The board governing Tennessee’s largest school district is asking state legislators to rely less on the standardized test known as TNReady, which has endured a tumultuous online rollout since 2016.
The school board’s annual wish list for state lawmakers dampens stronger language the Shelby County Schools board had proposed last week to “eliminate” the state’s “use and reliance” on the test.
Instead, the Memphis board wants state lawmakers to require the Tennessee Department of Education “to use multiple and/or alternative methods of accountability beyond TNReady that more accurately and reliably assess” student knowledge of state academic standards.
“Much of the trouble with state testing “was around the implementation, not necessarily the tool itself,” said board member Kevin Woods. Board members are scheduled to make their annual presentation to Memphis area lawmakers later this month.
TNReady is the state’s high stakes test that measures student academic performance, starting with third-graders. High schoolers take the online version. In the past, TNReady results have determined teacher raises and evaluations, employment, or whether to place low-performing schools in the state-run Achievement School District. But last year lawmakers temporarily barred using TNReady results for making those decisions after technical glitches interrupted testing for thousands of students.
Leaders in the state’s education department have said that despite the repeated technical difficulties, the test itself is still reliable and a good measure of student progress. In recent years, the state has overhauled requirements for student learning to make them more rigorous. Raising the bar is something the state and Shelby County Schools’ leader Dorsey Hopson agree on — even though Hopson said he had “no confidence” in the online testing system.
Testing students is essential for measuring student progress, said Deidra Brooks, the chief of staff for Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy organization. She urged the board to specify an alternative “that would provide parents with an equitable and transparent way for parents to see how their students are doing.”
The board’s legislative agenda noted a previous bill that failed last year would have allowed districts to use the college admissions test ACT instead of TNReady for high school students. The bill also would have limited the time and number of tests students take during the school year.
Also included in the school board’s legislative agenda was the Memphis school board’s desire to have significantly more say in how charter schools are authorized and overseen.
For example, the board said it should be able to decide which neighborhoods are “oversaturated” with schools and prevent a charter school from opening there. Many charter and traditional schools have struggled to enroll enough students as the population has fallen and more schools have opened.
The board is also looking for ways to streamline the authorizing process. It wants to cap the number of charter schools a district can authorize each year, and get rid of a provision that allows prospective charter operators to amend their application during the approval process.
Once schools are authorized, board members want the ability to “take interim measures, short of full revocation” when a charter school is not following legal guidelines or meeting academic standards during its 10-year-charter duration.
The board also continues to oppose a state voucher system that would give public money to parents to use for private school tuition. Governor-elect Bill Lee has expressed support for vouchers, which have failed in the state legislature for about a decade. Lee’s commitment to promote the initiative was underlined by hiring Tony Niknejad as his policy director, who was the former Tennessee leader of the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children.
Below is the full legislative agenda board members will share with state lawmakers who represent the Memphis area Monday, Dec. 17. The school board’s presentation is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. at the Pink Palace Museum, 3050 Central Ave.