By Sally Absher

If Oklahoma is the “Sooner State” then Tennessee must be the “Later State.” At least, concerning passing legislation to end the use of the highly controversial “value added model” (VAM) in teacher evaluations.

Brian Washington reports on that House Bill 2957, which was recently signed into law by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, will eliminate the portion of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) evaluation system that educators say was driving up stress levels and forcing quality teachers out of the profession.

Teachers in Oklahoma are hopeful this will give them some “room to breathe and enjoy what they love – providing students with the type of education that triggers their curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn.”

Elise Robillard, a classroom veteran with 16-years of experience and National Board Certification said, “This was the number one cause in my district of teachers leaving the profession. They thought it (TLE) was so unfair and impossible for them to be seen as the great professionals that they are.”

Teachers in Oklahoma were evaluated based on how their students performed on one high-stakes test using VAM. Teachers in Tennessee are also rated based on VAM, called the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, or TVAAS.

The rationale behind the VAM is that every student is “predicted” to achieve a certain score on the high-stakes test, based on how much growth they are expected to show from the previous year. If the student scores as they were predicted to score, the teacher is deemed to be of value to the student. But if the student scores lower than predicted, for whatever reason, then the teacher did not add value.

Washington says, “A teacher’s value to a child’s education should not be based on this one test. In many cases there have been Teachers of the Year that have received horrible value-added scores.”

Is this sounding familiar, Knox County?

The American Statistical Association (ASA) issued a detailed, seven-page statement debunking the validity of VAM. Valerie Strauss, writing for the Washington Post, said, “VAM purports to be able to take student standardized test scores and measure the ‘value’ a teacher adds to student learning through complicated formulas that can supposedly factor out all of the other influences and emerge with a valid assessment of how effective a particular teacher has been. These formulas can’t actually do this with sufficient reliability and validity, but school reformers have pushed this approach and now most states use VAM as part of teacher evaluations.”

Robillard said “We tried to fight it (TLE) as teachers and we had no success. School administrators got on board with us early on and we made a little bit of headway with the State Department of Education but we saw no movement at the legislature. We knew to get it moved at the legislature we had to unify and involve parents and the entire community, and we were successful in doing that.”

Oklahoma’s HB 2957 does not eliminate teacher evaluations. Like Tennessee’s TVAAS, 50% of the TLE involved qualitative evaluation measures, including principal observations. That part remains intact. Removing the VAM component gives teachers the autonomy to focus on what they believe they need to work on in their own teaching practice, and will eventually allow each educator to create their own professional development plan that they and their students need to work on.

Washington reports that teachers will now turn their attention to the frequency of testing in the state. But for now, they are “happy with the progress being made so far.”

Robillard said, “Oklahoma needs this. To finally have some good policy in place that allows us to meet the needs of our students and enjoy our profession, it literally changes the moral. For sure, good people, talented educators, they will stay in the profession because of it.

Are legislators in Oklahoma just that much more supportive of public education – and the teachers that define it – than legislators in Tennessee? What made the difference?

Sadly, few districts in Tennessee can say with confidence that their school administrators are on board with trying to change the punitive VAM evaluation system. But Robillard indicated it was parent and community involvement that ultimately moved the legislation in Oklahoma.

There are active and involved parents and community members in Tennessee – “citizen lobbyists” – but they are up against a well-funded, well-organized opposition. Legislators have been lured by lobbyists who have a political, financial, or professional reason for pushing the reform agenda.

The real agenda behind education “reform” (from common core to high-stakes testing to teacher evaluations to charters and vouchers) is to privatize (giving tax funds to private for-profit corporations) traditional education, destroy private schools, and eliminate elected school boards. In other words, at the end of the day parents will have no choice and no voice.

Your state rep and some senators are up for election this fall. Do some research. Find out who is backing them. Sadly, many so called “conservative” groups – FreedomWorks, AFP, Heritage, Heartland, Students First, Beacon TN and many others) are on the wrong side of education.  Either they have no clue of the real agenda, or they are complicit in the intentional destruction of education.