Dan Lawson is the Director of Schools at Tullahoma City Schools. This post reflects his thoughts on the current use of TVAAS as it relates to teacher tenure.
The issue: “growth scores” as a determinant for teacher tenure recommendations.
The Background: I employ an outstanding young teacher who enjoyed three consecutive years of a level “4”+ evaluations and those scores were moved to a “5” based on the TCAP growth score. In the “old tenure” model, that teacher would have been eligible for tenure recommendation to our Board of Education upon completion of three years of services and the recommendation of their superintendent.
The statutorily revised “new tenure” requires five years of service (probationary period) as well as an overall score of “4” or “5” for two consecutive years preceding the recommendation to the Board of Education. Last year, no social studies assessment score was provided since it was a field tested and the teacher was compelled to select a school wide measure of growth. He chose POORLY and his observation score of a “4.38” paired with a school wide growth score in the selected area of a “2” producing a sum teacher score of “3” thereby making him ineligible for tenure nomination.
This is a very real example of an inequity in our current tenure eligibility metrics. In the 2014-15 evaluation cycle, more than 66.6% of Tullahoma teachers did not have an individual assessment score, so were compelled to select some other measure. In this case, we have a teacher that we are happy with, who produces great student outcomes and one that we would like to recognize with tenured status but we are unable to do so. More than anything this sends a message that the process for the majority of our teachers is little more than some arbitrary guessing game, and that guessing games does little more than erode confidence; Our teachers deserve better.
A second teacher visited with his building principal and I related to standards that are not taught aligned with the state assessment. He went on to produce competition results, ACT scores and AP calculus scores of the students in that “pipeline” in support of his math departmental teaching practice. His request was simple: Allow me to teach with a focus on the end product instead of a focus on a test this May. Within that dialogue, he was quick to share the fact that he expected his growth score to suffer that year but in the long term our students would be better served. Furthermore, he opined that as long as his principal and superintendent were in place and understood the “big picture” he really had no concerns. I concurred. However, his next statement was deeply troubling. He said “while the number doesn’t mean anything to us, when I retire, that next teacher may believe that number is the most important measure of progress.”
I believe in accountability. My board and I embrace expectations of high performance and I am comfortable in making personnel decisions aligned with school improvement and the best academic and developmental opportunities for our children. In this circumstance, however, we are letting the “tail” of growth scores “wag the dog” of teacher evaluations and subsequent tenure eligibility.
A Proposed Solution: We are supportive of the award of tenure returning to a local decision with eligibility determined by service and evaluations. If, however, that change is not palatable, I believe that an amendment to the current “tenure” statute language allowing a school district to present “mitigating and compelling reason(s)” sponsored by the superintendent to the TDOE for review is warranted. We find the current system of “growth scores” serving as the overwhelming criteria to be an ineffective measure since in our school system since a majority of our teachers do not have those scores available for their use and are thereby compelled to use some school wide measure over which they may have limited influence.
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