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Tennessee Education Association Sues Knox County Schools Over Bonus Plan

We reported in December that teachers in Knox County Schools aren't happy with the district's implementation of the state-mandated evaluations that are tied to test scores, and now the other shoe has dropped: The Tennessee Education Association is suing KCS.

As detailed in the press release below, TEA's suit is tied to one teacher in an alternative school, Lisa Trout, being denied a bonus because of the way the overall estimate of her students' test scores was calculated.

Association Defends Rights of Teacher Unfairly Denied Bonus
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee Education Association recently filed a lawsuit against the Knox County Board of Education for its unconstitutional use of Tennessee Value Added Assessment System estimates in high-stakes bonus decisions.

"Unfortunately, one of our concerns with the high-stakes use of TVAAS estimates has come to fruition," said Gera Summerford, TEA president. "It is unacceptable for any teacher to be punished financially or otherwise as a result of unreliable, flawed statistical estimates that can vary years after a student was in that teacher's classroom."

Knox County teacher Lisa Trout was unfairly denied the district's APEX bonus after being misled about how her TVAAS estimate would be calculated.

"After being told she would receive the system-wide TVAAS estimate because of her position in an alternative school, a guidance counselor incorrectly claimed 10 of Ms. Trout's students for her TVAAS score without her knowledge," said Richard Colbert, TEA general counsel. "As a result, Ms. Trout ultimately received a lower TVAAS estimate than she should have and was denied the APEX bonus she had earned."

TEA's lawsuit also contests the arbitrariness of TVAAS estimates that use test results of only a small segment of a teacher's students to estimate her overall effectiveness.

"Ms. Trout's situation illustrates the fundamental problem with using statistical estimates for high-stakes decisions that affect teacher pay," Colbert said. "Her case raises great concerns over the constitutionality of such practices."

TEA expects this to be the first of many TVAAS lawsuits across the state as more and more high-stakes decisions are tied to standardized test scores and TVAAS estimates based on those scores.

So far, KCS isn't commenting on the suit. Spokesperson Melissa Ogden says in an email, "As a matter of practice, we do not discuss litigation. I apologize I cannot be more helpful here." 

Presumably this means the board also won't comment on the lawsuit in its mid-month work session tonight. However, one thing it will be talking about is cuts to the budget, including increasing class size, discontinuing automatic pay raises for advanced degrees, ditching Project GRAD, and getting rid of fee waivers for field trips. (You can read all the suggestions on page 10 of this PowerPoint presentation scheduled to be given tonight.) 

These suggestions for cuts are all coming from the Parthenon Group  -- which, as you may recall, the district was given a giant grant from the Gates Foundation to pay for -- and it's possible none of them will be acted on. However, it should make for an interesting meeting. You can watch it live here at 5 p.m.

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