Support for TNReady rebounds after problem-free testing year, says new poll

Three years of technical problems and controversy surrounding Tennessee’s testing program don’t appear to have dampened Tennesseans’ support for giving students annual tests to measure their learning, according to a new statewide poll released Friday.

Fully 85% of registered Tennessee voters who were surveyed believe it’s important to test students each year to know they’re meeting the state’s standards. And eight out of 10 said those results should be used to hold teachers and public schools accountable, says the poll commissioned by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE, a nonprofit group that researches and advocates for best practices in Tennessee schools.

The findings come as Tennessee administered its first trouble-free TNReady test last school year after three straight years of headaches under two different testing companies. Pearson was hired to take over administration this year after widespread technical problems under Questar and previous vendor Measurement Inc. shook public confidence in TNReady results and put at risk an accountability system that many state leaders believe have led to gains on national tests.

About 69% of those polled support continuing to use TNReady in Tennessee schools, a jump of 10 percentage points over this time last year.

Pollsters also delved into the state’s use of growth scores — which measure learning over time, regardless of whether those students are proficient — in evaluating its teachers and schools. More than half of voters favored using academic growth in teacher evaluations, and more than three-fourths approved of that approach for grading schools. 

As Tennessee prepares to give schools their first A-F letter grades next year, 80% of voters said they favored such measures, as well as state intervention, teacher evaluation, and other policies designed to increase transparency about education quality. And more than half said they were less likely to support a legislator who votes to ease off of those kinds of measures.

“There is clear support among all voter groups for robust accountability in K-12 education,” said pollster Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies. 

Blizzard’s group asked a series of questions about K-12 and postsecondary education to 500 voters that are representative of the state based on geography, gender, and party affiliation. Consistent with other surveys commissioned by SCORE since 2015, voters identified education as one of the top issues facing state government, ranking below health care but above jobs and the economy. 

Three-fourths favored increasing choice in public schools via charter or magnet schools. And they overwhelmingly agreed that students need an education beyond high school — whether it’s a technical certificate, community college, or a four-year degree — if they want to achieve economic success. 

“It’s clear that Tennesseans agree that it is essential to prepare all students to succeed in college, career, and life,” said SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri.

SCORE was established in 2009 by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a physician and Republican from Tennessee, and has become one of the state’s most influential voices on education policy and practice. The group recently expanded its focus beyond K-12 education to include college and career.

Its most recent poll did not include questions about education vouchers, a perennially hot-button issue that SCORE has steered clear of but was at the forefront of legislative debate this spring as lawmakers approved Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account plan. That controversial program is scheduled to launch next school year.

The poll showed 58% of Tennesseans believe that Tennessee is generally headed in the right direction. Lee’s approval rating was 61%, while the legislature’s was 53%.