By Sally Absher

Tennessee Assistant Commissioner of Education Kathleen Airhart was in Knoxville last week.  Eighth District Board of Education member Mike McMillan worked with Representative Harry Brooks to invite Dr. Airhart to speak about state requirements for K-12 assessments.

Brooks heads the House Education Committee. Brooks was joined by Representatives Gloria Johnson and Bill Dunn, Commissioners Jeff Ownby and Dave Wright; BOE members McMillan and Indya Kincannon; and BOE members-elect Patti Bounds and Amber Rountree. Sixth district BOE candidates Terry Hill and Sandra Rowcliff were present. Dr. McIntyre, Nakia Towns, and Melissa Massie from KCS also attended.

Dr. Airhart, a career educator, has been in her current position for two and a half years. She said her intent was to review the standardized assessments the state requires, but added she is “not a state accountability expert, or a state assessment expert.”

Airhart listed the state required assessments under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, including the following:

TCAP – grades 3-8: math, English/language arts, science, and social studies. Note: English language learners may take the English Linguistically Simplified Assessment (ELSA) version of the TCAP;

TCAP Writing Assessment – grades 3-11;

English Language Development Assessment (ELDA) – grades K-12 English language learners; and

End of Course (EOC) tests – high school: Algebra 1 and 2; English 1, 2, and 3; Biology 1, Chemistry; and U.S. History.

The SAT-10 is not mandatory but is an optional assessment available to districts for grades K-2. Dr. Airhart also briefly discussed special assessments and Response to Intervention (RTI) assessments

In response to a question by Buzz Thomas, Airhart clarified that in addition to the above assessments, the ACT is given to all Tennessee students in the grade 11. The ACT grade 10 Plan and grade 8 Explore tests are being phased out.

Amber Rountree asked if SAT-10 data is included in the school-wide TVAAS calculation for districts that use the SAT-10. Rep. Brooks attempted to disallow the question because of a pending lawsuit on TVAAS data, but Dr. Airhart answered generally, saying there is a calculation to include the SAT-10 data.

Rountree asked what percent of districts use the SAT-10 and if districts not using SAT-10 are required to use something else. Airhart said she couldn’t give an exact number on districts using SAT-10, but estimated between 50 – 70%, and that districts not using SAT-10 are not required to use another test.  Rountree asked what administering the SAT-10 cost the state. Dr. Airhart did not know.

Elementary teachers asked if the K-2 SAT-10 test is optional, not all districts use it, and it is not aligned to Common Core or our state standards, why are we using it. Why is it even an option? Airhart said it is used to measure where students are as the move from K to 1st to 2nd grade.

Rep. Johnson added, “We are using a test not aligned to standards, and grading teachers on it.”

Both 6th District candidates asked about the SAT 10. Rowcliff restated Rountree’s questions. Fewer districts use the SAT-10 now than two years ago. Hill asked if a K-2 assessment is required under Race to the Top (RTTT). There is no RTTT requirement for a K-2 assessment.

A retired teacher asked if the state mandates that teachers with low TVAAS scores receive Conference of Concern letters. Dr. Airhart had never heard of this, but said it is not a state requirement.

In response to a question if legislators would abandon the TVAAS evaluation because many studies show this is unreliable to use for evaluating teachers, Brooks said, “If that comes before us, it will be considered.”

A parent of an honors student asked why 8th grade students taking high school physical science are required to take both the high school EOC and the 8th grade TCAP. The TCAP doesn’t test material covered in the 9th grade physical science class, but each contributes 15% to the student’s grade, or 30% total based on these two tests.

Rep. Dunn said that he has drafted legislation to let local boards decide if they will include TCAP data on report cards. Lauren Hopson asked if the proposed legislation was for all TCAP scores or just in cases where 8th grade students are taking high school level courses. Dunn said, “All of them.”

A special education teacher asked why ELL students are required to take the ELDA, and then 6 weeks later, take the ELSA, which is repetitive, when they need more instructional time. Dr. Airhard said that ELSA is required under NCLB, and federal law mandates students take the ELDA.

Several people asked about the “Dyslexia is Real” bill, which took effect July 1. The state department interpretation of the law is that it only covers institutions providing training for prospective teachers, and does not require training for current teachers, or programs for students identified with dyslexia.

Lauren Hopson suggested legislators put more “teeth in this bill, because teachers in the schools now need this training.” She cited an example of a child in her class who could have benefited.

KCEA President Tonya Coats raised the issue of teaching to common core standards, but using the unaligned TCAP assessment. Brooks replied, “It’s a challenge… Right or wrong, that’s where we are.” Hopson said, “You say it is going to be a challenge to get the test aligned, but it’s not a challenge for us. It’s our job.”