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    Bredesen, educators reach compromise on teacher evaluations

    By Richard Locker
    The Commercial Appeal

    January 13, 2010

    NASHVILLE -- The teachers' union and Gov. Phil Bredesen have reached a compromise on how teachers are evaluated for job tenure, retention, promotion and pay that likely clears the way for passage of the governor's controversial K-12 reform bill in a special session of the legislature, negotiators on both sides said today.

    The compromise requires Bredesen to back away somewhat from his insistence that 51 percent of teachers' evaluations be based on the standardized test scores of students in their classrooms and the Tennessee Education Association -- which represents 55,000 teachers across the state -- to relax its stance that those measures account for no more than 35 percent in a new evaluation process.

    Under the compromise, 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on his or her students' performance on the state's standardized testing program called the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, and another 15 percent will be based on a different set of student performance measures some of which are directly tied to the teacher and some based on the overall school's performance.

    TEA government relations director Jerry Winters said the agreement was reached late Tuesday and will be presented to legislative committees later today. Administration officials said the agreement is likely to pave the way for passage, although there may still be some opposition to the overall idea of applying for $485 million in federal funding over a four-year period under the "Race to the Top" competitive grant program advanced by President Obama. Much of the current push for the teacher evaluation changes were spurred by the state's decision to apply for the grant, which requires stronger evaluation measures based on student performance.

    Currently in Tennessee law, student performance data gathered under the 18-year-old TVAAS is virtually prohibited for use in evaluating teachers. Bredesen's plan would revise the current system so that student test scores would be used by school administrators in evaluating whether to grant teachers their initial tenure and would require annual evaluations for tenured teachers. Under current Tennessee law, teachers who have obtained tenure undergo formal evaluations every five years. Once a teacher has been granted tenure, a special set of state laws protects them from dismissal except for cause and reductions-in-force.

    Other elements of the K-12 reform bill would revise the system in which the state takes over low-performing schools by creating "achievement school districts" under state oversight. That element has been less controversial than the teacher evaluation efforts.

    Bredesen wants the legislation passed quickly because the deadline for applying for the first round of Race to the Top funds is next Tuesday.