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State board dislikes teacher license plan, approves it anyway

7:14 PM, Aug 16, 2013   |    comments
Fielding Rolston, chairman of the Tennessee State Board of Education / Mark Zaleski / The Tennessean / File
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By Lisa Fingeroot / The Tennessean

The Tennessee State Board of Education adopted a controversial teacher licensing plan Friday that members don't like and know they will change.

The board delayed implementing the new licensing process until August 2015 so more information can be collected about the controversial use of student test scores to renew teacher licenses and so the board can make changes.

However, the vote did not include a mandate to make changes.

"There is no guarantee, but I am quite certain from all the comments from board members that they will make those changes," Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said.

The Tennessee Education Association, or TEA, the state's teacher union and largest professional organization, opposed the plan for several reasons, but its biggest complaint is the test score link.

"That's not the way I wish it had been done," TEA President Gera Summerford said of the board vote. "But it is certainly better than the alternative. It's a victory compared to what we might have seen."

The board vote was made during a telephone conference call that was at times hard to hear because of the sounds of a school intercom system, background talking, static, and even a howling dog that prompted laughter and promises from staff members that the dog was not in a state building.

Board members said they are, for the most part, pleased with the plan that raises Tennessee's standards for becoming a teacher. But some worried about the use of test scores to determine license renewal.

At issue is the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, that measures the effect a teacher has on student growth from one year to the next. The score is only an estimate, said TEA attorney Rick Colbert. The measurement was created by the University of Tennessee and has been used in the state for more than 20 years. It has never been used to determine license renewal, though.

Board Chairman Fielding Rolston asked members to approve the licensing changes with a plan to make changes during the next year. The year of study would be used to collect information on the TVAAS scores that board members and others might still be questioning, he said.

But board members debated the wisdom of approving a policy they knew was not the final version they want for teachers.

"I am uncomfortable voting when there is something I want to know more about," board member Janet Ayers said. "I don't want to vote because it's like saying I'm comfortable with it, and I'm not."

Rolston urged members to approve the policy, though, so the work done by the state Department of Education would not be lost.

"I really believe it's important to get something on the table to look at," Rolston said. "I don't want to leave us out here with nothing. It's really important so we can work with something."

After the meeting, Huffman agreed with Rolston's assessment. "I think from my perspective, it's important to put something out on the table and have a marker and then say, if people have better ideas or if they find fault, they can bring it forward," he said.

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