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Time to punt on TNReady

Johnson City Press • Aug 23, 2018 at 12:00 AM

While Gov. Bill Haslam probably will leave Tennessee’s education system better than he found it, his successor will inherit one huge quagmire: the mess Haslam’s administration and the Legislature made of Tennessee’s standardized testing program.

With five months to go in his tenure, the governor announced Tuesday that he would embark on a six-stop tour across Tennessee to garner input about how to improve the inaptly dubbed “TNReady” system.

Since TnReady reared its ugly head in the 2015, parents have yet to receive a set of reliable data about how their kids are performing in school as compared to those across the state and around the country.

The Associated Press quoted Haslam as saying he fears the state will take the “easy way out” and just stop working on TNReady.

Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

TNReady was supposed to be part of the state’s answer to critics who slammed our schools for lack of rigor and reliable comparisons to national data. Schools often were meeting the state’s own standards but not so much against the broader results. Our kids were way behind those in other states, and a makeover began to more closely align Tennessee’s curricula and tests with national benchmarks. Of course, politics took over, and the state’s lawmakers balked at an 18-state coalition’s common testing program.

And that begat TNReady, which has been anything but ready.

Tennessee tried to reinvent the wheel, and Haslam’s tour sounds like more of the same. As we stated in May, 49 other states are out there testing their kids, and surely one of them has a working model that Tennessee can adapt to meet our families’ needs.

Rather than asking teachers, parents and students how to fix TNReady, the governor would do better to ask them about how rote testing preparation affects personalized teaching and learning and how the state could free up teachers to truly reach students.

Now, we’re not saying Tennessee should not set standards or evaluate its teachers and students with high expectations. Every governor we’ve had since Lamar Alexander took office in 1979 — Haslam included – has helped inch Tennessee into higher standards.

Rigor and assessment are the only ways a state can ensure students’ needs are being met, but when testing drives the conversation, it becomes an end in itself.

Children lose in that equation. Manufactured widgets they are not.

It’s time for Tennessee to move past the politics of testing, rely on a path proven in other states and worry more about how students learn that what they can regurgitate. If we get that right, the tests will show it.

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