Educators push for legislation changes
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Jan 28, 2014 | 629 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During a rare weekend session, the Bradley County Board of Education brought attendees up to speed on how it has been involved with pushing for changes in state legislation.

The board passed a resolution in support of letting school buses stay in service longer, which Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said is in line with similar resolutions passed by other Tennessee school boards.

Board Chair Vicki Beaty asked McDaniel to explain why such a resolution might be needed. He said how state regulations should change is a matter of disagreement between bus manufacturers and local school systems. Currently, a school bus can be in service for 17 years, he said.

The schools director said manufacturers favor having a lower age requirement for school buses. However, he said school systems have tended to differ from that opinion because buses that might otherwise pass safety inspections must be retired after 17 years, regardless of condition.

“Many school boards across Tennessee have passed this resolution,” McDaniel said. “It would be my recommendation that we join other school boards across the state.”

Bradley County school board member Troy Weathers said the bus issue has been a big financial expense for school systems in Tennessee, because of the cost associated with buying new ones at such regular intervals.

The board passed a resolution requesting the state eliminate or increase the maximum number of years a bus could stay in service.

Beaty said the resolution will be forwarded to the Tennessee School Boards Association, which she said plans to lobby for such a measure during the current General Assembly.

McDaniel stressed all buses in the Bradley County school system will still be regularly inspected and maintained.

“We would not keep an unsafe bus,” he said.

Another issue addressed on the state level has been an association between the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, often referred to as just TVAAS, and the renewal of teacher licensure.

The system quantifies student academic performance in the subjects of math, reading and language arts, science and social studies, assigning each school and school system a score between 1 and 5.

According to the Tennessee Department of Education’s website, TVAAS has been used in teacher licensure considerations since First to the Top Act was implemented during the 2011-12 school year. The act said licensed teachers should be annually evaluated, and TVAAS results make up a portion of the data on student achievement and growth used in the licensure renewal process.

The department maintains TVAAS “only measures what a school can control ... such as their students’ academic progress during the school year.” However, using TVAAS to decide how teachers are evaluated has as of late been scrutinized by various groups and individuals statewide.

Late last year, the school board passed a resolution giving its opinion that TVAAS should not be used for that purpose. More recently, Beaty said local educators have been contacting state legislators in hopes of seeing a change to how teacher licenses are renewed.

“Several principals have commented to me they have contacted their state legislators again regarding not tying teacher licensure to TVAAS,” Beaty said.

Since the school board passed its initial resolution on the issue, its members have been watching to see what the state might do.

Board member Chris Turner said he was aware of a bill that has been introduced within the state House. However, he did not think a companion bill had been introduced in the state Senate.

“I have sent some communication both to Sen. [Mike] Bell and Sen. [Todd] Gardenhire to adopt that ... and to remind them of the unanimous support of the Bradley County school board and the TSBA,” Turner said. “It’s my hope that we’ll see a Senate bill to go with the House bill.” 

As of Monday morning, at least two bills addressing TVAAS had been written — House Bill 1375 and Senate Bill 2240.

The House bill “requires the state board of education to adopt rules, rather than policies, governing the issuance of educator licenses.” It also “prohibits an educator's license from being nonrenewed or revoked based solely on student growth data.”

While also requiring the same of the state board of education, the Senate bill would add language to the Tennessee Code Annotated that “a supervisor’s, principal’s or teacher’s license shall not be non-renewed or revoked by the department of education based solely on student growth data as represented by the Tennessee value-added assessment system (TVAAS), developed pursuant to chapter 1, part 6 of this title, or some other comparable measure of student growth, if no such TVAAS data is available or any other single criterion.”

The board also discussed a request it received from the Bradley County Commission asking it to take an official stance on how Common Core state standards have impacted schools within the system.

Beaty stressed to her fellow members she believes the Commission is not asking for an opinion so much as seeking further information. She said she and other board members had spoken with local teachers and principals on Common Core. Beaty said it was a matter of being able to explain everything without including personally identifiable information about those who provided feedback.

She said it was generally the school system’s policy to not share identifying information in its reports, and care had to be taken to make sure the that data was not included.

The board voted to postpone to its Feb. 6 meeting a final vote on a resolution regarding how Common Core has impacted Bradley County Schools.