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Johnson City school board: Rein in TNReady

Jessica Fuller • Jun 5, 2018 at 10:57 PM

The Johnson City school board sent a message to the Tennessee Department of Education at Monday night’s meeting with a resolution calling for improvements to the controversial TNReady test.

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Education passed a resolution with recommended changes to TNReady testing and scheduling. Superintendent Steve Barnett introduced the resolution to board members, citing several changes he said staff researched that would be best for the state to follow in state law.

Some changes included shrinking testing timing back from three weeks to one week for grades 3 through 8, pushing the writing assessment back to February to give the state more time to get grades in by the end of the school year, and drawing back on pre-K and kindergarten ELA assessments to be less time-consuming for teachers.

“What I’d like to do if the board approves this resolution is reach out to all the other school superintendents and talk to them about the resolution and get feedback from them,” Barnett said at the meeting. “I think we’d have some support.”

Since TNReady replaced the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program in 2015, it stretched testing to last for three weeks, and the switch sparked criticism amid issues with online testing, cyber attacks and incorrectly scored assessments that affected 70 schools in 33 districts last fall.

Despite the criticism, some reports have shown improving academic standards for the state in the past nine years.

The decision garnered support from the community, including a statement from the Johnson City Education Association applauding board members for their decision to pass the requirements.

“Tonight, the members of the Johnson City School Board took a huge step taking a stand against the TNReady testing issues that continue to plague these assessments,” the organization posted to their Facebook page. “Specifically, they are taking a stand against the THREE WEEKS of testing that took place this year resulting in almost a month of lost instruction time.”

Director of Accountability and School Improvement Robbie Anderson highlighted another issue that plagued Johnson City pre-K and kindergarten teachers this year.

Per the state’s request, 10 percent of the district’s pre-K and kindergarten population were required to complete portfolios this year. Anderson said that the state estimated those assessments would take about 15 to 17 hours, but some teachers reported spending as many as 44 hours on the project, most of that time being spent in the English Language Arts component of the assessment.

She added that portfolio assessment is considered an appropriate avenue to track student learning in those early grades, and the portfolios can be completed with video or audio taping or with written assessment.

“I don’t think anybody has anything against the concept of portfolios for pre-K (and kindergarten),” she said. “Though the piloting process went fairly well, it ended up morphing into a process this past year that I think was just very complicated and very unwieldy.

Board member Kathy Hall questioned whether it was a good idea to assess children that young, especially since there aren’t similar assessments for first- and second-grade students. Anderson said the process is not only for assessing student learning, but a tool for measuring teacher effectiveness.

Hall added that the process also takes effective teachers out of the classroom for however long it takes to complete the assessments.

“Are we helping students by assessing pre-K and kindergarten students?” Hall asked. “Is that what’s best for the students? And if we truly think that makes better teachers, then in the long run I can accept that, it just seems awfully young to be doing this kind of assessment.”

“It seems like the amount of hours to do this does not match with the benefit,” Jonathan Kinnick added. “I may be wrong, but it just seems like an excessive amount of time and it seems like there would be a more efficient way to do something.”

The board passed the resolution in a unanimous vote, and will present the recommendations to other districts for feedback.

 

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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