By Sally Absher

When former elementary librarian Amber Roundtree ran for School Board last spring, one of her campaign promises was that she would reduce the amount of high-stakes testing for the youngest students. Of note was the SAT-10 assessment, which is mandated by Knox County but not the state.

She wasn’t alone. New BOE members Patti Bounds and Terry Hill, both of whom administered the SAT-10 while employed by KCS, agreed that this level of testing served no useful purpose other than to gather data to be used in teacher evaluations. Research shows that standardized testing is highly unreliable for children 8 and younger.

And, Rountree’s position is supported by the community. A number of parents, teachers and board members spoke out during the past year against excessive student testing, often citing the K-2 assessment as a problem, because it is not age-appropriate. Five and six year old students should not be spending 4 days in a row, 1 to 2 hours at a time, filling in bubbles in a test booklet.

Rountree followed through on her campaign promise last month when she submitted an agenda item for the October mid-month work meeting to discuss the SAT-10 test. Since it was a work meeting, however, no vote was taken.

The following week, she sent a letter to Chairman Mike McMillan requesting he schedule a special-call meeting for the following week to allow the BOE to vote on whether or not to continue the test. She copied Dr. McIntyre on the email, asking that he not order the tests until after the board had a chance to vote.

She said “time is of the essence” for the board to discuss the matter and wanted members to vote to “approve the discontinuance of the administration of the SAT-10” before the window closed on ordering the SAT-10 tests.

“It is not developmentally appropriate for our youngest students and it’s not necessary,” Rountree said. “We already have a mechanism in place to find out if our kids need intervention and it’s the STAR test, which is mandated by the state.”

McMillan requested a special call meeting, but found the scheduling to be problematic. While a simple majority (5 of the 9 members) is required on most BOE votes, a quorum of 6 members is required for a special call meeting. But McMillan wanted to set up the meeting before the Board’s early November meeting, since the agenda was already packed.

Undeterred, Rountree continued to push to abolish the test. She created a simple survey to get parent and teacher input, which she placed on her Twitter and Facebook pages. She received over 600 responses, overwhelmingly opposed to the SAT-10 assessment.

Apparently feeling the pressure, McIntyre last week acquiesced slightly on the SAT-10 test, throwing the board a bone by declaring “After much consideration, I have decided to end the administration of the SAT-10 assessment in Kindergarten in the Knox County Schools.”

He explains the reasoning for using theSAT-10 test in the first place by stating in his memo, “When the Department decided that Kindergarten would be part of the SAT-10 assessment strategy, we decided to at least see if we could make it workable.” But the SAT-10 assessment is NOT required by the state, something that McIntyre never acknowledged in the memo.

He insisted that the SAT-10 be continued for grades 1 and 2, saying, “I still believe the SAT-10 is appropriate and valuable in the first and second grades, and the early literacy and numeracy information the assessment provides in these grades is urgently needed to inform critical instructional and educational decisions. Therefore, I will look to continue the administration of the SAT-10 assessment in first and second grades.”

Dr. McIntyre has less than one year of teaching experience. BOE members now have collectively over 60 years of teaching experience, most of it in elementary education. It is not up to the Superintendent to unilaterally make decisions about what tests will be administered, that authority is given to local boards of education.

Rountree, who has five years of legal experience in addition to her 6 years teaching experience, again requested that McMillan schedule a special call meeting. McMillan agreed, and requested a special call meeting within the regularly scheduled work session on November 3. Both Rountree and McMillan conferred with David Buuck and Bud Armstrong in the Law Department to ensure the request was within policy and statutory bounds.

McIntyre said this meeting is “not necessary,” but it is the jurisdiction of the Board Chair, not the superintendent, to request a special call meeting.

It is also “not necessary” to mandate the SAT-10 assessment for K-2, or for 1-2. In the East Tennessee area, last year the SAT-10 was given in 21 districts, including Knox, Sevier, Hamblen, Hancock, Monroe, Roane and Scott counties, as well as Athens, Maryville, Lenoir and Etowah districts. But 13 districts, including Anderson, Union, Granger, Jefferson, Cocke, Green and Blount County do not give the SAT-10. Nor do the highly acclaimed and often compared Oak Ridge and Alcoa school systems.