TEA Joins Call to #CancelTNReady

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has joined district leaders and others from across the state in calling on Tennessee to cancel the 2020-21 administration of TNReady testing and the teacher evaluation tied to those tests in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s more from a press release:

District leaders, educators and parents are grappling with what the 2020-2021 school year will look like for Tennessee students. TEA’s priority is always the health, safety and welfare of students and educators. There are other critical issues TEA is working on as plans to resume school are finalized.

TEA calls for a moratorium on state mandated testing for the 2020-2021 school year. 

“In a normal year, TNReady is a deeply flawed measure of academic achievement and teacher performance,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “Educators and students already face many new challenges and additional stress in the coming year, it would be unfair and inappropriate to put them through the state’s high-stakes summative testing system. Moreover, because of the wide disruption in instruction there will be no validity or reliability in TNReady data.”    

Teachers already measure student progress through grading assignments and teacher-created tests that are valid as any accountability system. Many Tennessee teachers also use state approved benchmark assessments that provide important data to inform instruction and gauge student needs.   

“Assessments, both benchmark and those created by teachers, are valuable tools because they are designed or chosen by education professionals closest to the classroom,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, that is not what we have with TNReady. Additionally, the millions allocated for state testing could be better spent implementing safety measures and increasing the number of school nurses.”

TEA calls for a suspension of the teacher evaluation system for the 2020-2021 school year. 

With the possibility of some students learning in-person, some online and others in a hybrid format, there is no way to effectively implement the TEAM rubric or other teacher evaluation models. There is not a single teacher evaluation model approved by the State Board of Education that is valid and reliable in this educational environment. Tennessee teachers need support, encouragement and flexibility as we navigate teaching in a pandemic.

TEA members and staff are advocating at the local level to ensure class size, duty free lunch and planning time mandates are upheld and not included in local waiver requests to the state. 

Enforcing social distancing, proper hygiene, and wearing masks where appropriate and possible will be essential in preventing the spread of the coronavirus in school buildings. All these important steps will already be a tremendous challenge with existing class sizes. We cannot keep students and educators safe while also increasing class sizes.

Regardless of the learning model adopted by a district, educators will inevitably have increased workloads. Planning for virtual learning or a combination of in-person and online instruction will require additional planning time and resources. Educators are already being asked to do more with less. They should not be asked to give up their right to necessary planning time and the ability to eat lunch. 

“I understand this is an incredibly challenging time and district leaders must make some difficult decisions as we draw closer to the start of a new school year. On behalf of Tennessee’s hardworking educators, TEA is imploring district and state leaders to prioritize the health and wellbeing of students and educators, and their teaching and learning environment,” Brown said.

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#CancelTNReady

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, calls are rising for the State of Tennessee to cancel the annual student assessment known as TNReady. If followed, this would be the second consecutive year the test did not happen. TNReady has a troubled history, with three testing vendors over five years and a slew of problems.

Here’s more on the latest debate from Chalkbeat:

Tennessee’s simmering debate over standardized testing is heating up during the pandemic as key education groups clash over whether the state should remove the burden of testing from school communities for a second straight year.

Groups began lining up both for and against testing after Superintendent Joris Ray, who leads the state’s largest district in Memphis, announced Monday that he will petition Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn to take steps to drop the annual assessment known as TNReady in 2020-21

In addition to Ray, the Tennessee Education Association has expressed support for suspending the test in the coming year.

Meanwhile, pro-testing lobby group SCORE continues to push a narrative that says the failed test is a necessary tool:

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Testing, Texas Style

Dale Chu reports that Tennessee is taking a Texas-like approach when it comes to testing in the age of COVID-19. Here’s more:

Last month, Texas made assessment headlines when they offered optional, end-of-year assessments to districts and families free of charge in response to the cancellation of spring testing and the anticipated drag on student performance caused by the pandemic. Not to be outdone, Tennessee just made a similar announcement, albeit aimed at schools and districts rather than individual students and families, that includes three options: a beginning of year readiness test, an item bank for the creation of customized tests, and a full length mock assessment.

Testing-1-2-3 readers may recall that Tennessee has earned some notoriety in recent years for playing a particularly vigorous game of musical chairs vis-a-vis their state assessment, with Pearson being the state’s third testing vendor in a five year period. The tumult in the Volunteer State means that Penny Schwinn, the state’s newish education commissioner, has her work cut out in trying to re-establish the assessment system’s credibility; making these resources available free-of-charge could help to broker some good will.

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Pearson Wants ALL the Money

Following the maxim to never let a crisis go to waste, Pearson (the company that turns education into cash through testing and online learning “solutions”), is now marketing its Tennessee Connections Academy even as the COVID-19 outbreak has ended school for this year and thrown the 2020-21 school year into uncertainty.

Here is a mailer that landed in the mailboxes of public school parents recently:

Because Pearson’s Connections Academy is an online public school, they receive state dollars to operate.

Pearson has a long history of swooping into Tennessee to “solve” problems. Last summer, the company signed a two-year, $40 million contract to rescue the state’s TNReady test. Of course, the 2020 test wasn’t administered due to COVID-19, but there’s talk of using Pearson for benchmark testing when students return to school for the next school year.

Pearson also jumped in to bail-out the state back in 2016 when original TNReady vendor Measurement, Inc. failed to get the job done:

Jason Gonzalez at the Tennessean notes:

The Tennessee Department of Education has contracted with its previous test vendor Pearson Education in an emergency maneuver to score TNReady high school tests.

The contract with Pearson is only for scoring and reporting of 2015-2016 assessments, according to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen in a letter Monday to school directors statewide.

Pearson was paid $18.5 million for these “emergency” services.

Pearson wants to run the schools, administer the tests, and provide the materials. They want just one more thing: ALL the money.

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Not Likely to End Well

Former Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman notes that in light of the coronavirus pandemic, American schools are moving online and to homeschooling in a patchwork experiment that is “not likely to end well.” His article, in the Washington Post, follows a note from Donald Cohen about the inherent value of public schools. It also highlights what will be important challenges going forward.


As the coronavirus pandemic closes schools, in some cases until September, American children this month met their new English, math, science and homeroom teachers: their iPads and their parents. Classes are going online, if they exist at all. The United States is embarking on a massive, months-long virtual-pedagogy experiment, and it is not likely to end well. Years of research shows that online schooling is ineffective — and that students suffer significant learning losses when they have a long break from school. Now they’re getting both, in a hastily arranged mess. And the kids who suffer most from the “summer slide” are the low-income students, the ones already struggling to keep up.


First, research shows that even with great planning, a willing audience and lots of effort from teachers well-schooled in distance learning, results for K-12 students are lackluster. The author of one study of virtual charter schools (which have more online offerings and thus more to study than public institutions) noted that “challenges in maintaining student engagement are inherent in online instruction,” in part because of the limited student-teacher contact time. “Years of evidence [is] accumulating about how poorly these schools are performing,” the author of one multiparty report held in 2016. That report concluded, “Full-time virtual schools are not a good fit for many children.”


Finally, since states are losing standardized testing this spring, they’ll need to administer tests at the start of the next school year to see what students know after the crisis. Assessments should be informative and not used to measure or rate schools or teachers. Without this, it will be impossible to know the extent of the challenge and where resources should be deployed to deal with it.

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Trump vs. TNReady

While the Tennessee General Assembly voted to give Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn broad powers to waive TNReady testing, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made clear that standardized testing will not be required this year in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. More from Chalkbeat:


Schools will not have to administer federally required tests this year, President Trump and the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday — an unprecedented but unsurprising move in the wake of widespread school closures due to the new coronavirus. 


“Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.”


The education department said that, “upon proper request,” it would grant a waiver to any state not able to assess students because schools are closed due to concerns about the new coronavirus. The department directed states to fill out a “streamlined” application form on its website.

To be clear, the legislation passed in Tennessee allows local school districts to request waivers from TNReady. They may also administer the tests if they so choose, though so far, no district has openly suggested they plan to administer the tests.

In fact, Hamilton County Schools are closed through April 13th and Montgomery County announced closure through May 1st. Both of those dates make TNReady testing virtually impossible. At the least, they’d render any test results of little to no value.

Is your district planning to use TNReady this year? Let TNEdReport know!

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RESOLVED: End TNReady

While reports indicate Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn has asked the US Department of Education for a waiver to TNReady testing requirements, the Columbia Daily Herald reports state Rep. Scott Cepicky is pushing for action on the issue.


State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Columbia, called on Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Education on Monday to end the state’s annual standardized testing cycle.


“These are perilous times,” Cepikcy said in the letter. “Tennessee has unique circumstances as a result of devastating tornadoes and COVID-19. We cannot be certain that our state will not require additional school closings during the entire testing widow. However, Tennessee can’t administer assessments that are reliable and valid during this academic year.”

The federal Department of Education has issued guidance suggesting they will grant such waiver requests:


Guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education says it will consider waiving requirements for state-wide tests, currently mandated in grades 3-8 and once in high school. State testing occurs throughout the spring, and some school closures were already running into planned testing windows.  

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Penny on TNReady and COVID-19

Here’s a letter Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn sent to Directors of Schools regarding Coronavirus, testing, and school attendance/school closures. In short, she’s not going to make any decisions or take any leadership role.

Schwinn does not seem ready to ask the legislature to waive the tests or to recommend closing schools or to advocate for any emergency measures. This insistence on continuing to test comes despite federal guidance suggesting that states could very well receive waivers from testing mandates:


Guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education says it will consider waiving requirements for state-wide tests, currently mandated in grades 3-8 and once in high school. State testing occurs throughout the spring, and some school closures were already running into planned testing windows.  

So, we could have a Commissioner asking for a waiver. And, we could be taking steps to close schools or waive the 180 day attendance requirement. We’re just … not.

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Coronavirus and TNReady

Is it time to cancel TNReady testing in light of concerns over COVID-19? The federal government seems to at least allow for states to make this call, according to a story in Chalkbeat.


States might be able to scrap their required annual tests for closed schools, the federal education department said Thursday, as concerns about the coronavirus swept the country


Guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education says it will consider waiving requirements for state-wide tests, currently mandated in grades 3-8 and once in high school. State testing occurs throughout the spring, and some school closures were already running into planned testing windows.  

Not only could this be a relief for Directors of Schools facing a tough call, it could alleviate the strain of what has so far been a failed TNReady testing experiment.

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Testing, Vouchers No Recipe for Success in Schools

Dr. Bill Smith of Johnson City writes about the reality of current education policy in his latest piece for the Johnson City Press.


In the 40 years since Anyon’s article was published, accountability measures have standardized public school curricula, and testing pressures have kept teachers from deviating from these standards. Although there has been some effort in recent years to include higher-level learning expectations in mandated curricula, the inherent limitations of standardized testing make it unlikely that many of today’s classrooms — even in the most well-funded schools — can provide the rich, engaging learning experiences children had in the affluent professional and executive elite schools Anyon studied.


However, as Nikhil Goyal wrote in 2016, it’s noteworthy that most of our politicians have enrolled their children “in schools outside the wrath of their own education policies.” Austere budgets and high stakes testing measures that narrow the curriculum and diminish the joy of learning are good enough for our children, but not for theirs.


That’s worth remembering whenever you hear politicians yammering about how they’re going to eliminate the achievement gap with $7,000 vouchers and more incentives to raise test scores.

Smith makes the point that what our leaders have not done so far is actually meaningfully increase investment in schools. Neither a more intense focus on testing nor the offering of vouchers will actually move the needle when it comes to student outcomes.

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