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A student fills out an answer on the practice test given prior to a traditional paper standardized test.

Overtesting and underfunding are the two largest hurdles facing teachers in Tennessee, according to state education experts.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Education Association brought its third annual Road Trip to Hamilton County in an effort to discuss with concerned educators, parents and community members the number of issues plaguing local schools.

According to TEA officials, students simply aren't receiving the quality education they need in the state because teachers are required to grind students — and themselves — into the dirt through repeated testing. And when the results come in, they are too often used to punish educators and students, they said.

"We currently have a test-and-punish system," said Rhonda Thompson, a coordinator of instructional advocacy and student program with TEA.

She said when students perform poorly everyone is punished through school closures, job losses and budget cuts.

But teachers are reporting that the overuse of standardized testing is part of what is contributing to low scores.

"I'm hearing children say they're taking tests to find out how they're going to do on that test," Thompson said.

For TEA, the current testing system is totally flawed and should absolutely not be used to make "high-stakes decisions" about whether a teacher gets to keep his or her job.

"Test scores do not define whether you are a bad teacher or a good teacher," TEA President Barbara Gray said.

In the meantime, Gray added, teachers constantly have to dip into their own pockets to pay for resources and materials, a responsibility they shouldn't have.

She showed that Tennessee is currently ranked 46th in the nation for funding per student.

"To equal Kentucky's investment, Tennessee would need a billion-dollar increase in education funding this year," Gray said, comparing Tennessee to Kentucky, which is 36th in funding per student.

After the the meeting, teachers lingered behind, discussing some of the issues with one another.

Dan Liner, president of the local teachers union, said the conversations were a good sign.

"They're not discussing the weather, they're talking about education issues," he said.

One first-grade teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said fixing problems in public education matters so much to her because she is being forced to teach and test well beyond the capabilities of students who have been underprepared by the system.

"I feel dirty because I know they're not ready for what I'm teaching," she said. "It scares me because I really feel like in Hamilton County right now we have a lost generation."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731.