Tennessee's largest teachers' union is suing Gov. Bill Haslam and his commissioner of education over an evaluation tool it says penalizes good educators unfairly.
It's the second suit filed recently against the Knox County Board of Education on behalf of a teacher, but this one expands legal action to name top state officials as defendants. The plaintiff is Mark Taylor, a science teacher held up by Tennessee Education Association members as an example of why they believe a tool that scores teachers based on student learning gains doesn't work.
Taylor teaches high-school-level physical science to Farragut Middle School's brightest eighth-graders. But those students take the regular eighth-grade Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program science test, with questions unrelated to the advanced curriculum Taylor teaches. They still do well on the TCAP because they're smart, but their gains drop slightly from those earned in seventh grade.
As a result, Taylor misses out on a performance-based bonus.
His suit, filed Wednesday, includes an email exchange between his parents and former University of Tennessee professor William Sanders, who invented the learning gains measurement in the early 1980s. They used to be Sunday school classmates. In the exchange, Sanders says his tool wouldn't work in Taylor's case, and the students should be given an end-of-course exam — not the TCAP — to measure Taylor's effectiveness.
"Everyone admits it's completely unfair, but everyone admits they're not willing to do anything to fix it," Taylor told The Tennessean in February.
In the first suit, filed earlier this month, the TEA and alternative education teacher Lisa Trout said Knox County Schools unconstitutionally used Tennessee Value Added Assessment System data in bonus decisions — and Trout missed out after the district miscalculated her score.
Student learning gains make up 35 percent of evaluation scores. After supporting that system in 2010 when Tennessee applied for federal Race to the Top funds, TEA has flipped its support of tying learning gains to it.
Haslam's spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on pending legislation. In the past, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has criticized TEA for reversing itself on supporting the measure.
Expect more lawsuits on behalf of more teachers, the TEA warns.
Joey Garrison contributed to this report.