Editorial: Balancing accountability, respect

Taking TVAAS out of licensure process is right thing to do
Feb. 03, 2014 @ 01:46 PM

Tying the working life of experienced professionals who’ve spent decades cultivating their careers to the results of a test — given over the course of a few hours — is highly problematic.

Fortunately, the Tennessee State Board of Education is walking back, somewhat at least, from that policy decision made last August.

At a Friday meeting, the board decided to reverse its decision that it would “use TVAAS as a factor in license renewal and advancement,” the Tennessee Education Association noted after the meeting. TVAAS is the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, essentially a formula that provides a measure of individual student progress.

While accountability for teachers is fine, linking their professional life to the “growth” shown on test scores of children always seemed like a reach. There are just too many variables.

What if a group of students in a low-performing system has been neglected, yet promoted, up through their schools’ grades to the classroom of a first-year teacher on a probationary license?

Should she be punished because the children entered her class ill-prepared for the subject matter she’s tasked with teaching? While the students may grow under her tutelage from what they’ve previously known, who’s to say they’ll improve on a standardized test? What if they simply don’t like the teacher and decide to sabotage her with bad test scores? After all, next year they’ll advance, even if they bomb the test.

We all know that Tennessee’s teachers are licensed under the same procedure — essentially, they must receive a bachelor’s degree, be trained in the field through a program of higher learning and pass a variety of competency exams.

Once they’ve completed those tasks, they earn an apprentice license — which is valid for the first three years in the classroom.

After over two years of teaching experience, they can then be recommended for a professional teaching license, which is valid for 10 years and renewable, by their school district.

If licensure is tied to students’ performances, why would a beginning teacher ever want to teach in a struggling school, where children are often behind?

The normal “getting a foot in the door” motivation wouldn’t apply if you’re likely to lose the dream you’ve worked so hard to attain the first year you get an uncooperative class or group that’s fallen behind.

Friday’s step was the right one.

But the measure is set to raise its head again in the board’s April meeting.

A state representative, Rep. Matthew Hill of Johnson City, has introduced a bill (HB2263) to prohibit the use of standardized scores in the licensure process. Should that bill — which does have some other, more nebulous issues — pass, it would take that decision out of the state board’s hands.