Now there’s a task force on testing (AP story and news release)

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A new task force will review student testing and assessment amid concerns that students are being overtested, the state Education Department announced Monday.

The group is charged with identifying best practices in testing and how those assessments align with required state tests.

“We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place,” said Education Commissioner Candace McQueen. “So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels.”

Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said he’s pleased to see the panel formed.

“When you’re losing the time to teach because you are testing and testing again, you have lost the purpose of what tests are supposed to be,” he said.

The formation of the panel comes at a time when the state is preparing to administer an assessment that aligns with the state’s current academic standards, which include the controversial Common Core state standards for English and math.

Conservative critics argue that the common education standards represent federal intrusion in matters that should be decided by the state, while those on the left say they impose too many requirements on teachers.

Common Core opponents say they have no problem with higher standards that seek to make students more competitive, but they’d like to see the standards developed at the state level.

Several Tennessee lawmakers have proposed legislation to change the standards, but educators say such legislation would interfere with the alignment assessment scheduled for spring of 2016.

Last month, most of the state’s superintendents wrote to all members of the General Assembly asking them not to change the standards this legislative session.

“Teachers have been working hard and preparing for this assessment,” according to the letter. “It would be a huge blow to the morale of educators if the General Assembly passes legislation that puts Tennessee on a path to change standards … or that alters the timeline for the new assessment.”

Here’s the Department of Education news release with member list:
NASHVILLE — Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today announced the formation of a special Tennessee Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment to study and identify best practices in testing at the school level and how those assessments align with required state tests.

“We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place. So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels,” McQueen said. “Proper assessment tools are vital in making sure we are supporting our schools, teachers, parents, and students with clear information about what students are learning and mastering. We want to highlight those districts that are finding the right approach and balance on this important topic, and to identify any areas for discussion and improvement.”

The new task force includes a broad spectrum of education leaders, teachers and stakeholders. The first meeting of the task force will convene in late March, and will focus on the results of a district assessment survey.

“Assessments can be powerful tools in ensuring the work we’re doing in education is effective and that we are gaining a return on our taxpayer investments,” Senate Education Committee Chairman and task force member Dolores Gresham said. “I’m excited to be a part of this important work.”

The task force will issue a report on its findings this summer.

The task force will include the following members:

Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
Sara Heyburn, Executive Director, State Board of Education
Dolores Gresham, Chairman, Senate Education Committee
John Forgety, Chairman, House Education Committee
Harry Brooks, Chairman, House Education Committee
Mike Winstead, Director of Schools, Maryville City
Wanda Shelton, Director of Schools, Lincoln County
Mary Reel, Director of Schools, Milan Special Schools
Nancy Ashe, Assistant Director of Schools, Lebanon Special Schools
Beth Unfried, Director of Elementary Schools, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
Sharon McNary, Principal, Richland Elementary, Shelby County Schools
Philip Eller, Teacher, Cedar Grove Elementary, Rutherford County Schools
Becky McBride, Teacher, Brighton High, Tipton County School
Valerie Love, Teacher, Dobyns-Bennett High, Kingsport City Schools
Susan Lodal, President, Tennessee School Boards Association
Jasmine Carlisle, 11TH-grade Student, Mt. Juliet High, Wilson County Schools
Virginia Babb, Member, Knox County Parent-Teacher Association

Ex officio members

Kathleen Airhart, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
Stephen Smith, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
Emily Freitag, Assistant Commissioner, Curriculum and Instruction, Tennessee Department of Education
Nakia Towns, Assistant Commissioner, Data and Research, Tennessee Department of Education
Eva Boster, Teacher Ambassador, Tennessee Department of Education
Alyssa Van Camp, Director of Policy, State Collaborative on Reforming Education