Just last month, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candance McQueen announced she will once again reconvene her 31-member task force to work on improving TNReady, but state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said he’s over the task force’s recommendations.
During a meeting with the Johnson City Board of Education last week, Hill indicated he would file a bill this upcoming session making the ACT the only standard for high school teacher and student evaluations, as long as no other lawmaker has already filed similar legislation.
Currently, all high school students are required to take either the ACT or SAT to graduate, but their performance is measured through end-of-course TNReady tests.
“We have nine courses at the high school that we have to give an end-of-course (test) in, and our teachers are being told to ride two horses, in effect,” Dr. David Timbs, Johnson City Schools’ supervisor of secondary and instructional technology, told local legislators.
“ACT translates into dollars. It translates into AP scores and it translates into dual enrollment. There is just so much frustration at the high school from teachers who want to keep their eye on the ACT, but they’re being told, ‘You’ve got to keep your eye on this end-of-course test because this is tied to your evaluation (and) tied to your license.’ ”
Tennessee’s high school students are currently required to take TNReady exams in English I, II and III; algebra I and II and geometry; biology and chemistry; and U.S. history.
All those tests are taken in addition to final exams, and then students in eighth, 10th and 11th grades are also working on the required ACT testing components.
According to the state’s website, TNReady is a component of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, and the test is designed to assess a student’s true understanding of a subject, not just basic memorization and test-taking skills.
With testing underway at Science Hill, Timbs said student activity has slowly ground to a halt due to the rigorous testing requirements.
“We’ve had to hit pause button at Science Hill for the last three weeks because we’re doing testing. The entire building had droned to a very slow halt,” Timbs said. “The ACT is just one day and students have multiple times to take it.”
With several other states already relying on the ACT, including South Carolina, Timbs said the ACT would meet all federal standards required by the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Johnson City Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett and school board member Kathy Hall said they would try to get the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and Tennessee School Board Association, respectively, to support the bill.
“There may be a superintendent out there that’s not for that. I don’t know them, though,” Barnett said.
Frustration has mounted over TNReady since the 2015-16 school year when the spring test could not be administered online. State officials turned to ordering paper copies, but the testing vendor couldn’t deliver the hard copies on time, which resulted in the cancellation of testing for grades 3-8.
After firing its vendor and selecting a new one, another fluke occurred last year when 9,400 of the state’s 1.9 million TNReady assessments were scored incorrectly.
“This has been ridiculous,” Hill said. “We’ve spent tens and tens and tens of millions of people’s tax dollars, and then the last several years, we’ve made the teachers and students go through all this testing mess. Then at the end, we’re like, ‘Oh, just kidding. It doesn’t count,’ because we couldn’t get the results back or it wasn’t scored properly.”
If he decides to sponsor the legislation, Hill said he would have to file the bill no later than the end of January. State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, expressed some interest in possibly sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.