidence. Not with any confidence. It’s the textbook example of comparing apples to oranges.”

“TNReady is different than the standardized tests we’ve had in the past,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), in a news release. “Our students and teachers both deserve a reasonable transition period.”

And earlier this month, Spears noted that the American Educational Research Association released a statement recently cautioning states against using value-added models in high-stakes decisions involving teachers:

In a statement released today, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) advises those using or considering use of value-added models (VAM) about the scientific and technical limitations of these measures for evaluating educators and programs that prepare teachers. The statement, approved by AERA Council, cautions against the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions regarding educators.

Tullahoma City Schools Superintendent Dan Lawson understands this, noting the challenges with TVAAS in a letter he released which stated:

“Our teachers are tasked with a tremendous responsibility and our principals who provide direct supervision assign teachers to areas where they are most needed. The excessive reliance on production of a “teacher number” produces stress, a lack of confidence and a drive to first protect oneself rather than best educate the child.”

So far, the following groups also support the Tennessee Strong Petition: Strong Schools of Sumner County; Williamson Strong of Williamson County; Students, Parents Across Knox County (SPEAK); Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM); Momma Bears Blog; Advocates for Change in Education of Hamilton County; Concerned Parents of Franklin County; Parents of Wilson County; Friends of Oak Ridge Schools and TREE.

As Spears notes, “It will be interesting to see if other school systems follow Knox County’s lead on this front. Even more interesting: Will the legislature take action and at the least, waive the TNReady scores from teacher evaluations in the first year of the new test?

“A more serious, long-term concern is the use of value-added modeling in teacher evaluation and, especially, in high-stakes decisions like the granting of tenure, pay, and hiring/firing.”