The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers association, wants to avoid student test scores from being tied to whether teachers can renew their license. The issue is currently being debated at the statehouse.  In a joint rally and press conference in Memphis Tuesday, officials with the organization said that more academic measures should be used to gauge teacher effectiveness in high-stakes personnel decisions.

“TEA is not against accountability, but evaluations should be fair and clear,” TEA executive director Carolyn Crowder said.  ”We want the right instruments using multiple measures to assess students and teachers.”

Currently, amongst other requirements, teachers must  complete 90 hours of training in order to get a license, which must be renewed every ten years.  A teacher is required to keep their teaching credentials up to date in order to remain employed.

Last August, the Tennessee Board of Education indicated that they would begin to link a student’s academic growth scores to whether or not a teacher would get their license renewed.  That number is commonly referred to as the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS.  

TVAAS uses up to five years of student achievement scores to determine a classroom teacher’s contribution to a students’ growth.

Teachers and their advocates complained the process unfairly blamed them for factors they could not control, such as a child’s parental involvement or even the mood a child was in on the day they took the test.

On Jan. 31, in what TEA considered a victory, the state board of education voted to rescind parts of the policy that links the teacher licensure process to TVAAS data, which was scheduled to go into effect in 2015. TEA is now aggressively campaigning to keep TVAAS data separate from the licensure renewal process through several key legislative bills.

Tennessee’s assistant commissioner of education, Stephen Smith, said during a house education committee meeting last week that using growth scores, or TVAAS, is better than using just a student’s achievement scores, which don’t consider how well a student improved year over year.

For the last several years, the state and the TEA, which represents 46,000 teachers,  have been at odds about how to use TVAAS scores and how much weight they should hold when evaluating a teacher.

Since 2010, educators have voiced concerns about many of the dramatic legislative changes made to improve the lowest performing schools such as frequent classroom observations, the elimination of teachers’ bargaining rights and tougher tenure laws.  TEA Assistant Executive Director for Advocacy Duran Williams said all of the changes have negatively impacted teacher morale.

If teacher licensure is tied to value-added scores, TEA officials said they are concerned that more teachers will leave the profession, not because they no longer like the job, but because of the stress.

But a recent state-wide survey conducted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, concluded that the majority of teachers think evaluations are useful in improving classroom instruction.  

During this year’s legislative session TEA is rallying their support behind several education bills including HB 2263 the “Educator Respect and Accountability Act of 2014.”That bill prevents the licensure of public school teachers from being based partly on TVAAS scores.

A separate bill, SB 2122, would prevent next year’s test results from being considered for things such as teacher evaluations, promotions or demotions. Next year, the state will roll out a new online standardized test known as  Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, or PARCC.  Educators say student test scores drop in the first year of a new assessment.

Recently, TEA have been promoting “The Trouble with TVAAS”, a presentation that uses teacher testimony and data to show that TVAAS as a measuring stick has several flaws. Over the last several weeks, officials with TEA have shown the presentation to teachers and members of the press.

On Tuesday night, at the local chapter’s headquarters,  a teacher, student, and a parent spoke of how testing has negatively affected their lives.

The organization filed a lawsuit on Feb. 6 on  behalf of a Knox County teacher who was denied a bonus based on TVAAS results.

The TEA’s legal counsel is looking to file additional lawsuits for other educators negatively affected by TVAAS.

TVAAS has been used in the state for 20 years.

TEA initially approved of the use of TVAAS in teacher evaluations in 2010 when Tennessee won more than $500 million in Race to the Top funds, Crowder said. At the time, she said, educators expected that additional achievement measures would be factored into the process.

But “that never happened,” Crowder said.

Crowder said tying teacher licensure to TVAAS was not brought up in 2010. 

“We don’t want  TVAAS to go away completely, but the state is trying to use it in a manner that it was never intended,” she said.  ”We’d like to see a more proactive approach.  TEA is proposing a ‘Think Tank’ of teachers to work together to determine what are good measures to use.”

Crowder said she would prefer the state use a pre- and post-test measure to determine a teacher’s impact on student achievement.

TEA  plans to continue spreading its message and lobbying legislators in March and April.