As an experienced teacher in Tennessee, I’d like to set the record straight on the use of student test scores in teacher licensure.
The first thing we must remember is the difference between firing a teacher and revoking her license. It is reasonable to hire or fire a teacher, like any other professional, based on performance outcomes. As a high school math teacher, I recognize my principal has the right to dismiss me if I cannot effectively teach my students. What is unacceptable is ending my entire teaching career based on the outcome of one test.
When a teacher’s license is revoked he doesn’t just lose a job at one school – his career as a teacher is over. Period. And teaching assignments make a difference. Though her license gives her the credential to do both, a very effective kindergarten teacher may not be the best at working with fifth-graders. I’ve never taught geometry, so perhaps I’m not effective with that course. My principal may choose to dismiss me, but the state should not revoke the license that enables me to teach algebra at another school.
Testing has its value as a diagnostic tool for students and schools, but it does not belong in high stakes decisions that can ruin a person’s career. The state commissioner of education would have us believe that standardized test scores are the only thing that matters. In reality, those test scores tell us very little about students or their teachers.
Grade point average – a number generated from a student’s performance over several years – is a better predictor of success in higher education than an ACT or SAT score. A teacher’s effectiveness is best measured the same way – by looking at multiple measures over the course of a school year rather than focusing on one test result.
Tennessee teachers are supporting a bill that would prohibit the use of standardized test scores in license decisions. Estimates generated by TVAAS, the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, are derived solely from student scores on standardized tests taken once per school year. These estimates do not begin to measure a teacher’s effectiveness.
To make matters worse, a teacher’s TVAAS estimates are unpredictable and can vary wildly – even years after the tested students are no longer in that teacher’s classroom. These estimates are recalculated retroactively, so the basis for a decision to revoke a teaching license may change after the license is already lost.
The state argues that fluctuating TVAAS scores are the exception and will only impact one percent of Tennessee teachers. That equates to about 700 teachers. It is inexcusable to destroy even one good teacher’s career based on unreliable data, but to possibly destroy 700 careers? It is shocking and saddening that the commissioner of education thinks this is acceptable.
Our students deserve to have the very best teachers in every classroom across the state. Too many excellent, dedicated teachers are already choosing to leave the profession, and we are certain to lose more if the state is allowed to tie teacher licenses to student standardized test scores.
Students are more than a test score – and so are their teachers.
Gera Summerford is a high school math teacher in Sevier County who currently serves as president of the Tennessee Education Association. TEA is the state’s largest professional organization representing more than 46,000 elementary and secondary teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become teachers.