The key plank in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s education reform agenda cleared both House and Senate committees by near-unanimous votes Thursday in the special session called to strengthen Tennessee’s entry in President Obama’s Race to the Top  competition.
The legislation, which mandates the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, passed 12-0 in the Senate and 21-1 in the House on its way to anticipated final adoption in both chambers Friday.
"I'm positive it'll pass on the floor now," House Speaker Kent Williams said. "I'm extremely pleased. This vote was bipartisan. That's what I'm most proud of. It's something we think is going to be good for our schools and good for the children of Tennessee."
Bredesen assured passage by striking a compromise deal with the Tennessee Education Association, which represents 55,000 of the state’s teachers. Under the deal, 35 percent of each teacher’s evaluation would be based on tests that track students' progress over time. Another 15 percent could come from other data, such as end-of-course assessments or advanced placement scores.
Bredesen said the change is necessary to make Tennessee competitive in the Race to the Top competition. Tennessee is asking for $485 million from the Obama administration. The application deadline is Tuesday.
In the House Education Committee hearings, some legislators expressed concerns that teachers might leave the state rather than submit to test-based evaluations. They worry that the new accountability standards could force teachers to “teach to the test” — that is, restrict instruction to the subject matter that’s going to be tested, at the expense of all the other things students need to know.
Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, asked Tennessee Education Association President Earl Wiman, “As I race to the top, am I going to lose my soul in the process?”
“I certainly don’t want to lose my soul,” Wiman replied. “I truly think we can use this as an opportunity to do the right thing. I think we can use this as an opportunity to get it right. I think we can use it as an opportunity to address some of the core concerns teachers have around this core issue.”