Nashville’s school board follows Knox County’s lead

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

Question: How much did Bill Haslam hate Knox County school board member Amber Rountree’s resolution asking the state for a one-year waiver from using TNReady/TCAP scores to calculate student scores and teacher evaluations?

Answer: A lot.

So much that he staged an event in Rountree’s South Knox district to celebrate statewide improvements in science scores the week before the vote. He brought an astronaut in and hung around long enough afterward to pose for pictures and denounce Rountree’s resolution – not bothering to take the opportunity to speak to Rountree, who would have been hard to miss in her heavily pregnant state.

She gave birth to her second son a few days later and attended the school board meeting the following week, casting her vote via Skype. Her resolution passed 6-3, despite heavy-handed opposition from interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas, who wrote a scathing email to school board members calling her resolution “ill-advised” and warning them (among other things) that approving the resolution would risk offending Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and legislators Harry Brooks and Bill Dunn, causing newly elected board chair Patti Bounds to remark that this sounded like a request to put politics ahead of what’s best for students.

Rountree, who had sponsored an almost-identical resolution last year after the state messed up testing data and was unable to produce reliable numbers in time for grades and evaluations to be calculated, said she was perplexed by the harsh reaction from high places and that she had hoped for “a collegial discourse about it.”

You don’t have to be a mind reader to surmise that Haslam feared a cascading effect – that other districts will follow suit.

And it looks like he’s right.

Last week, the Metro Nashville Public Schools voted unanimously to adopt an almost identical resolution.

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report, speculated that this is the beginning of a “waiver wave,” and wrote that change is in the air.

“Now, two large Tennessee school districts are calling for a waiver from using test data in student grades and teacher evaluations. Will other districts follow suit? Will the General Assembly pay attention?”

That’s exactly what Spears – who questioned Haslam’s contention that the use of student assessments in formulating teacher evaluations is “part of the recipe for success” – is hoping for:

“To suggest that a year without the use of TVAAS scores in teacher evaluations will cause a setback is to insult Tennessee’s teachers. As if they’ll just relax and not teach as hard. … Right now, we don’t know if we have a good standardized test. Taking a year to get it right is important, especially in light of the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience.”

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