By Beth Brown, TEA vice president
When I was invited to participate in Gov. Bill Haslam’s education summit that took place on Thursday, I imagined it would be a little intimidating to sit down with the governor, the commissioner of education, state legislators, city mayors, business leaders and others – until I realized I was one of the only teachers at the table. I understood quickly while many people are very well-versed in education policy, most had zero classroom experience. The small group of teachers and administrators participating in the discussion were the real experts in the room.
I walked away from that table with two things.
First, testing transparency is a huge problem for students, teachers and parents. Presenters spoke at length about the need for appropriate assessments to determine what students have and have not learned. How would a classroom teacher know if the state test was appropriate and fit what we’ve been told to teach? Once a student takes that state test, teachers never see real results, just numbers. A list of student scores does not tell me what questions students missed or how I can help them master those problems.
If a parent asks me why their student performed poorly on a state test, I don’t have an answer for them because I am prohibited from reviewing the questions after the test. How can a student improve if they do not know what areas they struggled with on the test? This is frustrating for teachers and parents, but the ones who truly suffer are the students.
My second takeaway is the serious need for accountability in Tennessee, but not just for teachers. The administration and the Department of Education cannot say enough about the dire need to hold teachers accountable for how students fill in bubbles—but where is the state’s accountability?
The state’s investment in our students is embarrassing. Mississippi invests more per student than Tennessee. Over the course of a four-hour discussion about public education, funding was mentioned one time. One time. How can you gather that many education and policy leaders in a room and not address one of the biggest issues facing our schools? I am proud of the work my colleagues and I are able to do with so little resources, but it is time the governor be held accountable for not appropriately funding our schools.
It isn’t just the governor, though. Commissioner Huffman has made test scores the be-all, end-all for students and teachers, yet his department failed to get test scores back to districts in time for final grades. After that massive blunder, he followed it up by distributing an inaccurate “School Accountability List” to directors, incorrectly listing which schools were named “focus” schools. These mistakes have serious implications for students and educators. Where was the commissioner’s accountability?
There were many conflicting ideas and opinions shared at the summit. Mr. Governor, I hope you were listening when the real experts spoke.
Beth Brown serves as vice president of the Tennessee Education Association. TEA is the state’s largest professional organization representing more than 46,000 teachers, administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty and students preparing to become teachers.