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VOL. 133 | NO. 167 | Thursday, August 23, 2018

Haslam Sees Difference in Need for Testing, How Tests Are Administered

By Bill Dries

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says there is a distinction to be made in the current debate about student achievement testing in Tennessee and problems with the testing.

“We need to distinguish between the test itself … and the implementation,” Haslam said Wednesday, Aug. 22, during a visit to the Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School in Frayser. “Obviously, the technology hasn’t worked and we are committed to getting that right. … It would be such a mistake for the state to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Haslam is referring to a second consecutive year of problems with the administration of TNReady tests. He was in Memphis the day after he announced the establishment of a three-member advisory committee on how tests are administered and set a “listening tour” to talk with educators about testing.

While in Memphis for a visit to the Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School in Frayser,  Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam spoke to railway executives and local officialsat the BNSF intermodal terminal. (Daily News/Jim Weber)

“I think of the challenges facing the state, getting this right is one of the biggest - if not the biggest - challenge we face as a state because it matters so much for everything else,” Haslam said. “We’re actually required by federal law to have an end-of-the-year assessment. That’s not an optional exercise. The responsibility is on us to get that right. … We are the fastest improving state in the country in education results. That didn’t just happen. It happened by having higher standards, the right assessment in place and evaluations tied to that assessment.”

Haslam visited several classrooms at Georgian Hills, which is part of the state-run Achievement School District for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state based on student achievement as measured by TNReady tests.

Accompanying Haslam was Sharon Griffin, the recently named superintendent of the ASD. Fisher came to the post from heading the Innovation Zone schools’ program at Shelby County Schools – a turnaround model for the lowest performing schools that does not use charter operators. She was also SCS chief of schools before her appointment to the ASD was announced in April.

“Education issues have been the thing that we’ve talked about and focused on the most since we’ve been in office,” Haslam said. “And now that we’ve reached the end, it’s more important than ever that we see great follow through.”

The SCS I-Zone schools have outperformed ASD schools under Griffin’s leadership. But as she did at her appointment in April, Fisher downplayed the competitive part of the relationship between I-Zone and ASD.

“What I hope to do is be able to scale up best practices,” Griffin said Wednesday. “Not only will we offer I Zone strategies, but I also want to learn and glean from the work of our best practices.”

Haslam believes the ASD is on the “right path” and acknowledged turning around the state’s lowest performing schools is difficult.

“Maybe it was too ambitious,” he said of the ASD’s beginnings in 2012 when schools were taken over.

“Starting schools is one thing and we have some of the best charter operators in the country here,” he said. “But I think going in and starting a school is a whole lot easier than it is taking over a school. … We probably were a little too ambitious.”

The ASD was criticized early on for the suddenness of the takeovers the first year and encountered organized local resistance in the following years that accelerated as the first head-to-head comparison of the ASD and I-Zone schools found the ASD schools trailing in student achievement growth.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act – or ESSA – has eliminated the suddenness of the takeovers, which the ASD had been able to implement without the cooperation of the local school district. ESSA requires that the local school district be given several school years to turn around schools that are new to the bottom 5 percent ranking.

The ASD was a major part of public education changes during Haslam’s nearly eight years as governor – his second term ends in four months.

“The worst answer is just to say we are going to let the lowest performing schools stay that way. We haven’t gotten ASD exactly right,” Haslam said. “All of us hoped to and wanted to see a lot more improvement. But I don’t apologize at all for saying we are not going to accept things the way they are.”

Later in the day, Haslam was the featured guest at a private fundraiser in East Memphis for Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey.

Kelsey’s re-election effort on the Nov. 6 ballot faces a challenge from Democratic nominee Gabby Salinas, whose campaign is being helped by the Tennessee Democratic Party.

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