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Haslam to review teacher evaluations
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Haslam announces review of teacher evaluations

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he has commissioned an outside review to help "separate the anecdotes from flaws" in Tennessee's new teacher evaluation system.

The Republican governor said in a news conference at the Capitol that he has asked for an education foundation launched by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist to conduct the review and to report recommendations back to the state next summer. The organization called the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, is led by former state Sen. Jamie Woodson, a Knoxville Republican.

"We understand the concern around evaluations, we really do get that," Haslam said. "We understand how important it is also, though, to make sure we get this right for Tennessee."

Haslam said he's not concerned that SCORE advocated more data-driven teacher evaluations and that Woodson played a key role in passing the legislation establishing the new system before she left office last summer.

"They have favored the evaluation system, and they have worked for it," Haslam said. "We want someone in favor. It's not a question of "Should we have it?' It's a question of: Is the one we have working well?"

Woodson said the organization will seek out a "wide range of voices," especially from educators.

"Our role will be to listen," Woodson said. "Over the next several months, we will gather feedback on the promising aspects of these new approaches as well as identity areas for improvement and produce a report back."

The new evaluation standards require half of teachers' assessments to come from testing data, and the other half from classroom observations. Some principals have complained that they don't have enough time to perform multiple evaluations of students, while many teachers have voiced concerns that their subjects are not covered by standardized tests.

Jerry Winters, the lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, said teachers need action now.

"Teachers and principals across the state are telling us that this has been the most frustrating and stressful school year they have ever experienced due to this evaluation system," he said. "We do not need an extensive study to determine the problems. We need solutions and teachers cannot wait six months for relief."

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the evaluation standards should be suspended until the problems can be worked out.

"The legislature rushed this evaluation process, and in many situations it has been to the detriment of Tennessee's teachers and students," he said in a statement. "I hope that the governor and the legislature agree that we need to delay the evaluations until a thorough bi-partisan review is complete."

But Haslam said he will discourage lawmakers from considering bills seeking to change evaluation standards in the upcoming legislative session because they would be "premature" while the study is being conducted.

"We think this is a good process that will improve the system," Haslam said. "We want to separate the anecdotes from flaws in the system."

The governor also pointed out that this year's evaluation standards won't count toward tenure decisions because of a new law expanding the probation period from three to five years.

Republican leaders were quick to stress that they don't consider the study to be a retreat from the standards established.

"I'm 100 percent on board with the governor on this, that we don't need to be backing up now," said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. "But we do need to be evaluating as we go along and make sure that we have a good product."

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, echoed Ramsey's comments.

"As legislators go out into their districts they hear positive responses, and they also hear some legitimate concerns," she said. "And as a legislative body we wanted an outlet for members to have to have those concerns addressed and listened to."