Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who leaves office in January, 2019, has announced a statewide listening tour intended to improve delivery of the state’s elementary and secondary assessments known as TNReady. Unless called into a Special Session the Tennessee Legislature (with at least two dozen new members) will not convene again until next year. Current House Education Chairmen Rep. Harry Brooks and Rep. John Fogerty did not seek reelection and Democrat Senator Reggie Tate (D-Memphis), the Senate Education Vice-Chair, was defeated in his reelection bid.
“Tennessee’s unprecedented improvement in education is the result of high academic standards and an assessment that measures knowledge of those standards,” Haslam said in making the announcement. “Without aligned assessments, we don’t know where our students stand and where we need to improve. We finally have a test that is aligned to Tennessee’s strong academic standards, and I don’t want recent assessment delivery issues to cause us to lose sight of why we have these tests in the first place. Delivering the test without disruption is essential and we must get it right. I am confident this listening tour and process will inform the critical work ahead of us.”
The lame duck Governor’s listening tour will consist of six stops throughout the state and provide an opportunity for educators, school technology and assessment coordinators, and school district administrators to share information about recent challenges related to the online delivery of state assessments. Tennessee testing processes have consistently failed since they were implemented in 2012. The most recent round of testing produced “mixed” results according to the Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen.
Haslam has tapped former long-time educator, and former executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, Wayne Miller (who registered as a lobbyist for SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education) earlier this year before withdrawing that registration on June 13, 2018) to facilitate the listening tour meetings and outcomes. “As someone who has spent his entire career in public education, I know when difficult issues arise it often takes more listening than talking to resolve them and move forward in partnership and collaboration,” Miller said. “I am excited about the process the governor has put forward and honored to facilitate conversations with educators throughout the state. We are all in this together.”
To assist with the listening tour, Haslam has convened an educator advisory team to guide the feedback sessions with Miller. Advisory team members will participate in each meeting, gather information and feedback and develop a set of principles and recommendations for consideration by the governor as well as the next administration.
The three-member advisory team includes:
- Cicely Woodard, the 2018 Tennessee Teacher of the Year and a math teacher at Freedom Middle School in Franklin Special School District;
- Derek Voiles, the 2017 Teacher of the Year and an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Lincoln Heights Middle School in Hamblen County School District; and
- Mike Winstead, the current Tennessee Superintendent of the Year and Maryville City Director of Schools.
All three of the advisory team members are also directly tied to SCORE. SCORE was a strong proponent of the controversial Common Core standards that was subsequently phased out under pressure from conservative Tennessee Legislators and has been rejected by almost all of the other states that initially embraced the “top down” imposition of national standards. SCORE’s advisory board includes Renata Soto, the Executive Director of Conexion Americas.
The listening tour will begin Friday, Aug. 24, in Knoxville and be followed by stops planned for Hamilton County, Shelby County, Williamson County, Greene County and Gibson County. Specific locations and times are being finalized. The six city “listening tour” will begin while teachers are already back in their classrooms and are unlikely to be able to participate in any meaningful way.