Senate Oks bill to close teacher evaluation data

Friday, March 23, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 12

NASHVILLE (AP) - The sponsor of a proposal to close public access to teacher evaluation data said Thursday that doing so will keep the process honest.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville was unanimously approved 27-0 in the Senate. The companion bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor next week.

Tracy said access to the data should be limited to school officials and not available to the general public.

"The principal would be much more honest if he knows it's not going to go into the public record," he said after Thursday's vote. "We're all about teacher performance, and that's what evaluations are, to improve a teacher to be the best that they can be."

Under recent changes to state law, half of a teacher's assessment must derive from testing data, while the rest comes from classroom observations. The new system has been heavily criticized by educators.

The state has been implementing more data-driven approaches to education as part of federal Race to the Top grants and through Gov. Bill Haslam's own policies since he took office two years ago.

The changes in the evaluation system that could affect a teacher's tenure status have been widely criticized by educators who say the state is moving too quickly to implement a new process that is unproven.

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he favors the privacy legislation because the evaluation system is "still very suspect in the eyes of teachers."

"And we think until those problems are worked out, this is the appropriate road to go down," he said.

Emily Barton, assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction with the Education Department, told a joint legislative committee earlier this week that state officials are trying to address teachers' concerns.

She said members of an evaluation team have met with over 6,200 educators across the state and answe red more than 2,450 questions about the new system.