Low-Performing Tennessee School Districts Speak Out Against New Accountability Model

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The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

One of the Tennessee Department of Education’s regional town hall meetings was held at the General Morgan Inn in Greeneville on August 17. The meeting was held to hear from the public on what they felt were the best ways to determine School Letter Grades, which will measure how the state’s public schools are performing.

According to Chelsea Crawford, Tennessee Department of Education chief of staff, the letter grades will be handed out to schools as part of the state’s Report Card, which will be released to the public in November. 

The town hall held in Greeneville was held for school districts in the first region of Tennessee, which includes Greene, Carter, Cocke, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. 

The meeting only drew a small crowd, including eight educators and one school board member from Greeneville City Schools. 

GCS Director of Schools Steve Starnes spoke in opposition of using new measures to grade schools. 

“You have an accountability model in place right now that we have been working against the last several years,” he said. “Without additional legislation to change the law in effect at this time, how can we change the measure based on last year’s data? It’s definitely not right.” 

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Greeneville assistant director of schools for instruction Dr. Suzanne Bryant also spoke against the new policy, stating that it was like “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

Bryant noted that it is important to combine both growth data and achievement data to measure the effectiveness of schools and teachers on students. 

Dr. Lana Luttrell, principal of Tusculum View Elementary School, voiced her opinion that using chronic absenteeism as a measure was also unfair because it did not take into account if absences were excused because of accidents or chronic illness. 

Brandy Shelton, Greeneville’s data and testing coordinator, spoke for Greeneville as well. She noted that there is a correlation between academic performance and socio-economic status of students. 

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Each speaker was given two minutes to present their remarks. The only other attendee to speak was Nancy Brawley, curriculum coordinator for Cocke County High School. 

State law was established in 2016 that required the Tennessee Department of Education to develop the school letter grading system to provide parents and families with information on how the schools are performing, but progress on that requirement was slowed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The state’s letter grade is supposed to give the public a transparent, easy-to-understand snapshot of how each school performed during the previous academic year. 

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It is worth noting that Greenville schools only have about 30% of students testing at grade level proficiency, making it highly likely that they would not want the public to gain an even clearer picture of the subpar education that is being provided to local children.

Residents can still provide comments on this new form of accountability via email at SchoolLetterGrades@tnedu.gov until September 15.

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