By MARINA WATERS
The public comment portion of the Washington County Board of Education’s regularly scheduled Thursday, April 11, meeting brought about a pair of motions related to state testing.
A Washington County Schools parent, Kerrie Aistrop, addressed the board during the meeting to discuss her issues with state testing, including a suggestion to eliminate TNReady testing for second graders. State testing is not required for students until third grade. The board’s motion to table the decision failed in a 3-4 vote while a following motion to eliminate the test failed in a 4-3 vote. (Board members Keith Ervin and Jason Day were absent, therefore, a majority vote was required.)
“I suggest you cancel TNReady testing for second graders,” Aistrop said. “It is optional. I don’t understand why we are taking it if it doesn’t count for anything.”
During the meeting, Washington County Director of Elementary Education Karla Kyte explained that the state test for second graders came about as a way for teachers and administrators to better gage where students are terms of learning standards. She also said the state implemented the optional testing for second graders as a part of the state’s mission to have more third graders reading on grade level by the end of third grade.
“The intent of the test was grounded in the research that came out in 2015,” Kyte said. “It’s from where Tennessee has approximately 30 to 35 percent of students in the state reading on grade level at the end of third grade. The state wanted some more accountability for children going into the third grade, therefore they had the optional second grade test.”
Kyte added that the optional state test also comes one year before “the high accountability and the high stakes” testing is required in third grade.
The board was also concerned with the idea of over-testing students.
Board member Phillip McLain asked how many tests second graders typically take throughout a school year. Kyte said second graders typically take STAR tests as well as Common Formative Assessments in addition to typical tests given by teachers throughout the year.
“At the end of the day it has to be about the kids,” Board member David Hammond added. “We are already monitoring them through other tests, just maybe this particular one structured this particular way (is not needed).”
Though some board members also voiced concern regarding test anxiety in second graders, Ridgeview Elementary School’s principal, Kelley Harrell, said she felt keeping the second grade testing would actually cut down on test anxiety when a student gets to the third grade.
“That same stress is going to be enhanced in third grade (if the test is removed) because these kids will have no experience when it would count against our teachers, against our students and against our schools,” Harrell said. “We’re going to put them in third grade when they take a high-stakes test when it does count (and they’ve had) no exposure and no experience? Talk about nerves. It’s going to enhance those nerves in third grade, so do think about that flip side.”
Meanwhile, Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary asked the board that they leave the testing for second graders in tact for the rest of the school year.
“In the state of Tennessee, 105 school systems do give the second grade TNReady tests because it gives second graders zero pressure in testing, it gives our teachers a score in how they’re doing in the standards, it builds value-added scores for when children enter the third grade and it’s prescriptive. It doesn’t count for any grade whatsoever. It’s optional. It’s in just a matter of days, but if this board moves to remove it, the board’s will be done.”
Before the board’s failed vote to eliminate the test, board member Chad Fleenor suggested the board revisit the discussion, citing the impact the decision could have on the school system with testing coming the following week.
“I think we need to somehow have a meeting with all our principals and some teachers,” Fleenor said. “We’ve been talking about this testing for three months. We’ve done nothing. Now we’re going to test next week and we’re going to do something about it? I don’t think we’ve thought this out very much.”