Lawsuit challenges Tennessee use of standardized test scores

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's largest teachers union filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday that challenges how the state uses standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.

The lawsuit filed in Nashville focuses on those teachers whose evaluations are based substantially on standardized test scores of students in subjects they do not teach. That's more than half of the public school teachers in Tennessee, according to the lawsuit.

"If you've got 20 teachers in a school and 10 of them teach tested subjects and the other 10 don't, the other 10 are going to be evaluated based on how kids do on tests in those first 10 teachers' classes," said Rick Colbert, general counsel for the Tennessee Education Association.

The TEA has long argued that the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS data, shouldn't be relied upon because it's a statistical estimate and could lead to a flawed evaluation of a teacher.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say their overall evaluation scores dropped as a result of school-wide TVAAS estimates being used to calculate their scores. As a result, one person was allegedly denied a bonus, and another lost eligibility to be recommended for tenure.

The lawsuit states the evaluation practice violates "plaintiffs' substantive due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment."

"Educators are not opposed to being evaluated," said TEA president Barbara Gray. "We just want it to be done in a way that actually reflects the quality of our individual work and contributions to student success."

Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed legislation that includes adjustments to the way teachers are evaluated. One change would lower the weight on TVAAS in non-tested subjects from 25 to 15 percent.

Currently, 35 percent of an educator's evaluation is comprised of student achievement data.

The Republican governor told reporters after speaking at a legislative preview session held Thursday by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association that he didn't have a comment about the lawsuit. But he said he was aware of teachers' concerns after talking to a number of them around the state.

"It just felt fair for us on the non-tested subjects to drop that down," he said.

Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation that prohibits standardized test scores from being tied to teacher licensing. Haslam signed the measure.

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