TNReady listening tour makes stop in Middle Tennessee
Educators from Middle Tennessee met with Gov. Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to discuss the difficulties of TNReady testing last week.
The gathering was held at Freedom Middle School in Franklin and included educators from Nashville, the Franklin Special School District and Dickson, Maury, Hickman, Marshall, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson counties. The participants were nominated by their superintendents.
A group of visitors were also in attendance which included House Speaker Beth Harwell, Republican Sens. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, Jack Johnson of Franklin and Mark Pody of Lebanon, and Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna. The visitors were not permitted to engage in the discussion.
During the meeting, educators discussed access to technology and the online portion of the test, with half of the educators in attendance stating they would rather see paper-and-pencil versions of the exam.
All present during the meeting emphasized the need for both students and educators to approach the end-of-year examinations seriously and for the state to build trust with educators, parents and students.
The TNReady listening tour includes six stops statewide for district teachers and administrators, as well as school technology and assessment coordinators, to hold a dialogue on the recent issues with the annual standardized examination of the state’s students.
The first meeting at Halls Elementary School in Knoxville was met with criticism by a local school board member for being scheduled on a Friday afternoon. Haslam told journalists there that the timing wasn’t intended as a way to shut teachers out.
A report from the tour will be released by the department at the end of the month.
The information will be used in the state’s search for a new testing vendor. Bids for the contract are expected to go out in October. For the coming testing season, the state will remain with its current vendor, Questar.
In August, the board for Maury County Public Schools voted 10-1 to send a letter calling for the halt of TNReady testing.
The letter, penned by Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Marczak, asks the state to end TNReady testing, requests schools be held harmless in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVASS) and calls for the ACT to be made the standardized testing tool for high school juniors and seniors by the year 2020.
Marczak previously said the changes would allow students to spend their careers preparing for the betterment of their future and complement the district’s “Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness.” Launched in January 2016, the “Keys” initiative is intended to implement the community’s expectations for its students, collected in the months prior, into a measurable goal and standard.
The superintendent called the vote an answer to an ongoing rally cry in Maury County. The Maury County Education Association, which represents more than 450 local educators and employees in the school district of 12,800 students, supports the board’s decision.
In the past three years, the annual examinations for students in grades 3 through 12 have experienced major issues. The problems have resulted in a shutdown of testing and state legislators making last-minute deals to ensure the tests will not be held against students, teachers and public school districts.
In April, state education officials said they believed there was “a deliberate attack” on the TNReady testing system, halting the initial day of testing. In June, the state revealed that the issue instead originated with an unauthorized change made by the state’s vendor to its systems. The state also decided it would pay $2.5 million less to Questar, which holds a $30 million, two-year contract with the state. Despite the issues, both McQueen and Haslam have committed to the testing process.
Following deliberations, the Tennessee General Assembly decided that it will ensure students, teachers and districts are held harmless for this year’s TNReady results.
Despite the testing issues, the Tennessee Education Association says students are improving, with more graduating on time and prepared to attend college and enter the workplace.
In 2016, the state’s former testing vendor, Measurement Inc., experienced severe statewide problems resulting in its cancellation.
Responding to a similar protest from Shelby County Schools Director Dorsey Hopson and Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Shawn Joseph, McQueen said standardized testing was a state and federal requirement, following an ongoing stance to continue moving forward with the examinations.
“Statewide assessment is the critical backbone to ensuring we are all accountable for the success of every single student in our state,” she said.
According to the Associated Press, the state has already begun to take steps to prevent some of the same issues with testing this school year. One of the biggest changes is that only high school students in grades 9-12 and those taking science — which is in a field-testing, non-punitive stage — will take their assessments online.[Read more at The Daily Herald]