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Tennessee's Race to Top: Focus on Data and Evaluation

Tennessee is among the select group of states that experts believe has a good shot at snagging some Race to the Top money in Round One of the federal competition for $4 billion in economic-stimulus grants.

For starters, Tennessee is one of the few states that has pledged to create evaluations that will make student achievement worth at least 50 percent of a teacher's annual rating. One caveat, however, is that only 35 percent will actually be based on growth in students' scores on standardized tests. The remaining 15 percent will be based on "other" measures of student performance that a still-to-be-convened task force will select.

Tennessee also has a big advantage over most of its rivals: an existing "value-added" data system that should give the state more than a head start on using data for making instructional decisions, evaluating teachers, and tracking how well teacher-preparation programs are performing.

It's important to note, however, that the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, (even in the repertoire of clunky education acronyms, that one's a doozy) has been around for close to two decades, but has not been widely used by teachers so far. In fact, just 14 percent of the state's teaching corps could directly access the data at the end of 2009. That, according to Tennessee's RTTT application, changed as of January, when 100 percent of the state's teachers received an account and password for the system. But teachers will have to wait until the 2010-2011 school year before training to use the data system is in full swing.

As part of its RTTT pitch, Tennessee is promising that all of the state's teacher preparation programs, whether traditional, university-based, or non-traditional like Teach for America, must train their candidates in how to use the data system. Teacher candidates will have to demonstrate that they can use the system before they can be licensed.

You can read Tennessee's entire Race to the Top application here. And for another take on how Tennessee's application stacks up, see this analysis from the Education Consumers Foundation.

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