Rep. Holt barred from taking test with 8th grade students

State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dreseden, had been planning to take a test alongside students at an elementary school in his district, but says he has been told – first by state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, then by a school system administrator – that he’s not welcome. Holt is “completely shocked.”

News release, as posted on Holt’s Facebook page:

Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) had planned to test alongside 8th grade English & Language Arts students today at Hillcrest Elementary School to address the concerns of hundreds of Northwest Tennessee parents and teachers that had contacted him regarding the new standards for the TN Ready standardized tests. Hours before Holt was scheduled to appear, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen contacted Holt and discouraged him from testing.

“I told Commissioner McQueen that I had a job to do,” said Holt. “When your constituents ask you to do something for them, you follow through. My only goal was to quietly walk in and take a seat off to the side and sit for the same exam in the same environment that our children are. After the exam was over, I wanted to talk to students and see how they felt about it. These are some our youngest constituents in the state. Their voice matters too.”

Shortly after Holt hung up the phone with McQueen after informing her that he would still be coming to the school, Holt received a phone call from the Obion County Schools administration telling him that they were not going to allow him to visit the school.

“Honestly, I’m completely shocked. I was told that I would not be allowed to visit the school today and speak with these concerned teachers, students and parents that had even planned to be there,” said Holt. “I was told that they were under the impression that I wanted to take the exam because of ‘technical glitches’. However, no one ever said anything about technical glitches. This was always about standards, not glitches. They knew that. In fact, I spoke with the school principal yesterday and was invited with a warm welcome. Now, the tone has changed. This morning, their words were, ‘Nothing is wrong with the standards. There is no reason for you to review them in the classroom. We thought you were coming because of glitches.’ Even if that were the case, why was I welcomed if it was about glitches, but when it became about standards, they slammed the door closed on an elected official?”
Holt said that this kind of behavior is exactly why people have lost faith in their government.

“You know, when you block an elected official from addressing the concerns of parents and teachers, you’ve validated every single concern that parents and teachers have,” said Holt. “This is why people do not trust their government. Who can blame them? On countless occasions, I have seen administrators, guidance counselors, etc. sit in on exams with teachers proctor over student tests. Since when are elected officials and parents not allowed to see what kind of environment their students are being taught in? Since when did a public school become shut off to the public?”

Holt says he will still be at Hillcrest Elementary School at 11:30AM as planned.
“If they don’t want to allow me in the school to address the concerns of teachers and parents, and do what I was asked to do, then that’s fine for today,” said Holt. “However, these teachers and parents will know that someone is there representing them. Even if I stand outside by myself for two hours, I’ll be there to talk with any teacher, parent and anyone else that shows up. I’m not afraid of standing alone.”

Tennesseans for Student Success, a non-profit advocacy group that generally supports Gov. Bill Haslam on education issues and which was headed until recently by his former campaign manager (Jeremy Harrell), has sent media a response to Holt’s test-taking plans.

Here it is:

Tennesseans for Student Success released today the following statement from Communications Director Ashley Elizabeth Graham:

“Tennessee’s classrooms should be places of learning where student success is celebrated and high expectations are embraced. Teachers and students should not be props used by politicians determined to undermine the hard work in Tennessee’s classrooms. Unfortunately that is exactly what Representative Holt is doing today.

TNReady is a new statewide assessment to measure more than test-taking skills. TNReady will measure what Tennessee’s students know – allowing everyone who supports those students to celebrate success and focus on areas where students need more support.

Any Tennessean can go online, today, and answer practice TNReady questions, and teachers and schools have spent time, hard work, and taxpayer dollars preparing to administer a better test for our students. Representative Holt could have offered his thoughts during this process, but is choosing instead to grasp for media attention by disrupting the school day and opposing a practice test designed to help elementary school students succeed.

Tennessee’s kids deserve fewer, better tests and a classroom free of political influences.”