Changes to Teacher Licensure — and MORE Testing

Today, as this piece is being published, the Tennessee State Board of Education will vote on changes to teacher licensure standards in Tennessee.  Here are all the details of the proposal.

Some elements are very good — a streamlined renewal process, a higher standard for entry based on content knowledge as demonstrated on the Praxis.

And then, there’s the part about tying teacher licensure to performance on evaluations and value-added assessment scores.

At first glance, it may sound great to expedite the dismissal of “bad” teachers.  But, that’s not exactly what this policy does.

Here’s the deal:  A teacher MUST have a score of 2 on both the overall performance evaluation AND their value-added score in two of the three years before their license is up for renewal.

But wait, you may be saying, not every teacher HAS value-added data available.

Yes. That’s true.  And that’s precisely the problem.  Both Professional Educators of Tennessee and the Tennessee Education Association have expressed concern about the use of TVAAS data in licensure decisions.  And of course, not only does every teacher not have value-added data, there are also concerns about using TVAAS at all for employment decisions.

The point, though, is that teachers will be treated differently based on whether or not they have value-added scores.

Here’s a scenario.  Math Teacher has overall performance evaluation scores of a 3 in all three of the years before his license is up for renewal.  However, his value-added scores are a 1-2-1.  So, he’s license is not renewed, he goes under review and could potentially lose his license.

Band Teacher has performance evaluation scores of 2-2-1 in the three years leading up to renewal.  Band Teacher has no value-added data. Band teacher is automatically renewed under the streamlined licensure scheme.

So, Math Teacher, whose overall scores were higher than Band Teacher’s, is in danger of dismissal.  Band Teacher is renewed.  Math Teacher (and other teachers similarly situated) complain and/or sue.

Solution? Just add MORE tests so that every single teacher has value-added data.

This at a time when school systems like MNPS are studying the amount and cost of testing and it’s overall usefulness.

Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers was quoted recently as saying, “If you have been properly prepared and supported and still can’t make the grade, you don’t deserve to be a part of our profession.”

And that’s the second problem with this scheme.  John wrote yesterday about the need for a meaningful, focused program of teacher induction.

Until that’s in place, it is difficult to say that teachers have been properly prepared.  The lack of ongoing support and meaningful professional development is also critical.  If teachers are going to be “under review” then support and assistance must be provided to help them get back on track.

I’ve written before about the need for better pay and more support for all teachers, including an early career mentoring program.

Changing the standards for licensure and renewal of licenses should not happen until these measures are put in place.  Even then, there is serious and legitimate concern about the reliability and validity of TVAAS as an instrument for making employment decisions.  And certainly, parents are concerned about their children’s performance on a week of testing (or more) determining whether or not certain teachers keep their jobs.

The issue of teacher quality is certainly an important one.  The State Board of Education and Department of Education should focus on addressing it with meaningful investment in and support of teachers, not a mandate for more and more testing of students.

13 thoughts on “Changes to Teacher Licensure — and MORE Testing

  1. Andy- thanks for your thoughts. I agree with a number of them. Have some other opinions on some others.

    You write about this a mandate for more and more testing of students. I didn’t see any proposals to increase the number of tests for students related to this. This was a proposal to change how teachers can advance professionally (based on the same number of student tests that TN is giving during the year).

    Quite honestly, 2 is a low bar. The way I read it, you can have the Initial Practioner license for 6 years and get 1-2-1-1-1-2, and then you are not eligible to advance to the professional license (out of teaching, at least in TN).

    The Practioner is a 3 year licensure term, with one renewal chance. There are some other combos in there of low consistent scores. 1-1-1-1-1-1, etc.

    I certainly agree with your points about adequate preparation and increasing the rigor of our teacher training colleges (needs to happen yesterday), but if a teacher has had such low scores for that many years, if they are even still teaching, isn’t it fair to say to them this profession is not for you? (if we’re thinking about what’s best for students?)

    Talking numbers too…they estimate this will affect 100-200 teachers, being non-renewed. Out of a state teaching workforce of 62,609, that comes to 0.319% of the entire workforce.

    If they were wildly off in their estimation and it is 500 teachers statewide that aren’t renewed, then we are still talking 0.798% of the state teaching force.

    I think persistent low performers in the profession, after time to improve, must be told that they aren’t a teaching professional. Doing so protects the esteem and level of professionalism that teaching deserves.

    If you disagree with the method, but agree with the goal (get consistent low performers out), how would you go about it?

    • Hunter,

      Thanks for engaging.

      1) I think it is very important that TN implement early career induction as a means of support and professional development.
      2) I think meaningful, targeted professional development – focused on observed areas of weakness, (yes, even as evidenced by scores) is essential.
      3) There are serious concerns about the reliability and validity of TVAAS as a predictor of “low performance.” Using this data as a means of dismissing someone is problematic.
      4) Dismissing bad teachers – when identified, this needs to happen. First, I’d use resources at the state level to educate districts/principals on processes for dismissing bad teachers who have tenure. This seems scary to some, but it needn’t be. Second, I’d implement a Peer Assistance and Review program (like in Toledo, OH). This program was run by teachers (who should be compensated for their service). The teachers help other teachers develop personal improvement plans. Access to mentors is provided. The PAR committee then makes a recommendation to the Principal upon completion of the plan. While only a small number of teachers are dismissed in PAR systems, a number are counseled out or voluntarily leave rather than face a group of peers and have their ineffectiveness confirmed. Most employees want to improve and most teachers want to do well for kids. In the very few instances where this is not the case, the PAR committee can be an effective tool. And for those who want to improve but don’t know how, the PAR Committee can provide tremendous resources and encouragement — a win for students and the school system.
      5) While the policy on licensing does not in itself require more testing, it certainly can quickly lead there. In terms of fairness, the policy sets up a two-tiered system — where some teachers are held directly accountable for producing test score results and some are not b/c they have no direct scores. One possible way to address this is to add more tests – something the current Commissioner has expressed some willingness to do. My caution here is against a policy that would result in more testing of kids — and especially a caution against tests where a student’s performance is used NOT to help teachers improve practice but to determine continued employment.

      I also agree with you that teacher preparation programs in TN must be improved. So far, our General Assembly’s record of investment in higher education is pretty abysmal. And it would take an investment to help change current practice.

      Finally, adjusting teacher pay upwards creates incentives for districts to get teacher induction and professional development right while also incentivizing the dismissal of those few teachers who aren’t getting the job done.

      • Andy-
        Was curious on #3 – can you explain more about why you believe TVAAS is problematic?

        On “Most employees want to improve and most teachers want to do well for kids”…

        I agree with that notion, I don’t question most people’s desire to do a good job. I think that’s the case for 96% of people in public education, but I think we need to be realistic that wanting to do a good job is not the same as actually doing the job well.

        On your reference to PAR – that’s something I will read more on. I will say though, from a 20,000 foot level, I think for a professional rating system, it needs both quantitative data AND qualitative data in some form.

        I think you need to minimize the risk of subjective opinion being placed on an individual’s professional employment rating.

        (I could see PAR potentially doing that if a group of teachers don’t like teacher Andy due to some personality conflict. Teacher Andy might be a great band teacher.)

        So I think you need some sort of student data in there that captures learning growth…

        • Thanks again for your questions.

          I’ve read several reports about the variability in results from TVAAS. Teachers in earning a 1 ranking one year and a 3 the next, for example. Or, the other way around. There are problems with data consistency (SAT 10 was included for some districts this year, but hadn’t been in the past). Some researchers question its validity and little has been done in terms of releasing data/replication to assuage those concerns. So, there are reasonable (in my view) questions about its validity and until those can be resolved, it seems unfair to use it in employment decisions, even if it might be useful in informing classroom practice.

          I’d have to say that in a PAR model, some form of data could be useful – and could prevent the issues you address. I envision, however, a model where a teacher is not subject to a PAR committee only of teachers in his/her school. And of course, a teacher referred for PAR review would be assigned a mentor or coach to assist in problem areas. In that regard, some reliable form of value-added data, specific to that teacher, could very well be useful. And, as you say, could enhance objectivity.

  2. As a licensed teacher in TN, this is very critical. I hope that all may work together so that no one may lose his or her license.

  3. As ridiculous as I think it is to tie test scores at all to teacher evaluations, here is another scenario that makes it much, much worse.

    State Special Schools. Every student that attends one of these schools has an IEP, and is considered to have special needs. Many can’t be tested under existing tests, so they have the Alternative Tests or Portfolio, (another travesty designed more to evaluate a teacher’s program than to show a student’s progress).

    So–lets pick a State Special School for example: Tennessee School for the Blind. Every child there starts off with a disability–visual impairment. Most, not all, have another handicapping condition like Learning Disability, ADHD, Mental Retardation, etc. But they are tested anyway and the scores are aggregated and applied to the teachers evaluations.

    The Band teacher, the PE teacher, the General Music Teacher and even the Guidance Counselor who ended
    last year with scores of 4s and 5s started this year with Summative Scores of 1.

    1 –ONE– the people who have nothing to do with testing, in a school with all students with disabilities, stand to lose their tenure, have a bad evaluation score in their records, and could possibly lose their jobs??

    The aim of this whole restructure of the evaluation process was to “help teachers grow in areas they were deficient in” but all this does is force good, seasoned teachers to retire, and punish the remaining teachers with threats until they either get fired or they can hang on long enough to retire.

    This process doesn’t help students at all. It only serves to cause paranoia and bad morale among teachers. How should they work and give 100% if a ridiculous policy is going to knock down their hard work to a score of 1??

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