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State board approves new teacher license policy

The Tennessee board of education voted Friday to replace a policy that meant teachers could lose their licenses if their scores on evaluations were low. Starting in the 2015-16 school year, Tennessee teachers who garner high scores on their evaluations will earn points toward advancing or renewing their licenses and will be responsible for fewer professional development courses than their lower-scoring peers—but low evaluation scores will not prohibit a teacher from renewing a license.

The change is a partial victory for the Tennessee Education Association, which had contested the previous policy. But the Tennessean reported Friday that the TEA questions the legality of tying licenses to evaluations at all. Up to 35 percent of teachers’ evaluations in Tennessee are based on TVAAS, the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, a measure of students’ growth on the state’s standardized test—a measure the union publicly rejected last school year and is challenging in court.

Tennessee teachers are responsible for earning 30 state-approved “professional development points” in order to have their licenses advanced from “practitioner,” the initial license, to “professional,” and 60 to have their professional licenses renewed. Teachers have traditionally been able to earn points by taking university courses, becoming National Board certified, or taking approved training courses.

The new policy means that high-scoring teachers can also get points for their evaluations: Those who receive a 5, the highest ranking, will receive 20 professional development points. Those who receive a 4 will receive 15 points, and those who receive a 3 will receive 10 points. Those who earn the lowest scores on their evaluations will receive no points for their evaluations, but can still earn points through the traditional route.

B. Fielding Rolston, the chair of the state board of education, said the new policy means “a teacher can choose the direction they want to go in for renewal or advancement: evaluation scores or professional development.”