Race to the Top

This week, the Tennessee Legislature goes into a special session to consider education proposals that would make our state eligible for a share of approximately $4 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funding. One of the key provisions is to make student testing data a “significant” factor in tenure decisions and subsequent evaluations. The TEA is opposed to making it count for more than 35% of the weighting, while the Governor has asked for at least 50%.

Tennessee has one of the best data systems in the country, but we generally don’t make the best use of it. One of the reasons is the provisions built into law about who can access the data and for what purposes, but I’m sure that another of the reasons is that not enough people know how to access and use the data effectively.

I also have some questions about the Governor’s proposals:

  • What would happen for teachers who teach subjects (or grade levels) that aren’t part of the standardized testing?
  • Would the decision be based on raw scores, value-added, or some combination of both?
  • Might we encounter increased teacher shortage areas, as some choose to teach subjects that aren’t tested to avoid this additional scrutiny?

Those aren’t all of my questions, to be sure. Just the ones that come to mind right off the bat. Regarding the use of test data in tenure decisions, we might ought to reconsider some of our other tenure provisions. Presently, a teacher is evaluated for tenure at the end of the third year; if tenure is not awarded, then he/she cannot be offered a contract for the following year. But, what if a new teacher shows great promise, but might need another year of coaching to get his or her scores up? Could we change that part of the law, so that a teacher who doesn’t get tenure in the third year could be retained for another year or two?

It would make more sense to me to use test data in performance evaluations, except that with teacher salaries dictated solely by education and experience, what difference do the evaluations really make? Certainly, it provides teachers with a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses, but it doesn’t make any difference in compensation, as it would in most other professions.

My feelings on this are decidedly mixed.

One Response to “Race to the Top”

  1. on 21 Jan 2010 at 5:46 pm Jim Hackworth

    You can get the answers within the final bill on my website: jhackworth.com front page center. Bill HB7010

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