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State Education Department tweaks assessment tool tied to teacher evaluations

The Tennessee Department of Education unveiled plans Thursday to fine-tune a crucial component of teacher evaluation scores in response to educators’ concerns.

Meeting before the State Board of Education, state officials said they are changing the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) after receiving feedback from district leaders across the state and the newly created teacher advisory council.

TVAAS uses up to five years of student scores on the statewide assessment to determine a teacher’s contributions to students’ growth. It can count for up to 35 percent of teacher evaluation scores, which can be tied to tenure and salary increases.

The department is eliminating “re-estimation,” a step that examines student performance in subsequent years to make slight adjustments to prior years’ test scores, and changing the way it sets expectations for student growth.

Department officials decided ultimately that re-estimation is a complex step with little impact on teachers’ TVAAS scores, said Tony Pratt, deputy assistant commissioner for the Data and Research Division,

In the past, the department compared student growth in a given year to students with comparable scores in a set year, most recently 2009.

Starting with the 2015-2016 school year, the department will compare student growth to the growth of students with comparable test scores in the current year, which they always have done for early grades and high school.

Pratt said the former approach led to a large and possibly skewed variation in scores.

“The process can be difficult to explain, difficult to understand, and that can lead to some concern [from teachers],” Fleming said. “In addition, eliminating it brings methodology into closer alignment with early grades and [high school teachers].”

Fielding Rolston, chairman of the Board of Education, said the updates appear to be a step in the right direction. “I always thought the re-estimation thing — only a statistician could love that,” he said. “I’m confident that these changes will be well-received.”

But Samantha Bates, director of member services for the Professional Educators of Tennessee, said the changes are unlikely to make a meaningful difference to teachers.

“The re-estimation doesn’t sound like it will affect teachers at all,” she said. “The second change, will help teachers. … I think teachers will feel it’s more fair to be judged on the kids who are students now, than the kids they had in 2009.”

“Ideally,” she said, “teachers would tell you they don’t want to be evaluated based on other people.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed Tony Pratt’s quotes to Paul Fleming.

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