“It’s not about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about educators,” said Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesboro) on the Nashville five o’clock news. Hill’s statement came during the final battle to remove remaining issues with TNReady data use, and highlighted TEA’s political efforts to build pro-public education majorities in the General Assembly.
“We know friends of education are on both sides of the aisle,” said TEA lobbyist Jim Wrye. “Watching a remarkable united House push for fairness, and friends in the Senate ready to vote, showed lawmakers not only want to support teachers, they know teachers will support them.”
The General Assembly had passed legislation the previous week preventing decisions for teachers on termination and compensation using TNReady scores. Yet there remained potential negative consequences to teachers stemming from use of the invalid data from this year’s test.
Key senators and the administration were content with what had already passed. That is when TEA members sprang into action.
The last week of session saw the senate flooded with member calls telling lawmakers how TNReady failures were impacting their students and classrooms. The Senate held a testing hearing, and the House held a second emergency committee hearing after fielding hundreds of calls and emails.
Social media efforts kept up a steady drumbeat of issues and calls for action.
The House heard the teachers’ voice.
On the session’s last day, the majority House Republican Caucus held an overwhelming vote to have leaders do what it took to protect educators and ensure fairness. Next, in a unanimous vote of every Democrat and Republican representative, the House halted the state budget, delayed other legislation, and referred a new hold-harmless bill to the Senate, sending a message to the governor and upper chamber that more needed to be done. House majority leader Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) made the motion to hold the budget himself.
“Seeing the coordinated effort and a united House defend teachers was a remarkable event, and the leaders on both sides of the aisle should be commended for the landmark work they did,” said Wrye.
In a historic show of cohesion and bipartisanship, a united Tennessee House of Representatives originally pushed legislation that would have excluded test data from this year’s test from evaluations completely, similar language to what passed when the 15-16 test crashed.
The Senate companion bill for the House hold-harmless was quickly tabled by Senate Education chair Sen. Delores Gresham. Many senators asked for an opportunity to vote, knowing it would pass easily.
Then began hours of disagreements, pressure and negotiation, against a backdrop of teachers calling for change. House Minority Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) and Republican Caucus Chair Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), with steady pressure applied by Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), got the Senate and administration to agree on an amendment Fitzhugh had written, incorporating concepts outlined by TEA. The new bill passed both chambers late Wednesday night, April 25th, as one of the last pieces of legislation of the 110th General Assembly.
The key clause in the bill is “no adverse action may be taken against any student, teacher, school, or LEA” using TNReady data for 2017-2018 school year. TEA legal says the clear language means TVAAS scores linked to this year’s failure cannot be used against a teacher in any way, whether it is based in state law, rules or policies, or in local policies and decisions. Required remediation, extra observations and other professional penalties triggered by TVAAS data are eliminated, for this year or any future year that would use 17-18 test data.
Added with the legislation passed two weeks ago, it is a strong comprehensive hold-harmless that will have a lasting impact in future years. Teachers will still be given a TVAAS score, but it must be ignored if it would harm a teacher, but can still be used if it benefits them. TEA knows TVAAS is invalid for use in high-stakes decisions, regardless of whether the testing system functions or not, and this package of bills will only serve to shine a light on the trouble with TVAAS.
With the ongoing, repeated TNReady failures, teachers across the state are ready to act to protect their students and their profession from the disruption of continued testing meltdowns.