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Educators Look For "Practice" Evaluation Year

NASHVILLE, TN (AP) Some Tennessee lawmakers and teachers said Wednesday they would like this to be a pilot year for a new evaluation system that for the first time will use students' standardized test scores as part of the process.

Members of the House Education Committee heard testimony from school administrators and teachers about the evaluation, which is comprised of 35 percent of students' value-added test scores that track students' progress on standardized tests over time. Many educators say that's an unfair measurement because students test differently.

While teachers say they don't oppose evaluations, they're concerned about an overall process they feel is suspect because there are still many unanswered questions.

The Tennessee Education Association recently provided The Associated Press a list of nearly 30 questions about the new system. Some have been addressed, but many haven't. Most of the questions involved the use of the value-added test scores.

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters told the AP on Wednesday that the evaluation system "should not be used for high-stakes personnel decisions during the 2011-2012 school year."

"There are too many problems with it," he said. "They need to take some kind of action on this evaluation process immediately, because if they don't, we're going to lose maybe dozens, maybe hundreds, of very high-quality teachers that we don't need to lose because of what they're going through on this evaluation system."

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he's considering legislation that would make this what he called a practice year for the evaluation system.

"Let's just walk our way through this sort of as stage one, and then move forward," said Fitzhugh, who tried unsuccessfully during the recent legislative session to pass a measure that would have delayed implementation of the evaluation process.

Kathleen Airhart, director of schools in Putnam County, agreed.

"I think in order to ease some of the tension ... there needs to be a message that somebody realizes at a top level that we're all learning this and it's not going to be perfect this first year," she said.

The state Department of Education is considering changes to the evaluation process that could benefit teachers and administrators, such as reducing the number of times teachers have to be observed each year.

But Education Department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said the department believes making this a pilot year for the evaluation process could actually be hurtful to some teachers because the state would be "taking control away from local districts."

"Right now, it's up to them what they do with the results of these evaluations," she said. "We don't tell anyone that you have to fire someone, or you have to make this certain personnel decision based on the evaluations. So, for us to mandate that this year doesn't count, would really be ... saying you're not allowed to use this evaluation system."

Darrell Freeman, chairman and founder of Zycron Inc., an information technology company, helped develop the evaluation process. He said it's not intended to hurt teachers.

"It's not about someone losing your job," he said. "It's about identifying where you are and helping you get to the next level."

Rep. Ron Lollar, a Bartlett Republican and member of the Education Committee, said hearings like the one Wednesday are important to allow lawmakers to hear those on both sides of the evaluation system issue.

"I think ... both sides of the aisle support a process," he said. "Fine tuning and getting that process going is where the struggle is going to be."