By Sally Absher

Apparently, two Board of Education meetings and a Joint Education Committee meeting (comprised of members of the BOE and County Commission) aren’t enough for one week. KCS also scheduled a community engagement meeting last week “to begin to gather input from the community regarding student assessments.”

KCS said the community meeting is “part of a broader comprehensive student assessment analysis the school system is conducting, funded by a grant provided by Achieve, Inc. The Student Assessment Inventory Committee is comprised of teachers, school counselors and district administrators.”

About 75 people attended the meeting at West High school. This number included Dr. McIntyre and the ten or so members of his executive team; 12 to 15 “facilitators” courtesy of Jim Haslam’s Leadership Knoxville organization, and another 10 or so members of the Student Assessment Inventory Committee who mostly functioned as observers during the break-out sessions.

Kudos to the four BOE members (Terry Hill, Patti Bounds, Tracie Sanger, and Gloria Deathridge), who attended the meeting. Ed Shouse and Rep. Joe Armstrong also came. Sadly, there was no sign of Harry Brooks, Bill Dunn, or Eddie Smith, all members of the House Education Committee. This is the one group that could bring about real change in the “assessment landscape.”

Out of a community of 400,000 people, there were about 40 parent/teacher/concerned citizen “stakeholders” present. Remember this number when they say, “we heard from parents, and they are happy with all the assessments KCS is mandating.”

After a brief overview, participants separated into break-out groups based on grade-level or special population: K-2, 3-5, high school, English language learners (ELL), and Special Education (SPED). There was also a “general” group for those who had kids in multiple grades or didn’t fit in one of the other groups (middle school was combined with this group). This is the group the Focus attended.

The groups were given two very general questions: “What is working with the current assessment landscape?” and “What is not working?”

The “stakeholders” in our group had strong opinions against high stakes testing, with many having done a lot of research prior to the meeting. The facilitators, who had no knowledge of education or assessment issues, had difficulty translating what was being said into neat bullet points on the poster board. The “observers” in our group tried to silence one vocal parent by handing her index cards and telling her to write her concerns on the cards.

In the end, each participant “voted” by placing dot stickers on the three items they felt were the most important.  We reconvened, and spokespersons from each group shared the three or four priority issues for their group. These included:

K-2: Evaluations for K-2 teachers should not be based on standardized testing at all; need to measure the talents of all children, not just those good at standardized testing; and not enough time for play and hands on learning because drilling for standardized testing has taken it away.

3-5: Loss of joy of learning for children, and joy of teaching for teachers; too much pressure placed on students and teachers, even with STAR tests for those with ADHD and easily distracted; and inadequate infrastructure (utilizing computers and libraries for testing, not learning, etc.)

High school: lack of time to fit all the assessments in; mystery and secrecy with test results; math anxiety exacerbated; loss of instructional time.

General: Transparency- including parents and students getting results quickly, knowing when and why tests are being given how the data is being used, validity of format, cost (money and time), communication; need a non-punitive policy for refusing assessments; teachers should not be evaluated by test results; need for consistency across district.

SPED: students with disabilities not being accurately assessed when accommodations are not permitted; STAR (screening) assessments of little value since these kids have already been identified with disabilities; conflict of interest when general Ed teachers are part of IEP team, since they may be negatively impacted by lower-scoring SPED students in their class; and need for something between regular and alternate assessments.

ELL: Students are required to take assessments they can’t read; parents adopting foreign students are frustrated because of the testing language barrier; cultural barrier not being addressed – need more extracurricular activities.

Thanks to all those who gave up a summer evening to voice your opinions. Of course, if KCS had actually listened to countless speakers during Board public forum over the past two years, they wouldn’t’ have to waste their time or your money on this effort.

It would seem there are better ways to spend $40K in grant money and $90K for another Broad resident – like purchasing enough textbooks for every student to have one, for example.