By Steve Hunley
Governor Bill Haslam’s decision to go on a “listening tour” to hear the thoughts of professional educators seems a bit too little, too late. In less than five months’ time, Tennessee will have a new governor and almost surely a new Commissioner of Education, as well as a new legislature. Governor Haslam embarking on a listening tour at this point seems to be less a way to fix a program that has never worked, than a bid to keep TNReady in place. I’ll call it the Lazarus Tour to revive the dead.
In fact, the failure of the TNReady program to launch was one of the biggest embarrassments of the Haslam administration. For those who talk about “gains” under TNReady, there is a fact which seems to be lost in the shuffle during the conversation; merely assessing that data favorable to both teachers and students is worse than none at all. Any person with any common sense will realize accepting skewed data is foolish. It does not provide anything even resembling accurate information. Nor does it provide any real basis to adequately evaluate how good a job teachers are doing in the classroom in teaching our kids.
Davidson County school officials point out students fared better on the paper version of TNReady than the online version; school officials in Nashville claim the problems with the online testing, which have been persistent, account for the difference in student scores. “We saw very different district results between the Value Added (growth) scores based upon the paper-and-pencil administered TNReady tests in grades 3-8 and the online administration of high school End of Course (year-end) exams.” That statement came from Paul Changas, executive director of Davidson County’s research and evaluation division. It is an interesting difference.
The truth is, since 2015, neither school districts or parents have had any reliable data to determine precisely how their children are faring as it relates to learning. Haslam now clearly realizes the problem and is worried Tennessee legislators may simply opt to ditch TNReady. That doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to me. It’s not like the state hasn’t had plenty of time to fix the glitches over three years, as well as spending tens of millions of dollars annually of taxpayer dollars. Perhaps the conversation in assessing TNReady would be better for all concerned if the governor started at a different point; that point being how much better off would we be if teachers were merely able to teach.
Both state and federal law require annual testing, but there will also be a new legislature come January and perhaps it is time for the Tennessee General Assembly to take a serious look at scrapping the current law and introducing something more simple. There’s an interesting concept: simplicity. We ought to keep in mind something all too often missing from government programs: simplicity works best. Even resorting to a pencil-and-paper test should be an option for the entire state.
Holding on to an idea that has never worked is foolish and detrimental and clearly it’s past time to start looking for other options.
TNReady was never ready.