Teaching Profession

Teacher-Evaluation Lawsuit in Tennessee Nixed by Federal Judge

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 22, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Tennessee’s teacher-evaluation system has some potential problems, but it’s still sound enough to be used to give out performance bonuses, a federal judge ruled last week.

The ruling is a blow to the Tennessee Education Association, the state teachers’ union, which backed the lawsuit as part of its ongoing efforts to end the use of test scores for evaluating teachers. Tennessee uses a “value added” algorithm, which purports to isolate each teacher’s impact on his or her students’ standardized-test scores, for 35 percent of each teachers’ rating. Teachers have long claimed that the value-added formulas are opaque and flawed.

Teacher Mark Taylor originally filed the suit, in 2014, after missing out on a performance bonus in Tennessee’s Knox County. Although he had a high rating on classroom observations, Taylor’s value-added score was based on only one class of students’ results, rather than how all of his classes did. Why? Because his four other classes are advanced, and those students don’t take a standardized test at the end of the term. (The lawsuit was combined with a second suit from another teacher, Lisa Trout, who sued for similar reasons.)

The lawsuit claimed that the “arbitrary,” “irrational” nature of the test algorithm violated the teachers’ due process and equal-protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.

In his ruling, Judge Harry Mattice Jr. said that flaws in the system notwithstanding, the state has a rational claim for why it evaluates its teachers using test scores: They measure at least some portion, if not all, of what teachers do in their jobs.

"[I]t is not irrational for the state to base a performance evaluation on a subset of a teachers’ work,” he said. “In fact, a full 50 percent of a teachers’ evaluation is based on classroom observation. This portion, absent obviously impractical round-the-clock observation, is necessarily a subset of a teacher’s performance, yet plaintiffs do not, and cannot claim that this is irrational.”

As the Knoxville News Sentinel sums up, the argument amounts to this: If teachers don’t like the system, they need to seek remedy not through the courts, but by electing new lawmakers to change it.

Interestingly, Mattice also referenced the decision in a federal lawsuit in Florida that was dismissed for similar reasons, showing that case law in the teacher-evaluation realm is already starting to have an effect.

It’s not yet clear whether the TEA will appeal the ruling. The union also sued in 2015 in a third lawsuit protesting how teachers in subjects without standardized tests are graded, but that lawsuit was dismissed in June.

Teachers and unions have filed a rash of similarly themed suits that have been filed in other states. Education Week has been tracking all these cases for you. We’ll update our database in short order.

For more on the Tennessee lawsuit and other legal challenges to teacher evaluation:

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion ‘A Culture of Care’: How Schools Can Alleviate Educator Stress This Year
It takes more than deep breathing to alleviate the stress teachers feel. Here's how to get to the root cause.
Sean Slade & Alyssa Gallagher
6 min read
shutterstock 740616958 resized
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read