Nearly 2,000 parents have signed a petition asking Gov. Bill Haslam and other state leaders to nix the entire second part of Tennessee’s new standardized assessment for students grades 3-11.

The change.org petition, which was started last week, garnered 1,000 signatures in its first three days from parents across the state.

The author, Tullahoma City School Board member Jessica Fogarty, cites technical problems that derailed the test at its onset in February, causing Part I to be delayed as the state scrapped its new online platform and reverted to paper-based tests.

Fogarty also references the testing anxiety of her 8-year-old daughter, Claire, whom she said spent more than four hours taking TNReady Part I. Like Fogarty, many Tennessee parents and teachers have expressed concern that students are experiencing excessive standardized testing.

“Students … across the state of Tennessee are suffering through hours upon hours of the TNReady/TCAP test,” reads the petition. “Part 1 of the TNReady test was fraught with issues … I am pleading with those involved in the Tennessee legislative body, the Tennessee Department of Education, and Governor Haslam to not administer Part 2 of the TNReady/TCAP test.”

Fogarty plans to hand-deliver the petition to Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday. She’ll represent a small but vocal group of parents in Tennessee public schools, which has almost 996,000 students in grades K-12.

Responding to concerns about TNReady and complaints of over-testing, the State Department of Education reiterated its commitment Tuesday to move forward with TNReady Part II, which is scheduled to take place between April 25 and May 10.

“We knew the first year of a large-scale assessment change would not be perfect; however, eliminating Part II would discount the work that thousands of Tennessee educators and nearly 1 million students have done in recent months and years,” spokeswoman Ashley Ball said. “We believe Tennessee students deserve the opportunity to show what they know and have learned.”

TNReady is pivotal to the system of accountability instituted in public education during the last six years across Tennessee, which uses standardized test scores as the measuring stick for performance by students, educators, schools and districts.

Last week, state officials announced that the department will shorten next year’s test, a decision that they said had been in the works for two months.

However, Fogarty said a shortened test is not enough. Noting that third-graders like her daughter will have taken more than 11 hours of end-of-year testing this year, she wants to see testing time slashed in half.

While it might seem far-fetched to entirely cancel a standardized test, Alaska did just that last week because of similar technical issues.

Alaska’s decision was a “huge shot of adrenaline,” Fogarty said. “Now we know somebody can stop this because it was done in Alaska.”

The petition is separate from the state’s nascent opt-out movement, in which students refuse to take the test. But it highlights the same complaints: that too much time is being spent on tests, and that the stakes for the tests are too high.

Jessica Fogarty of Tullahoma
Jessica Fogarty of Tullahoma

Fogarty says she plans to opt out her daughter from TNReady Part II testing if her petition is unsuccessful.

Numerous comments on the petition cite another common concern by parents who support their children in opting out: that the state’s standardized tests are developmentally inappropriate.

Tension over that complaint has been heightened by the state’s current policy of not allowing the state to release test questions. However, under a new law passed this spring and taking effect next year, the state will release several test questions after the test is complete in an effort to increase transparency.