Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks with local teachers, principals, TNReady assessment coordinators and others during a roundtable discussion at Soddy Daisy High School Tuesday, August 28, 2018. Haslam was in attendance to gain feedback on how the state can continue to improve delivery of the TNReady assessment.

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Haslam TNReady Tour

Educators from across the region voiced their frustrations with the TNReady state assessment to Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen at the second stop on Haslam's "listening tour" Tuesday.

Last week, Haslam announced a six-stop tour across the state to discuss with students, teachers and administrators how TNReady testing can be improved after several years of problems.

"We felt like the whole situation was on fire," said Michael Kahrs, director of student information systems for Cleveland City School, in regards to last spring's testing window.

Delivery of TNReady has been fraught with issues since the test was first launched in 2015. This spring, students and educators experienced a new batch of issues, including problems with the test's vendor, Questar, a malfunction that was initially believed to be a hack, and even a severed fiber-optic cable that halted testing across Middle Tennessee.

Haslam acknowledged those failures and the need to look for answers and ways to improve.

"We have, I think, made some significant progress in education in Tennessee but all of us are painfully aware of the difficulties of this," Haslam said. "We're hoping you'll be honest. We're here to be solutions-focused."

Many of the frustrations educators shared included communication with the state and the school districts, as well as the difficultly of communicating changes or problems between individual schools within districts and the step back to widespread paper testing next year.

"I told my teachers I would mention this: When EOC [end of course] testing was taking place, they were getting very stressed and they would hear on the news 'Everything is going great,' but they were saying, 'It's not going great!'" said Angie Gill Tuck, testing coordinator for Bradley County Schools.

Hamilton County educators were not as vocal as educators were in Knox County about one particular issue — the time and place of the meeting.

Haslam and state officials were confronted by teachers last Friday who accused the governor of setting the meeting at a deliberately inconvenient time for educators, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Though some educators were vocal on social media, most of those who showed up to Tuesday's meeting at Soddy-Daisy High School were allowed into the meeting, including five Hamilton County school board members and a group of educators invited from a wide swath of school districts in the region including Hamilton, Bradley, Bledsoe, McMinn, and Rhea counties and Athens City, Cleveland City, Etowah City and Maryville City schools.

The state has already begun to take steps to prevent some of the same issues with testing this school year. One of the biggest changes is that only high school students in grades 9-12 and those taking science — which is in a field-testing, non-punitive stage — will take their assessments online.

Some districts expressed concern about the step backward to paper testing and even suggested more online testing as a way to access test results and data quicker and easier.

"When we are testing online for [grades ] 5-12, we will get those results the next day," said Mike Winstead, director of schools for Maryville City Schools. "And that really changes the conversation."

Many of the educators asked for more technical support from the state in order to perform the testing online effectively.

Wayne Miller, a lead consultant for the Governor's Office and former Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents executive director, was surprised that not many of the districts in the region had a 1:1 ratio of computers to students. He added that the discussion taking place at this roundtable and the five others would be important as the state puts out a request for proposal for a new testing vendor.

"What we do here will be foundational," Miller said. "We want to get some good information to help put together the RFP."

Haslam added that he wanted to be sure he prepared his successor for the hand-off of the state assessment system.

"It is important that we ensure a handoff that is as smooth as possible, particularly if you know there are ways it was difficult that can be improved," he said.

The next stop on the governor's listening tour is Thursday in Shelby County.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.