By Sally Absher

By Sally Absher

The Board of Education took up several potentially controversial topics at last Wednesday’s December Regular Board meeting, including  a recommendation regarding inclusion of high school EOC scores in final student grades, a proposal of Emerald Charter School to revise their enrollment plan, and a resolution regarding TN Ready and TVAAS.

Back in October, the BOE voted to suspend Policy IHAC this year, as the state makes the transition to TNReady assessments. That means KCS will not integrate state assessment Quick Scores into student grades for the current academic year. But high school principals have expressed a desire to give teachers the option of including the Quick Scores into student grades IF the score would have a positive impact on the overall final grade. Dr. McIntyre recommended the Board approve this modification.

Several board members and Student Representative Sydney Gabrielson expressed concern about making this modification. Gabrielson said, “I think it’s cherry picking when you say it’s only going to be for the positive benefits, it needs to be standard within all students, it shouldn’t just be the kids whose grades need boosting up.”

Mike McMillan also expressed concern that the scores would only be included for certain students. “I can’t see if this kid aces it, it counts 25% of his grade, but if the kid behind him fails it, you just toss that out. I think it should apply equally to everybody – either count it for everybody, or throw it out for everybody, and we said we weren’t going to count it.” Amber Rountree mentioned that many high school teachers are already creating their own EOC test for student grades, and agreed that to include the TN Ready scores for some students is cherry picking.

Tracie Sanger said she does not support inclusion of TN Ready scores until the quick score grades correspond to proficiency, citing an example where a student receives a score of 90, but that is considered only “basic” proficiency. But a 90 is a grade of B, which she said should at least be proficient, or advanced.

But the majority of the board felt that students should be given the opportunity to bring their grades up, even though high school students are already in the TN Ready testing period for fall block courses. The motion carried with Sanger, Patti Bounds, and McMillan voting no, and Rountree passing.

The board also considered a request by Emerald Charter school to 1) revise the additional grades for the 2016-2017 school year from grades 2 and 5 to grades 2 and 6, and 2) increase enrollment by 10 students for each of the next three years over the current enrollment plan, resulting in a total enrollment of 570 students  in 2019-2020. This request has an additional fiscal impact of $621,000 over three years.

The board had no issue with Emerald adding grade 6 instead of grade 5 next year. But several BOE members had reservations about adding more students. Lynn Fugate said, “My concern is while adding 10 more students is in some ways no big deal, it is additional resources from our budget…It’s a little soon for a brand new charter school to come back and ask for a change to add more students…My priorities are for the other 90 schools that we have.”

Rountree asked where the additional $621,000 would come from. She cited the MOU, which states “The Board of Education shall strive to propose budgets through FY 2019 within revenue projections provided by the Knox County Finance Department and agreed upon by the Schools’ Finance Department.”

Dr. McIntyre said the funds would come from the general fund revenues, and the budget for the following year would have to speak to those resources going to the charter school.

Gloria Deathridge said she was concerned by the way Emerald was marketing and targeting students from Green, Sarah Moore Green, Vine, when “We are working very hard to make a difference at those schools… I don’t want anyone to think that Vine is not doing a good job and that we have to have the charter school to make those kids achieve.”

Doug Harris, who is a member of the Emerald Youth Foundation Board and a huge advocate for charter schools and vouchers, cited the achievement gap, something that is much more a symptom of poverty than what school students attend. He said “Emerald Charter is a public school.” Actually, Emerald uses public funding but is run by a privately appointed Board and only receives administrative oversight by our elected BOE.

In a classic Freudian slip, Harris said, “I would support adding another 10 schools,” much to the amusement of the rest of the Board and those in the audience. He also said, “Charter schools are bringing in significant private funds for public education. They’ve already raised a couple of million bucks.”  This is privatization: hedge fund managers investing in Charter Schools to make money.

The Board approved a motion to adopt the change adding 6th grade instead of 5th grade next year, but declining the addition of more students. Harris voted no.

The Board took up Amber Rountree’s Resolution of the Board of Education of Knox County, Tennessee in Opposition to the Use of TN Ready Data for Teacher Evaluations for School Year 2015-2016.

A redline revised version was provided by Karen Carson, who thanked Rountree for doing the hard work to draft the initial resolution, but explained, “I agree 100% that teachers should have the same grace (in the scores not counting against them) this year as students. But much of the other information in the original resolution distracts from that endpoint.”

Although there was disagreement about TVAAS as ‘junk science” based on the June 2015 AERA Statement on Use of Value-Added Models (VAM) for the Evaluation of Educators and Educator Preparation Programs, and on whether the TN Ready questions the state is leasing from Utah at a cost of $2,340,000 per year have been verified, the Board unanimously passed the redline version of the Resolution.

You could almost hear the chorus of “Kumbaya” coming from the City County Building.

Patti Bounds thanked Rountree and Carson for working together on the resolution, which “sends a strong message to the state that we are concerned about our educators.”

It was good to see the Board take the lead, set the standard, and be a role model to other Districts. In fact, Rountree said on Thursday morning that she had already received a request for the Resolution from Williamson Strong and a PTA in the tri-cities area.