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Tennessee Moves to Tie Teacher Licensing to Performance

In a few years, Tennessee teachers won't be able to renew their licenses unless they meet a minimum performance standard, according to new rules approved today by the state Board of Education.

The change means that students' standardized test scores will count toward recertification for a subset of teachers—putting yet more stakes on the exams, which are already used in part for school accountability; teacher evaluation, tenure-granting, and pay; and teacher-preparation report cards.

It appears to be among the first instances of a state linking student scores to licensure. (Most states require an advanced degree or completion of a certain number of coursework credits or professional-development hours.)

Board members were divided about the move, and the final 6-3 vote delays implementation of the rules from 2014 to 2015. (The draft rules listed 2014 as the year of implementation.)

The new rules would eliminate several types of licenses and replace them with two types.

A Practitioner license would be granted for three years to teachers that have bachelor's degrees, have passed tests, and are recommended by a state-approved preparation program. It would be renewable only once. Within a three-year period, a teacher would have to fulfill the requirements for a Professional license.

A Professional license would be granted to teachers who score at least a 2 out of 5 on a state-approved teacher evaluation system for two of the previous three years. Where applicable, they'd also have to achieve a 2 on the student-growth portion of the evaluation during that time period. Teachers renewing their licenses would also have to meet this bar every six years. If they didn't pass, they would have just one year to pull up their score or face nonrenewal.

There are a few things worth noting about this move. For one, a 2 is the second-lowest of the five evaluation categories in Tennessee, and the state estimates that in a given year, a great majority of the teachers up for licensure advancement or renewal—95 percent—would satisfy the conditions.

On the other hand, a minority of Tennessee teachers instruct in the tested grades and can be linked to student-growth scores. This means, as the Tennessee Education Report points out, they potentially face a higher bar to cross than their colleagues who teach music, arts, or history and don't have that data.

The Tennessee Education Association strongly opposed the move, protesting at hearings and forums held earlier this week.

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