Metro Nashville Public Schools officials are opting to use poor teacher evaluations for the first time this year to help justify firings, but members of the school board expressed little concern about the new expected practice.
Instead, the members appeared more concerned with aspects not under their control, such as the formula for grading certain teachers and the board’s statutory role in processing dismissals, which are dictated by state law.
The board met Tuesday to review the 16-step process the district plans to use when firing teachers.
The discussion came after members were confused at a board meeting two weeks ago  that included a vote to advance the dismissal of an East Nashville teacher accused of texting in the classroom, using a demeaning tone with students and repeatedly scoring low on teacher evaluations. On a tie vote, the board ultimately decided not to pursue dismissing the teacher.
Last school year, 195 teachers — about 3.2 percent of MNPS’ educators — earned the lowest score possible on their teacher evaluation, which measures them on a scale of “one” for the lowest scores to a high score of “five.”
Dr. Jesse Register, MNPS’ director of schools, told board members in an email  this month around 60 teachers are expected to score a “one” for the second year in a row and could face dismissal.
The workshop was meant to be a primer for school board members to understand the process for dismissing teachers, but the presentation turned into an opportunity for the board to question whether the district should change the evaluation system it uses or whether it should have power in the first place to disrupt teacher dismissals deemed worthy by the district superintendent — both decisions which are governed by state law.
Any time a principal wishes to dismiss a teacher, the district goes through steps that include running the reasons by the district’s legal staff, a statutorily required decision by the school board to sign off on moving forward on the dismissal process, give the teacher access to an impartial hearing then circle back with the board for a final decision to let the teacher go.
“The statue has forced us into this strange position. This is a very district-level decision,” said Amy Frogge, a board member who said she’d like to see the state legislature change the law that requires the board to sign off on moving forward with a dismissal. “To me it’s a pointless step.”
While the district is poised for the first time to review two years of teachers’ evaluation data to determine whether to dismiss a low-rated teacher, as permitted by law, Register said any decision to fire a teacher will be taken carefully.
“When I look at it, there is no automatic,” said Register. “Teacher dismissals are not taken lightly ... Just because you have a 'one,' that does not mean you’ll be dismissed.”
In the future, Board Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes said she’d like the board to wipe the names of teachers up for dismissal off the board agenda when it comes before the board for initial approval to move forward. District legal officials said they needed to examine whether they can legally do that.
Members also criticized the teacher evaluation process adopted by MNPS called the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model. The formula requires half of a teacher’s evaluation to come from observations and the other half from metrics like student performance and growth. Most teachers whose students are not tested by standardized test have more of their evaluation based on in-class observations, but have more than a third measured by student data they have little direct control over.
The evaluation process was set by the state of Tennessee, but districts can opt to use other methods that factor in student test data. While some members expressed interest in switching to a new system, Register argued a switch would waste the millions of dollars in time and training the district has already invested in the current model.