Approximately 40 teachers, administrators and members of the community attended a Coffee County Education Association-hosted rally Thursday to discuss the statewide teacher association’s lobbying efforts for legislation against high-stakes use of standardized testing in public schools.
“We have to inform the public. They have to be on our side,” said Scott Price, CCEA Executive Committee President and a teacher at Central High School.
Leading the meeting were Tennessee Education Association executive director Carolyn Crowder and keynote speaker, TEA general counsel Rick Colbert, who delivered his presentation, “The Trouble with TVAAS” that called into question certain statistical anomalies with the state’s new teacher-evaluation scores.
“If you take nothing else away from this presentation, never again refer to TVAAS as a score. It’s not. It’s an estimate,” he said.
Colbert’s discussion criticized the State Board of Education’s move, later reversed, linking teacher licensure to TVAAS evaluations.
“Your license is your most valued possession,” he argued. “It’s the key to your career. What [education] commissioner [Kevin] Huffman proposed and the state Board of Education initially approved was that, not only do you have to do your personal development, but also you have to have certain overall evaluation results.”
Specifically, Colbert questioned Huffman’s assertion that TVAAS evaluations are a strong predictor of future performance.
Colbert said the fundamental flaw in TVAAS evaluation is that their results are not consistent from year to year.
Cited in his support of the fluctuations was a case study of Cynthia Watson, whom Colbert described as a veteran teacher who teaches science at Dresden Middle School in West Tennessee.
“In 2008, she was one of the best teachers in the state. The next year she was one of the worst,” Colbert said.
According to Colbert, the state informed him and Watson when questioning the variation that evaluation scores are estimates and include a standard error that accompanies the certainly of the score.
Colbert said that the state Department of Education uses intimidation by mathematics to confirm the validity of the TVAAS program.
Colbert drew on other statistical data and expert opinion that suggest doubt on the reliability of the evaluations.
“You may not have paid attention to the standard error listed on your individual TVAAS report,” he told the educators, “that was something that nobody ever bothered to explain to you – what its significance was, but it’s probably the most significant thing on your report.”
Basically, as statistical certainty increases, a wiggle zone of potential error widens in the prediction.
Colbert said that if Watson’s standard error deviations were factored into her evaluation report, “You could be 95 percent confident that in 2010 her TVAAS result would put her at a level two or three or four or five.”
He added that the evaluation scores can change retroactively as additional evaluations are performed.
“They can go down, but they can go up. What are we going to say to a teacher who loses her license … and then her score goes up the next year,” he asked.
Not everyone at the meeting accepted Watson’s case on face value. Coffee County Central High School assistant principal Keith Cornelius offered a different observation on Watson’s numbers.
“Did her administrators happen to teach her how to drill down student by student into the … data,” he asked.
“A teacher can … look at a projection report and tell the probability that the student will score on the proficient level or above,” Cornelius said.
Administrators need to understand the intricacies of the system. Teachers, Cornelius suggests, should see not only their students’ scores, but also the prediction for that student.
“They are going to have to work hard with those students that predicted [high]. If they are predicted way up here and they fall, [the teacher] is going to have negative growth.”
Cornelius said that as a teacher he had worked very hard with advanced students to show that advanced growth.
“A lot of it is teacher outlook and mentality. I could push and push and I could get growth.
“As an administrator, I could not imagine that any administrator could not try to teach a teacher to use that data that is her advantage.”
Price and others present say that too much weight is being placed on testing and that causes teachers to focus more on testing than teaching.
Currently several bills have been introduced before the General Assembly that address tweaking Huffman’s education reform.
TEA backed bills include the Educator Respect and Accountability Act of 2014 and House Bill 1381, which seeks to restore “a salary schedule for licensed educators based on years of service and educational training.”
The heart of the Educator Respect Bill is a passage that would mandate that “the board or the department of education shall not adopt or promulgate any … policy … that grants, renews, advances, restricts, revokes or penalizes the professional license of any public school teacher on the basis of standardized test scores or any statistical estimate utilizing standardized test scores.”
It would block the state board from reinstating an earlier policy that bases the eligibility for teacher license renewal on their evaluations. The board repealed the section Jan. 31. The state board of education’s policy changes were passes August 16, 2013, and would have taken effect August 1, 2015. Colbert suggested that the board could be waiting until after the legislative session to reinstate the changes.
Senate Bill 1879, introduced by Frank Niceley and backed by TEA, would change the State Board of Education positions from being governor appointed to publicly elected.
Niceley also introduced bills seeking to re-establishment of school superintendent as elected offices and that requires the data used to evaluate teachers be based only on students that the teacher has taught.
The State Board of Education is composed of nine members—one from each of Tennessee’s congressional districts. All members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly.
Representing the 6th Congressional district, which includes Coffee County, is Doctor of Optometry Jean Anne Rogers of Murfreesboro. Her contact information is listed as an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. She was appointed in 2005 and her current term is 2005-2014.
CCEA retired teacher president Pat Barton opened the meeting.
“I met with Manchester city teachers last April to tell them the problem that was a coming and what’s been shoved down their throats,” he said. “When we met we had about 13 teachers, and I told them this was the problem and when I look here tonight, this is the problem. Passive. Teachers have been passive. Year after year the thumb has been put them…then the foot was put on them now it’s stomping.”