Published Online: March 15, 2010

Committee Starts Work to Revamp Teacher Testing

A committee appointed after Tennessee lawmakers enacted major changes to the state's k-12 education policy is working on a fast timeline to create a pilot teacher evaluation system.

"It's a massive undertaking," said Jessie Register, who heads the Metro-Nashville school system and is one of nine people appointed to the committee by Gov. Phil Bredesen.

In a January special session, lawmakers approved new education policies, including the requirement that half of teacher evaluations be based on student achievement data. The changes were made in part to improve the state's chances in the federal Race to the Top education competition.

Earlier this month, Tennessee was selected as one of the 16 finalists, but regardless of whether Tennessee is awarded the $501 million for which officials applied, the changes are now part of state law.

Nine people appointed by the governor will join four state officials and one appointment each from the House and Senate speakers and will be working until July to come up with the new system, Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

Register, who formerly worked in Hamilton County, is the only schools superintendent on the committee.

Tennessee's Commissioner of Education Tim Webb is leading the group, which will meet possibly as often as once a week, said Amanda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state education department. The first meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Chattanooga's Normal Park Museum Magnet principal Jill Levine is one of two principals on the committee. She said she already has received a lot of interest in the committee's work.

"My hope is that I'll be able to collect the voice of many and take them with me to Nashville," she said. "If we do our job, the evaluation process should ensure that every child in every school is getting access to an excellent teacher and a high-quality education."

She said she hopes to solicit opinions from local teachers over coffee.

"As (evaluation) becomes more data-driven, it's important that we keep our focus on ... what can be qualified," she said. "It's always important to be fair to teachers in the evaluation process and consider as many things as possible."

She said the changes are designed to identify ways to improve teaching, not weeding out ineffective teachers.

"I think there's an opportunity for really developing a system here that can improve the quality of teaching in all of our schools ... that is transformational and not just a reworking of a system that, in many people's eyes, does not work very well," he said. "Such a narrow part of it is identifying poor performance."

Other committee members include representatives from schools districts in Jackson-Madison County, Memphis, McNairy County, Carter County, Franklin County and Weakley County.

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