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Story published: 09-25-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Roe responds to question about state-mandated growth scores for teachers

Editor’s note: Directly following the town hall meeting at the Johnson County Crewette building on Thursday, September 5, 2013, Congressman Phil Roe sat down with Tomahawk staff for an interview. The interview is being published verbatim in three parts.

Today’s question, part three, is from Lacy Hilliard, The Tomahawk’s Creative Content Manager.

Lacy Hilliard: “My question is about education. I’m a mother, and I’m becoming increasingly concerned about my daughter’s education in the public school system, and here’s one of the reasons. Recently, legislation was introduced that would tie teachers’ state-mandated evaluation growth scores to whether or not they will be eligible for renewal of their teaching license. To give a local face to this problem, Mike Taylor, a beloved sixth grade teacher at Mountain City Elementary School and last year’s teacher of the year, could quite possibly be one of the teachers affected should this legislation become mandated. Though he received an overall evaluation score of four point eight out of five, his growth score in Social Studies was just a one. In consulting with Mr. Taylor and other educators about this problem, they gave me some insight as to how otherwise effective teachers could be cast out under this new system. In grades such as fifth and sixth, there is little room for growth, as is recognized in state-mandated tests. Upper-level elementary school grades are more about review and middle school and high school preparedness, leaving little room for clear-cut growth as is dictated by standardized test scores. So my question is: do you feel that the increasing amount of importance placed on standardized testing is beneficial to Tennessee’s education system, and would you support legislation that would correlate standardized testing scores to whether or not a teacher is eligible for the renewal of their teaching license?”

Congressman Roe: “I’m on the education workforce committee in Washington, as you know, and obviously this push to improve the standards to improve the performance of our students is a good thing. If we look at our metrics, how we’re compared worldwide, I’m not sure who is being compared with what; but last year I had a chance to go to Korea, to China, and to India and look at their school systems there. They asked us questions, because we have some things here that people don’t realize the successes of. They have incredibly long schooldays there. And I mean, these kids will go eight, nine hours, and then they’ll take a break and they’ll get a tutor two or three hours and study again after that. So it’s incredibly complex. You have three days to take your exams. If you flunk those exams or you’re sick that day, you don’t get to go to university. So you’ve missed your entire life. I mean, it’s just gone. You’ve got 1.4 billion people, boom, you’re done, you wasted your time. So parents spend an enormous amount of time because it is so competitive, but it’s a lot of rote memory. We in this country have maybe not done that, but we’ve been able to invent the chip and we’ve got the phones and the PDAs and the computers and all the technology and medicine and things we’ve done in this country because I would say more inventive type system. Here’s the ballpark you play in. Play in it where you want to. I worry about standardized tests. For one thing, are you learning anything, or are you just being tested? I don’t get a say in state legislature about what they do with this, and I don’t mind having advancement be one part but it can’t be all of it. I mean, it’s much more complicated than that.”

Hilliard: “Well, the way he explained it is he’s a sixth grade teacher, and he had a fifth grade student who pretty much copped out on the testing, and several students actually that scored very high on the tests in the previous year. So there was no room for growth because they already scored so high.”

Congressman Roe: “That can’t happen. I mean, that’s the sort of thing where you’ve Forrest Gumped that. That’s a metric where you’ve got high-performing kids. Where do you go? If you’re the teacher and it’s already there, there’s no room for growth, like you said. Now that’s silly, and that’s got to be changed. I think the state understands that. I think that was a mistake they made, and I’m not going to speak for the governor, but I will speak for me and that needs to be changed.”

“By the way, yesterday, before I finish, I probably spent an hour, hour and a half with parents and teachers about common core. Again, this was more of a state issue but let me explain how we’re culpable. What the federal government does is they say to the State of Tennessee ‘Okay, we’re not going to mandate you do this stuff. You make your own mind up.’ There’s always a but. You don’t get any money if you do that. You get the 500,000,000 if you jump around through every little hoop we want you to. It’s always the danger of taking the money. Basically, that’s what’s happened in Tennessee.”

“I don’t know the answer, and yesterday was very enlightening to me. I mean, just sitting there as a parent and listening to those teachers and to the parents. With the new common core, the parents can’t help. The way they’re teaching them now, even the parents can’t help. Well, one of the mothers said, “I’m frustrat’d because I can’t even help my child do homework any more, because of how they’re being taught.” Will that be better? I don’t know. But one of the things I have learned, and remember, I had lunch with the Secretary of Education about a month ago, there’s this push, because of failing students, to push education down earlier and earlier. Now we have to go pre-K. Well, Vanderbilt just showed in a very intensive study they did you lose every bit of that by the end of the first grade. We also know that if a child can’t read on grade by the fourth grade, they’re doomed to fail. So why don’t we take that money that you’re going to think about spending on pre-K and spend it on K through four to beef that up so that those kids learn how to read. I can tell you, I got through calculus in college. I’m not going to say I enjoyed it, but I got through it.”

“…month, they’re not a month off. We’ve got a school in Johnson City, and I bet this is not unique, where 80 percent of the kids that start in K don’t finish the fourth grade. They’ve moved. So, where you are here in Mountain City you’ll see a lot less movement. These are families that are not very well off financially, and maybe they lost their apartment, and now they live in a church for a week, and now they’re at a different school. That does make some sense to me. I got that. We have in America 2,000 schools out of the 96,000 public schools that are in the United States that make up 50 percent of the dropouts. Two percent make up 50. My problem with what we’re doing is that we’re making everybody jump through this hoop, where maybe we need to focus on the problem.

Hilliard: “I think that education in general is at the core of almost every problem. “

Congressman Roe: “Totally agree.”