I’ve got a friend who is starting the process of going through a divorce. Yesterday I asked her how it was going. “Insane,” she replied. “He continues to act as if absolutely nothing is going on. Even tried to cuddle up to me the other day. It’s surreal. It’s got me thinking I’m crazy and missing something. Maybe everything is fine.” I laughed and said, “I can relate. I’m having exactly the same experience with the Tennessee Department of Education.”
For those of you new to the game, let me give you a recap. This was supposed to be the year that everything was going to be different. But it didn’t take long for things to go awry. Within hours of beginning the administration of the test, the online testing platform failed. A mad scramble to affix blame ensued with the Department of Education ultimately deciding that pencil and paper would be the way to go. But in order to do that, schools would need to receive supplies in a timely manner, and now, that’s not happening either.
This is becoming a complete and utter fiasco. Some schools are having to change testing schedules for the third time. What that translates to is a loss of valuable instructional time and a huge inconvenience for children and teachers. It also fails to take into account special programs like field trips and such. One school in Chattanooga has two field trips scheduled for the end of April during dates they are now supposed to hold for testing. I guess they’ll have to cancel. Why are students going to be punished because adults failed to do their job?
Last week was a nationally recognized reading promotion in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss called Read Across America. Many schools in Tennessee, however, did not participate because they had been scheduled to start TNReady testing. See if the irony is lost here: in a state where reading scores dropped last year, we are now canceling activities that promote reading in order to test students’ reading skills. Granted, Read Across America isn’t going to single-handedly raise literacy levels, but should we really be sacrificing opportunities to engage children in reading just to appease adults?
I also heard last week that many schools were experiencing a shortage of calculators approved for use on the TNReady math tests. When testing was going to be done online, the calculator was part of the online platform. Schools got rid of calculators or didn’t order enough new ones, figuring they wouldn’t need them anymore, but lo and behold, here’s one more unforeseen consequence of the TNReady fiasco. The hits just keep on coming.
What’s been the response from the Tennessee Department of Education? Well, they’ve been acting like my friend’s soon-to-be ex-husband and continue to walk around and act like everything is all good. Last week, Commissioner Candice McQueen visited a school in Dickson County where she purportedly asked kids if they were ready for TNReady. I would have loved for one of the kids to have answered, “Yes, but are you? Because we’ve been ready for a while now and you can’t seem to get it together.” Kid’s are good for that kind of honesty.
Google “Tennessee Department of Education” and “TNReady,” and you’ll get a whole list of stories about districts across the state that have yet to receive testing supplies, but nary a one about how the DOE plans to fix this or even a clear picture on what scores are going to count for. We are just going to lie to kids by telling them that this test is important and expect that since we are the adults, they’ll continue to believe us. My favorite quote from the story on the visit to Dickson County is that when a student mentions that she appreciated her teachers, principal, and assistant principal, Dr. McQueen responds that “Leadership is important.” Oh, the irony abounds.
I like the quote the TNDOE gave WKRN on Friday “We’ve shipped over 1 million tests in two weeks. At least 126 districts have already received their materials and about 60 districts have already completed testing. There was a delay with 13 districts last week, and department leadership reached out to each of the districts individually to discuss the revised timeline and address any concerns.” First of all, you know anything revealed on a Friday is meant to fly under the radar. And secondly, again, there was no mention of the KIDS. Has anybody really addressed any of the kids concerns? Yea, I don’t think so.
All the lectures I’ve received over the last couple of years about how the kids come first and now that we are in the midst of a fiasco that is basically robbing our kids of the last two months of their school year, nobody can address them. Here’s a newsflash: you only get one 4th grade March. You only get one 7th grade April. What the Tennessee Department of Education is essentially saying is that these tests supersede their needs and their right to an actual education, and that it’s not even necessary to ask kids if they are okay with giving up that time. As a parent, that angers me. As a kid, it would incense me.
And what about the teachers? The instructional time lost due to test preparation aside, teachers have been scrambling to create new lesson plans for all of these shifts in testing schedules. I guarantee teachers would prefer to not have to deal with this incompetence from the DOE and instead have the authority to plan lessons that would be truly beneficial to their students. It’s maddening and very time-consuming to constantly be changing the schedule. But hey, Governor Haslam and TNDOE are saying these tests won’t count, or well maybe they’ll count, but hey…let’s just take them and we’ll figure out what they count for after we have the results. Have you ever heard of such a thing? It’s insanity.
Furthermore, does anyone still believe that these test results will paint an accurate picture of student growth and achievement? When do we get to the point that we admit that the turmoil has corrupted these test results beyond redemption? Teachers are given a booklet that strictly defines what they can and cannot do during the week of testing in order to ensure the integrity of the test results, yet we are supposed to believe that multiple rescheduling of tests and changing the methodology will have no impact. Am I crazy for thinking that’s not right? Not to mention that at this point, most students are just over the whole process and I seriously doubt you’ll see their best effort.
After my blog last week, a fellow education advocate, Memphis Quest, made the observation that testing is now in our DNA, and we don’t know what to do if we don’t test. I think he’s 100% spot on, and if you don’t think that’s a sign of us losing our way, then I don’t know what it will take. To counter a popular idiom, you don’t need a scale to lose weight.
I’m going to say the same thing to the Tennessee Department of Education that’s probably very similar to the talk my friend is having with her soon-to-be ex-husband: We are heading towards a divorce. One that’s been spurred on by your actions and inability to see how they are affecting us. Without acknowledgement and correction, I think you will see an Opt Out movement next year that will rival those in the Northeast. And if you think it’s just parents, then you need to take a look at Boston this week where students walked out. State officials can not continue to pretend like everything is normal because it certainly is not.
New York listened and is starting to respond appropriately, I’d hate to see Tennessee backed into a corner before paying heed. Tennessee don’t become that single guy sitting in front of the tube eating TV dinners alone in your shoe box apartment wishing you’d just recognized the signs. Please TNDOE and State Legislators, I urge you to recognize that you are in a partnership – with teachers, parents, and perhaps most importantly, our kids – and to act appropriately. Stop, listen, evaluate and adjust. These four steps could clear away the insanity. If we truly have kids best interests at heart we will acknowledge our failings and get it right before it’s too late.