Kindergarten teachers spoke and the Tennessee General Assembly listened. It appears it will take longer than expected for the state department of education to act.
As a result of powerful TEA member testimony demanding relief from the troubled early learning portfolio system in April, the Tennessee legislature unanimously passed a bill allowing school districts to use alternate measures of student growth that have been approved by the State Board of Education.
Signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee before the legislature adjourned for the summer, HB 91/SB 442 ensured that teachers are held harmless for the 2018-19 school year and called for “a portfolio review committee” comprised of three pre-k or kindergarten teachers (one from each of the grand divisions of the state), four legislators, one representative of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, one representative of the Tennessee School Boards Association, as well as the state education commissioner or a designee.
The new law required the committee to review the pre-k/kindergarten growth portfolio model process, identify expectations for the model and areas of improvement, and make recommendations including “ways to streamline the growth portfolio model rubrics and processes” and “improve the functionality of the growth portfolio platform.”
The portfolio committee was assembled and met July 23, but it did not include any of the outspoken critics of the portfolio system. The meeting was not publicized, and no notice of the meeting was published on the General Assembly’s calendar of events – an unusual deviation from the legislature’s standard practice of publishing meeting calendars in advance.
The committee developed nine recommendations, which include ensuring that “the technology platform provides teachers an easy-to-use and error-free environment” to submit student work, reducing the peer reviewer pool, simplifying the scoring rubrics, ensuring there is a grievance process, and reducing the number of collections teachers are required to submit.
“The portfolio review committee recommended developing alternative growth options to be available by 2020-21,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “Based on the testimony we heard in the General Assembly in the spring and the overwhelming response to the TEA portfolio survey, Tennessee students and teachers cannot afford to wait this long.”
Brown recalled that when the portfolio system was rolled out, teachers immediately identified problems and inconsistencies. When the State Department of Education did not offer a fix, it was teachers who made sure the legislature knew about the mounting issues – and passed a law to address them.
“We urge all kindergarten and pre-k teachers in Tennessee to notify us of the issues with the portfolio system during the current school year,” Brown said.