Tennessee should continue to test its students to know if they’re meeting state academic standards and also should fix problems with administering its annual TNReady assessment, according to a statewide poll released Monday.
But whether the state should keep using test results to evaluate teachers is less clear.
Surveyors spoke with 600 Tennesseans likely to vote in this November’s race for governor in the latest poll commissioned by SCORE, a Nashville-based nonpartisan research and advocacy group seeking to improve student achievement across Tennessee.
Education has remained among the top three issues for Tennessee voters heading into the Nov. 6 election to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and dozens of state lawmakers, according to all three of SCORE’s election surveys in the last year.
In the latest poll conducted Aug. 27-30, some 33 percent of participants identified education as their most important concern, compared to jobs and the economy (34 percent) and health care (32 percent).
Surveyors also asked about testing for the first time since last spring, when widespread technical problems disrupted students’ annual exams on digital devices. As a result, the Legislature yanked those scores from the state’s education accountability systems, and public trust in TNReady has fallen to an all-time low.
The future of TNReady — and how Tennessee will handle federally required testing — hangs in the balance of this year’s election.
Since 2012, SCORE polls have consistently found strong support for an annual assessment to measure whether students are reaching their learning goals. But under TNReady, the state’s 3-year-old test aligned to new standards, giving the test and reporting the results have been rife with problems from the get-go.
Even so, 88 percent of voters surveyed agreed that testing is an important way to measure education effectiveness, with over half calling it very important.
On TNReady, 61 percent said the test should be fixed, while 27 percent dubbed it “a failure (that) will never be a good measure of student progress.”
“Once voters learn what TNReady is — a test designed to measure problem solving, critical thinking, and other skills needed for 21st century careers — a 2-to-1 majority favor its use to measure Tennessee students’ progress,” the pollsters wrote.
But respondents were split on whether Tennessee should continue its controversial policy of using students’ year‐to‐year academic growth — as measured by TNReady and end-of-course exams — in teachers’ annual performance reviews.
On other education matters, a majority of voters surveyed supported making improved literacy in grades K-3 the state’s top priority (64 percent), giving parents more choices for where to send their child to school (63 percent), and expanding quality pre-kindergarten opportunities (59 percent).
Voters also expressed doubt that Tennessee students are graduating ready for their next steps after high school. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said students are not properly prepared for the workforce, while just under half said students are going to college unprepared.
SCORE, which stands for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, is planning a Future Readiness Summit with educators, policymakers, and business leaders on those matters on Oct. 18 in Nashville.
The phone survey was conducted by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates and Benenson Strategy Group. You can read the questions and more results here.