Teachers union leader lauds calls to suspend testing consequences as positive first step

Johnson City Education Association President Joe Crabtree talks to the Johnson City Board of Education about funding concerns in a March file photo.

Local educators may be able to breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to state testing.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn called last week for the suspension of negative consequences for schools and teachers related to student assessment results for the 2020-21 school year.

“Given the unprecedented disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic and extended time away from the classroom has had on Tennessee’s students, my administration will work with the General Assembly to bring forward a solution for this school year that alleviates any burdens associated with educator evaluations and school accountability metrics,” Lee said in a Friday news release, adding that assessments will still be conducted as planned to “ensure an accurate picture” of how students are doing.

Joe Crabtree, a teacher and president of the Johnson City Education Association, said he welcomed the announcement.

Like many educators, Crabtree has been concerned that school closures and remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic could negatively impact test results.

He said standardized state TNReady exams, which state and local education union officials have long been critical of, can impact teacher evaluation scores, which can impact school funding, tenure and teacher pay.

Crabtree said he supports the governor’s calls to suspend testing consequences, but he thinks officials should take it a step further.

“The suspension of the 2019-2020 school year, and the constant changes that were being made during the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, have led to teachers going above and beyond to help ensure students do not fall through the cracks or are left behind,” he said.

“We strongly advocate for the hold-harmless efforts to be extended to all evaluation areas including observations and portfolios for non-tested levels.”

Crabtree said education officials are constantly “having to modify how schools operate on a daily basis” during the pandemic. He said the evaluation system simply isn’t designed for measuring school performance during these times.

“We have teachers who are teaching virtually. Some are teaching in-person. We also have some teachers who are teaching in-person and virtually at the same time,” he said.

“We call on the governor and lawmakers in Nashville to also suspend the evaluation system this academic year,” he added. “This would allow our administrators and teachers to better spend their time where it is needed most, with the students we are called to teach.”

Crabtree said valuable academic data should rather be collected at the local level.

“The TNReady testing takes much valuable time, multiple weeks, to administer. The time saved by not administering the test this year will give our teachers extra time needed to help get our students caught up to where they need to be,” he said.

“We will have the data at the local (level) necessary to know how our students and teachers are doing without the need for state standardized testing.”

Johnson City education officials also viewed the governor’s calls as a positive step but made no formal statement about suspending TNReady altogether as Crabtree mentioned.

“We are pleased and supportive of the announcement from Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn,” Johnson City Schools Director of Instruction and Communications Debra Bentley said on behalf of the district.

“We look forward to receiving the data from the state testing as we will use the results to continue to measure and gauge the effectiveness of our instruction programs.”

Washington County Schools officials could not be reached for comment.