Dr. Kim Fisher, principal of Black Fox Elementary School, said she was concerned about how the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System played into how teachers are evaluated.
She argued that the system, which is based on how students perform, should not be used to quantify the effectiveness of teachers.
“Teachers are being undervalued,” Fisher said.
That belief led her to send letters to all of the Tennessee state representatives, and she found that some listened.
While she said she did not expect to receive many responses, Fisher said she got replies and received visits from state Rep. Eric Watson and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire.
One of the more recent visits took place in early November, when Rep. Joe Pitts, a Democrat from Clarksville, toured the school and met with teachers and principals both from Black Fox and from other schools in Bradley, Polk and McMinn counties to hear their concerns.
Attendees included Diane Lilliard of Waterville Community Elementary School, Courtney Pippenger of Chilhowee Middle School, Lynnae Roberts of Charleston Elementary School, Nat Akiona of North Lee Elementary School, Dr. Pamela Browning of Lee University and Tim Riggs of Hopewell Elementary School.
Fisher said teachers discussed what they liked about teaching, but they also shared their difficulties and their concerns with the TVAAS being used to determine how well they were doing at their jobs. She said many of the attendees said they were impressed that legislators were willing to listen to teachers and principals on this issue.
"We are always so grateful when our legislators offer a listening and caring ear to our concerns,” Riggs said.
Fisher said the issue of TVAAS hits home with teachers because it does not take into account that student scores can vary widely from year to year, despite teachers’ best efforts to educate students.
With the continued implementation of Common Core standards in schools, she added that students are having to get used to new assignments and teaching styles.
TVAAS “measures the impact schools and teachers have on their students’ academic progress,” according to the Tennessee Department of Education’s website. It is said that the system “only measures what a school can control ... such as their students’ academic progress during the school year.”
The system measures student performance in the subjects of math, reading and language arts, science and social studies, resulting in a score between 1 and 5. Each school is given individual scores, and school systems as a whole are given scores of their own.
While the Cleveland and Bradley County school systems both saw overall scores of 5, the highest score possible, Fisher said it was wrong for teacher licensure renewals to be tied to the scores.
Licensed teachers have been evaluated annually under Tennessee's First to the Top Act since the 2011-12 school year. A portion of the assessment includes data on student achievement and growth derived from TVAAS.
The Bradley County Board of Education has expressed its displeasure of TVAAS in recent months, penning a letter to send to the state Legislature prior to the next General Assembly over its members’ concerns about teacher licensure.
Fisher decided the state also needs to hear directly from teachers and principals who work with students on a daily basis.
Having been a teacher for 10 years and a school principal for an additional 12, Fisher said she sees the value of testing students and analyzing the scores. However, she said scores should be used to help students get better instead of “punishing” them and their teachers.
“Data is very useful,” Fisher said. “The best use of data is to make plans for improvement.”