Hold Harmless Indeed

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Today is Thursday, October 25th and, as of today, I am 29% of the way into the school year. This afternoon, I received my overall teacher evaluation score from last school year (called the “level of effectiveness,” or L.O.E. for short). I have some major issues with how all of this is playing out.

To begin with, why am I just now finding out how well I did last school year? Teachers often times use the summer to make any kind of major adjustments to their curriculum and to their teaching strategies. It’s quite difficult to make changes in the middle of a unit in the middle of the second grading period--a situation where most teachers will find themselves right now. I remember a time not so long ago when teachers knew their L.O.E. by the end of the school year. Since the state’s implementation of TNReady, that hasn’t happened.

If I were a principal, I’m also upset about the timing of the release of the L.O.E. scores. They shouldn’t have to wait this long into the school year before finding out who their effective and ineffective teachers were last year. Part of their job is to help the ineffective teachers get back on track. Granted, a good principal will probably already know who these teachers are, but nothing can be made official until the L.O.E. scores are released. These scores are also used to determine whether teachers are rehired the following school year and if teachers will be granted tenure. Personnel decisions should be made over the summer, and the late release of these teacher effectiveness scores is not helpful in the least.

Furthermore, in the last legislative session, due to the massive and habitual failures of TNReady, legislators passed “hold harmless” legislation that says, “No adverse action may be taken against any student, teacher, school, or LEA based, in whole or in part, on student achievement data generated from the 2017-18 TNReady assessments.” Last year’s TNReady scores were not supposed to hurt my L.O.E. this year. I’ll be completely transparent and use my own scores as an example of how this might not necessarily be true.

Because I taught English 3 last year, which was a tested subject under TNReady, 50% of my evaluation came from classroom observations, 15% came from an “achievement measure,” and 35% from student grown data. Last year, my classroom observations were a 4.87 on a 5-point scale. For the 15% measure, I was presented with a menu of options such as my school’s graduation rate, ACT scores, AP scores, etc. As an English teacher, I somewhat indirectly impact these options, but I’m also being evaluated based on students that I have never seen, which is not an accurate representation of my own abilities. I am required to choose something, so I chose my school’s ACT scores, which ended up giving me a 4 out of 5 for that 15% of my evaluation. While the achievement measure is a bit irritating, the student growth score is where I truly take issue.

Student growth scores come from TVAAS, which determines how well students perform on TNReady compared what the algorithm thought they’d do. It’s a complicated formula that has never been explained to anyone and is kept secret. As we know, TNReady has yet to work properly. Therefore, how valid can these growth numbers be? For what it’s worth, I am blessed to work at a school whose school wide growth score last school year is a 5 but, since I was a teacher in a tested subject, I couldn’t use that to help me. It is both odd and unfair that I am required to choose an achievement measure but not be given the option to include my school’s growth score if it were to benefit me, which in this case it would have. For the 35% of my evaluation that is student growth score, I have three options, and the state’s online evaluation system, TNCompass, automatically chooses the best of the three. The three options are: use the 3-year average of my students’ growth on TNReady (which, again, has never worked properly), use my students’ growth on only the last two TNReady exams, or use my students’ growth on only last year’s TNReady exam. TNCompass chose the third option for me, because my student growth from last year’s exam is rated a 3 out of 5. It wouldn’t have mattered much which of the three options TNCompass chose for me because my overall evaluation wouldn’t have changed at all. In my case, they were all very similar numbers.

What immediately struck me is that all three of these options include my students’ growth on a flawed test that, by law, isn’t supposed to hurt me if last year’s test results are included, which they are. My overall L.O.E. score is a 4 out of 5, which still isn’t too bad, but the previous three years it has been a 5 out of 5. This means that the TNReady scores are, in fact, hurting my L.O.E. So what do I do now?

As the president of the Coffee County Education Association, I received the following message from TEA today that I quickly forwarded to my members: “To comply with the [hold harmless] legislation, teachers and principals who have 2017-18 TNReady data included in their LOE may choose to nullify their entire evaluation score (LOE) for the 2017-18 school year at their discretion. An educator’s decision to nullify the LOE can be made independently or in consultation with his/her evaluator during the evaluation summative conference. Nullification is completed by the educator in the TNCompass platform. The deadline for an educator to nullify his/her LOE is midnight CT on Nov. 30.”

I’m supposed to be able to log in to TNCompass and check a box signifying that I want to nullify my scores. Unfortunately, I can’t do that because I have to wait on my principal to electronically sign my 2017-2018 evaluation before I can take any action. In no way am I blaming my principal here. Like every principal across the state, I’m sure that he had higher priorities at the time than to log in to TNCompass and digitally sign everyone’s evaluations that were just released this afternoon. Additionally, I have a little over a month to nullify my score, which I plan to do, so there’s no huge rush. The main takeaway point here is that teachers need to be aware that If they are adversely affected by last year’s TNReady scores in any way, and he or she does not take any action, then the scores will stand. This means that potentially hundreds of teachers across the state could still be hurt by last year’s test scores if they’re not paying close attention. This is the time to be diligent. Last year’s TNReady scores are included in many of our evaluations. Take the time to check and see if those scores are hurting you in any way!