Press Release from the State of Tennessee, June 3, 2019:

Most Tennessee Promise Saturday events are on June 22

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks are offering volunteer events at 54 of the 56 state parks for Tennessee Promise scholars to fulfill their community service hours. Most of the events are on Saturday, June 22.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Tennessee Promise students to meet their requirements and be a part of the outdoors at the same time,” said Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “Tennessee Promise is giving students a great chance to further their education, and we’re glad Tennessee State Parks can be a part of that.”

Tennessee Promise Saturday includes a variety of work projects at the parks, including landscaping, invasive plant removal, litter pickup, trail maintenance, and more. Participants should wear appropriate clothing for the work and bring items such as water, snacks and sunscreen. Students should check with each individual park on the activities planned and details on what they will need to do and bring.

Students are encouraged to find details about service hours at state parks by visiting https://tnstateparks.com/about/special-events/tn-promise-saturday.

Tennessee Promise provides students the chance to attend tuition-free any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institutions offering an associate degree program. One of the requirements to maintain eligibility is to complete eight hours of community service. For the class of 2019, the deadline to complete the community service is July 1. The parks also accept help on Tennessee Promise Saturday from any volunteers who wish to participate.

The two parks not part of Tennessee Promise Saturday are Big Cypress Tree State Park and Dunbar Cave State Park, but students near Dunbar Cave can go to nearby Port Royal State Park for its event.

Press Release from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, May 8, 2019:

Link: https://www.dgliteracy.org/about-us/

Goodlettsville, Tenn. – May 8, 2019—The Dollar General Literacy Foundation awarded more than $1.8 million in literacy grants to middle Tennessee schools, nonprofits and literacy organizations today at the Nashville Public Library.

“In keeping with Dollar General’s mission of Serving Others, we are excited to provide grants to support literacy and education initiatives in the communities we proudly call home,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s CEO and Dollar General Literacy Foundation board member. “Each year, funds provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation make a real difference by providing the tools that students, adults and families need to pursue new opportunities and accomplish their goals. We believe these programs empower the communities we serve, and we are honored to play a role in their success.”

According to Metro Nashville Public Schools, two out of three Nashville third graders currently read below grade level, and the Nashville Adult Literacy Council estimates that one in eight Nashville adults lack basic literacy skills. Recipients of today’s grant announcements plan to use Dollar General Literacy Foundation funds to help adults learn to read, prepare for the high school equivalency exam, promote childhood summer reading or learn English.

A complete list of grant recipients may be found online at www.dgliteracy.org.

“Education has the ability to level the playing fields in life,” said Denine Torr, Dollar General’s senior director of community initiatives. “Through these grants, we are helping expand access to educational programs and enhancing literacy instruction for adults, families and youth. We are excited to invest in programs across our hometown communities that are uplifting and empowering others to have a brighter future.”

In addition to the literacy grants announced today, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation is also currently accepting applications for youth literacy grants through Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 10 p.m. CT. Youth literacy grants provide funding to schools, public libraries and nonprofit organizations to help students below grade level or experience difficulty reading by providing funding to implement new or expanding literacy programs, purchase new technology or equipment or purchase books, materials or software to enhance literacy programs. Applications are available online at www.dgliteracy.org.

Dollar General’s commitment to literacy and education is rooted through the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and the company’s co-founder, J.L. Turner. Turner had a third-grade education and was functionally illiterate after dropping out of school to support his family. His grandson and former CEO, Cal Turner, Jr., founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation in 1993. Since its inception more than 25 years ago, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded more than $168 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, helping more than 10 million individuals take their first steps toward literacy or continued education.

For additional information, photographs or items to supplement a story, please visit the Dollar General Newsroom or contact the Media Relations Department at 1-877-944-DGPR (3477) or via email at dgpr@dollargeneral.com.

About the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to support initiatives that help others improve their lives through literacy and education. Since 1993, the Foundation has awarded more than $168 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, helping more than 10 million individuals take their first steps toward literacy, a general education diploma or English proficiency. To learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, visit www.dgliteracy.org.

About Dollar General Corporation

Dollar General Corporation has been delivering value to shoppers for nearly 80 years through its mission of Serving Others. Dollar General helps shoppers Save time. Save money. Every day!® by offering products that are frequently used and replenished, such as food, snacks, health and beauty aids, cleaning supplies, basic apparel, housewares and seasonal items at everyday low prices in convenient neighborhood locations. Dollar General operated 15,472 stores in 44 states as of March 1, 2019. In addition to high-quality private brands, Dollar General sells products from America’s most-trusted manufacturers such as Clorox, Energizer, Procter & Gamble, Hanes, Coca-Cola, Mars, Unilever, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and PepsiCo. Learn more about Dollar General at www.dollargeneral.com.

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, May 2, 2019:

Gov. Bill Lee Lauds General Assembly in Working Together to Pass Conservative Reforms

$38.5 Billion Budget Passes Unanimously

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the close of the 2019 legislative session, a session which included the unanimous passage of his budget as well as the passage of his full agenda as outlined during his State of the State address in March.

“In March, I presented our budget and a series of priorities which I believe will be foundational to making Tennessee a leader in the nation,” said Lee. “Working with the General Assembly leadership and members, we passed reforms that will continue to build on the momentum our state has seen in recent years.”

Gov. Lee’s slate of priorities included 16 legislative initiatives to work towards strengthening public education and school choice, enhancing workforce development, addressing criminal justice reform and public safety, promoting good government and developing solutions for rural Tennessee.

The passage of the fiscal year 2020 budget marked the first unanimous budget approval from the General Assembly since 2011. Notably, this budget includes a historic deposit to the state’s Rainy Day Fund that will elevate reserves to over $1.1 billion. Tax cuts included a full repeal of the Gym Tax, the elimination of sales and use tax on agricultural trailers and a reduction to the professional privilege tax.

“I commend the General Assembly for their work this session and I look forward to joining members in their districts in the coming months to highlight all that was accomplished this session” said Lee. “I am especially pleased with the outcome of the budget and our joint commitment to making sure Tennessee is well-managed and fiscally sound.”

Highlights from Gov. Lee’s legislative agenda include the following:

Strengthening Public Education and Expanding School Choice:

  • Creating the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) to expand access to vocational and technical training to students
  • Establishing an education savings account program to expand school choice for low-income students in Davidson and Shelby counties
  • Creating the Future Workforce Initiative to prepare students for the jobs of the future in science, technology, engineering and math
  • A $71 million investment in pay raises for teachers across Tennessee and investment in professional development programming
  • A three-year pilot program to provide support services for high school students in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties
  • Establish the Governor’s Civics Instructional Seal to support and recognize schools that prioritize teaching our nation’s history and civic values
  • Investing an additional $175 million in new funding to support teachers and students in public schools
  • Establishing an independent statewide charter school authorizer and adding $6 million to the charter school facilities fund

Enhancing Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

  • Investing $40 million in school safety enhancements
  • Increasing penalties for trafficking fentanyl
  • Increasing the training pay supplement for firefighters and police officers
  • Increasing salaries for corrections professionals
  • Expanding the Electronic Monitoring Indigency fund to reduce needs for pre-trial incarceration
  • Eliminating the state fee for the expungement of records for those who have paid their debt to society
  • $5 million to expand recovery courts and services for people in the justice system with drug abuse issues
  • $4 million investment in pre-release rehabilitation and education for incarcerated individuals

Investing in Health Care and Good Government Initiatives

  • Establishing the Office of Faith Based Initiatives to support partnerships with the non-profit community
  • Expanding the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with an additional 24 positions dedicated to identifying fraud and waste
  • Investing an additional $11 million to support mental health services through the behavioral health safety net and regional mental institutes.
  • Increasing funding for graduate medical education at Tennessee’s medical schools and critical incentive programs that provide financial support to resident physicians who commit to living and working in our rural communities
  • Investing an additional $2 million recurring for the primary care safety net for federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) and community- and faith-based clinics, providing primary care services to low-income, uninsured adults
  • A $3 million recurring increase to support medical students who agree to work in an underserved area after graduation. These state dollars would draw down an additional $5.7 million in federal funds
  • $11.9 million investment to maintain pay increases funded in last year’s budget for providers delivering services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, April 30:

Comptroller’s Office Studies Teacher Salaries In Tennessee

Link: https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/news/2019/4/25/comptroller-s-office-studies-teacher-salaries-in-tennessee.html

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has released a report examining how money intended to boost teacher salaries has been used by local school districts. More than $300 million in new, recurring state dollars was appropriated by the General Assembly though the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) between fiscal years 2016 and 2018. The legislative intent for the increased state funding was to increase teacher salaries across Tennessee.

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) surveyed Tennessee’s school districts, and the majority of respondents reported awarding salary increases to teachers for three consecutive years (fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018). Those pay raises resulted in an increase of Tennessee’s average classroom teacher salary of 6.2 percent (just under $3,000), making it the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for teacher salaries during fiscal years 2015 through 2018. In addition to providing raises, districts also used increased state BEP instructional salaries funds to hire more instructional staff.

OREA found that while total local revenue budgeted for school districts increased at about the same rate as BEP state revenue, salary expenditures (whether for new hires or raises) could not be linked back to their revenue source, either state or local. District budgets do not identify what portion of expenditures are paid with state funds versus local funds.

The state’s main lever for increasing state funding for salaries – the BEP formula’s salary unit cost figure – is not directly linked to pay raises for every teacher. The increased funding generated through the salary unit cost is applied only to BEP-calculated positions; most districts fund additional positions. Because districts employ more staff than are covered by BEP funding, the available state and local dollars earmarked for salaries must stretch over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP.

OREA examined district expenditures and found that, statewide, districts increased spending for instructional salaries and health insurance by about 9 percent while spending on retirement increased about 8 percent. At the individual district level, the growth in salary expenditures varied, from a decrease of 10 percent to an increase of over 26 percent.

The Comptroller’s report includes policy considerations addressing how the state may wish to implement an in-depth salary survey of selected districts to periodically obtain a more complete picture of district salary trends, as well as develop a process to determine which districts are eligible for a separate state allocation of salary equity funding, intended to raise teacher salaries in select districts with lower-than-average salaries.

To read the Comptroller’s report, please visit https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/

News Release from Middle Tennessee State University, April 18, 2019:

Link: https://mtsunews.com/healthcare-tech-jobs-report-2019/

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — App developers are the most in-demand tech jobs in the Middle Tennessee’s burgeoning healthcare industry and demand for healthcare tech workers overall “grew steadily” in recent years, according to a new MTSU report.

Released Thursday at the latest tech talk hosted by the Greater Nashville Technology Council, the “Healthcare Tech Middle Tennessee” report was developed by the Department of Information Systems and Analytics in MTSU’s Jones College of Business in partnership with the tech advocacy organization.

Report author Amy Harris, associate professor in information systems and analytics, moderated a panel of experts from area healthcare tech companies to discuss the report findings and what they mean for the region’s healthcare sector.

“Health care is such a strong economic driver in this region that we felt it was important to understand more about its contribution to tech workforce demand,” said Harris, who released a report late last year about the state of tech jobs overall in the Midstate.

“The study’s findings provide evidence of healthy — and growing — demand for health care tech workers. Of the 38,000-plus postings for tech jobs in Middle Tennessee last year, one-third were associated with healthcare. That’s just over 12,500 healthcare tech jobs. This is strong evidence that the increasing use of technology in healthcare delivery is fueling job growth in our region.”

The report — which includes breakdowns in areas such as most in-demand occupations, job titles, and skills — covers the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin and Clarksville, TN-KY metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). You can download the full report at http://www.middletntechjobs.com/healthcare-tech-2019/.

“Understanding the specific tech talent needs of our major industries is vital to the success in growing our tech workforce,” explained Brian Moyer, president and CEO of the Greater Nashville Technology Council. “We want to thank Dr. Harris and the MTSU Department of Information Systems and Analytics for their continued efforts to shed light on the unique facets of region’s tech community.”

Other report highlights:

  • When comparing healthcare tech job demand to overall tech job demand, there was a high degree of consistency in the top occupations, job titles, skills, and qualifications. However, there was considerable variation in the proportion of overall tech demand driven by healthcare when looking at individual occupations and job titles.
  • Demand for healthcare tech workers grew steadily through 2017 and 2018, peaking at 3,072 active job postings in December 2018.
  • The most in-demand healthcare tech occupation was Software Developers, Applications with 12.7 percent of postings associated with this occupation group. The Management Analysts and Computer Systems Analysts occupation groups followed close behind, with 12.5 percent and 11.8 percent of postings, respectively.
  • SQL (a software programming language) is the most in-demand skill for healthcare tech workers with 23 percent of postings referencing this skill. Agile Software Development and Business Requirements followed, appearing in 15 percent and 9 percent of postings, respectively.

This report is part of the Middle Tennessee Tech research program, which has the goal of providing industry, economic development, and academic audiences with data on the current state of the Midstate technology workforce. It is a partnership between MTSU’s Department of Information Systems and Analytics and the Greater Nashville Technology Council.

The Tennessee Legislature this week approved a measure that proposes creating a nine-member statewide commission to authorize new charter schools and oversee their subsequent performance.

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a school-choice proponent, has been promoting the legislation.

Under the provisions of Senate Bill 796, the “Public Charter School Commission” would act as an appeals board for hearing challenges to a local board of education’s decision to reject a charter school application. If the commission reverses the local board’s decision and subsequently approves the charter school, then the commission members would thereafter serve as that charter school’s oversight authority.

The legislation passed by decisive margins in both General Assembly chambers — 61-37 in the House and 27-3 in the Senate. State Reps. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were the only Upper Cumberland lawmakers voting against the bill.

The new commission would supersede the charter-school oversight responsibilities currently administered by the State Board of Education, according to one of the legislation’s primary Senate sponsors, Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey.

The State BOE would, however, ultimately oversee the Charter School Commission.

“Most public charter schools in our state are offering a great education to our lowest income children for free,” Kelsey said in a press release. “We are hopeful that this legislation will encourage more high-quality schools to open in Tennessee.”

Kelsey predicts that the measure will create an environment wherein charter schools are held to higher standards. Senate Bill 796 will also ensure that “low-performing charters” are more effectively weeded out, he said.

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, April 4, 2019:

Gov. Bill Lee Works with General Assembly to Temporarily Reinstate Paper-Based Student Testing in 2019-2020 School Year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that his administration, in coordination with the Tennessee General Assembly, is temporarily reinstating paper-based assessments for students in the 2019-2020 school year.

“We must ensure the utmost quality in our annual assessment,” said Lee. “Commissioner Schwinn and her team at the Department of Education are doing outstanding work to get testing on the right track, and we thank the General Assembly for their thoughtful approach on this matter.”

Testing for the 2018-2019 school year, the final year with the current vendor, begins on Monday, April 8 and the online version of the test will be delivered as scheduled. In preparation for testing, 100% of districts reported as meeting the criteria for technical readiness to give the online assessment.

The move to temporarily reinstate paper-based testing next year will allow the new vendor to establish an accountable, long-term solution to be put in place for students, teachers and taxpayers.

“One year of paper-based testing will give the new vendor a full year to properly stand up a Tennessee office, hire exceptional talent, and make sure the assessment is ready for Tennessee classrooms,” said Commissioner Schwinn.

Legislative leadership offered support for the move:

“I fully support this amendment because our students and teachers deserve a system that works. I look forward to working with legislative colleagues and the Lee Administration to build a solution.” – Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson

“I am proud to work with House Education Chairman Mark White and the Lee Administration on this amendment so that we may ensure that the Commissioner of Education has the flexibility needed to do what is in the best interest of our children during the continued phase of planning toward the best system possible.” – House Majority Leader William Lamberth

“Our priority is to act in the best interest of Tennessee students. This amendment is a step in the right direction. I look forward to working with the House and the Lee Administration in these efforts to ensure our students are set up for success.” – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham

“Our teachers and students deserve our best and this will give the Department of Education time to ensure that everything is running smoothly.” – House Education Committee Chairman Mark White

A new study from the state comptroller’s office reveals a pervasive connection between underperforming teachers and lower-than-optimal student test scores.

Tennessee’s Office of Research and Education Accountability released a report this week seeking to assess the negative impacts that underachieving teachers may have on student performance and academic success.

The report determined that students’ performance demonstrably suffers when they’re taught by a subpar-rated teacher for two consecutive years.

Graphic Source: Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (March 2019)

A press release from the office of Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, who oversees OREA, indicated that the study’s results show that students who endure “ineffective teachers” for consecutive years “were less likely than their peers to be proficient or advanced on the state’s assessments.”

“Student achievement also suffered with the largest effects found for the highest and lowest performing students,” the press release stated. “These results are consistent with other research indicating that ineffective teachers have negative academic impacts on students.”

OREA’s research into the issue — which was conducted at the request of Tennessee Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville — showed that between 2013 and 2015 more than 8,000 students in Tennessee were taught in consecutive years by teachers with low evaluation scores in math or English or both.

Students in need of special education efforts or enrolled in “high poverty” school were much more likely to receive instruction from underperforming teachers, the report found.

The OREA report suggests that altering education policy in Tennessee to ensure an “increase equitable access to effective teachers for all students” is something for the Legislature to consider. The report also recommends that policymakers contemplate establishing provisions to ensure students are not assigned to classrooms run by ineffective teachers in consecutive years, and that the Tennessee Department of Education be required to track the problem and report back to lawmakers on it annually.

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, March 21, 2019:

Praise for education savings accounts, charter schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s charter school bill passed in both the Tennessee General Assembly House and Senate education committees just one day after Gov. Lee’s education savings account proposal advanced from the House curriculum subcommittee.

“With the legislature’s hard work, school choice has momentum and we are working together to put students first and strengthen our public education system,” said Lee. “Low-income students deserve the same opportunities and we have a bold plan that levels the playing field while also focusing improvement on the lowest-performing school districts.”

Parents, legislators, educators and advocates from across the state praised Gov. Lee’s efforts to focus on students and expand educational opportunity.

Support for Gov. Lee’s School Choice Agenda:

“Gov. Lee’s full education agenda is exceptional for students in Memphis and across our state. By investing $71 million in teacher pay raises and an additional $5 million into improving student and teacher support in our priority schools, he is making clear he is willing to do whatever it takes for Tennessee’s students. While I’ve always been against vouchers, Governor Lee’s comprehensive approach to giving more freedom and flexibility to students and families through Education Savings Accounts and further investment in our schools is the bold and innovative reform our state needs to ensure every child has access to a quality education.” – Cato Johnson, former Chairman of Tennessee Higher Education Commission and former member of the State Board of Education, Shelby County

“I support Gov. Lee’s bold plan to introduce a better way to educate children in Tennessee. As a mother and grandmother, I believed that we must create a better way especially for minority children. Charter schools and ESAs will continue to open doors for students that have been marginalized by educational opportunities.” – Latonya Bell, concerned Nashville parent

“As a mother, wife, entrepreneur, and native Tennessean, I know firsthand the power of education, and the tremendous impact it has on generations of Tennesseans. I believe we can not only rebuild a stronger foundation for our youth by creating new pathways for education, such as utilizing educational savings accounts; we can deliver innovative regional solutions that meet the specific needs of students and parents across all of Tennessee. By supporting the ESA program, we can provide an essential piece to the puzzle and empower parents to provide customized solutions for their children’s future.” – Tessa Eades, concerned Nashville parent and advocate

“I am grateful for Gov. Lee’s efforts to provide alternatives for students who might otherwise be denied an opportunity for a great education. As Senate Majority Leader, I am the proud and enthusiastic sponsor of this important legislation.” – Sen. Jack Johnson, Senate Majority Leader, District 23

“I fully support the governor’s initiatives on expanding educational opportunities for children and look forward to our continued collaboration going forward.” – Rep. William Lamberth, House Majority Leader, District 44

“Having been on the education committee for seven years, I appreciate that Gov. Lee is focused on ensuring Tennessee’s education system is serving every student in our state. His bold agenda supporting students, teachers, families, and education leaders will help Tennessee lead the nation with a strong educated workforce and a stronger economy.” – Rep. Mark White, House Education Committee Chair, District 83

“I’m excited that the opportunity for families to have a choice in securing the best education for their child is moving forward.” – Rep. Bill Dunn, District 16

“I applaud Gov. Lee’s bold education agenda to invest in our state’s students, teachers and families. From pay raises for teachers, support for rural school leaders, investment in CTE and STEM, more choice for families with accountable charter schools and education savings accounts, Gov. Lee is spurring innovation so that all our schools improve in preparing every student for the jobs of tomorrow.” – Marlon King, educator, leader and parent

“I have a really hard time telling parents that their money shouldn’t be used for their students, their children. I have a hard time explaining to them why they have to continue to leave their child in a school that has been failing for the past 30 years.” – Rhonda Thurman, Hamilton County School Board Member

“I support any move Gov. Lee can make toward giving more parents more choices in the educational process for their children. Parents have had too few choices for too long. We need significant change for there to be significant progress in results for our children across our state. I fully support Gov. Lee’s Tennessee Education Savings Accounts.” – Dan Chord, Board Member of Independent School in Bradley County

“Tennessee students are so lucky that Gov. Lee is taking a ‘by any means necessary’ approach to ensuring that all children will have access to great schools. His charter school authorization legislation will accelerate the creation of highly effective schools across the state, just as our charter school program has done in Nashville. And for those students still without excellent options, Education Savings Accounts will empower our most economically disadvantaged families with the means to secure good schooling for their children, just as more affluent parents already do. Both proposals make it clear that Gov. Lee is applying as much concern for the state’s children as he has for his own children and grandchildren. We can’t ask for more than that.” – David Fox, Former Chairman of Metro Nashville Public Schools

“According to the Tennessee Department of Education’s report card, only 35.8 percent are college ready. That number is cut in half when you look at black, Hispanic and Native American students and students who are economically disadvantaged. Gov. Lee’s approach in using ESAs will reach those regardless of zip code.” – Tommy Vallejos, community activist and pastor, Clarksville

“This charter school proposal by Gov. Lee would take the politics out of the process and put the focus back on kids. We have seen our local district deny applications for charter schools we believe would work for our students. The bottom line is we need more great schools.” – Sarah Carpenter, Executive Director of The Memphis Lift

“As educators, we should be driven by what is best for students. The ESA bill is 100% student-centered. It allows parents the choice to help their children get a better education at a school that is the best fit for their child.” – Sean Corcoran, Head of School at Brainerd Baptist School in Chattanooga

“Giving parents greater access to additional quality options for their child’s education is always beneficial. Making education savings accounts a reality for families in Memphis and across the State would be a good thing. We must do everything we can to help all students succeed.” – Tom Marino, Executive Director at Poplar Foundation

“At the Tennessee Charter School Center, we believe that establishing a high quality independent statewide appellate authorizer, founded on best practices, will ensure that decisions to open charter schools in Tennessee are based on what is best for students, not politics.” – Maya Bugg, CEO of Tennessee Charter School Center

“Tennessee’s public charter schools are spurring innovation that is helping to drive greater achievement and success for thousands of Tennessee students. Gov. Lee’s initiative that would create the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission would help expand great public school options that have proven to be effective for students and continue the fast student achievement growth we have seen since 2011.” – David Mansouri, President & CEO, SCORE

Press Release from Professional Educators of Tennessee, March 19, 2019:

Op-Ed by JC Bowman
Executive Director
Professional Educators of Tennessee
jc.bowman@proedtn.org

In Tennessee, we appreciate straight talk and candor. So, to the point: statewide testing has taken a wrong turn in public education, not to mention Tennessee has failed in our statewide testing administration since 2012. Now we are about to start over, possibly with a new vendor. There is no guarantee this will work any better than previous attempts.

At no point were any of the previous testing problems the fault of students or educators in Tennessee. The state has simply failed students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies, and even by our government. Clearly, there is a problem with testing in Tennessee. It is a flawed testing system, which could be addressed if we were to pilot innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles. That would be a sensible strategy to pursue.

This is why some legislators have argued for allowing LEAs to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT Suites as a means of assessment. This request continues to be asked for by several high-performing districts across the state frustrated by state failures. We must also break down the bureaucratic barriers that have kept educators and school districts from pursuing solutions to the unique challenges of their communities. We should pursue reliable tests that provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students, or perhaps allow districts the opportunities to use these alternative assessments.

The current testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators. No single test should be a determinant of a student’s, teacher’s or school’s success. Although we need testing to measure the progress of our students, we should recognize that these tests are often unreliable in evaluating teachers and schools. True measurement of progress should instead consist of several benchmarks, not just testing. However, testing goes beyond the purposes of entrance or placement into courses in postsecondary education or training programs.

With each testing failure, educators and districts have unfairly been the ones who bear the brunt, quite unfairly, of parental anger. Students also suffer, with everything from loss of instruction time to not understanding their educational progress. When we make education decisions on the basis of unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally. This is especially unfair to the hardworking teachers in our state.

We must listen to educators on the ground, and continue to champion innovation in public education. Educators want that chance to be inventive, and they understand the need to challenge the status quo to get results for the students in their community. Therefore, the state should not stand in the way of any LEA that wishes to use an alternative that is comparable to state-mandated assessment. The LEA should be required to notify parents or guardians of students that the LEA is using an approved testing alternative. In addition, the LEA, before using an approved testing alternative, should be required to notify the Tennessee Department of Education, in writing, of the grade level and subject matter in which the LEA intends to use an approved testing alternative. Senator Mark Pody and Representative Clark Boyd have proposed legislation (SB1307/HB1180) to allow districts this testing flexibility. It is similar to legislation that Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Terri Lynn Weaver have introduced previously (SB488/HB383).

High-quality assessments convey critical information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves and create the basis for improving outcomes for all learners. However, when testing is done badly or excessively, it takes important time away from teaching and learning, and limits creativity from our classrooms. It is important that Tennessee improves postsecondary and career readiness for all Tennessee students. Flawed testing does not move us toward that goal. It is time we allow our districts the flexibility that they have requested.

Note: State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver represents District 40 in the Tennessee General Assembly. Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.