Memphis considers joining area school boards asking state to ease TNReady test requirements

Miska Clay Bibbs stands behind a podium with TV stations microphones
Miska Clay Bibbs, the Shelby County Schools board chairwoman, speaks during a press conference Friday about reopening Memphis classrooms. (Laura Faith Kebede / Chalkbeat)

Update, Feb. 25, 2021: The school board voted Tuesday to sign on to this statement.

Shelby County Schools board members are considering signing a joint statement that expresses concern about two state laws passed during the recent special session on education.

The district’s suburban neighbor Germantown Municipal School District crafted the statement and Lakeland’s school board signed on last week.

One law would require third graders to repeat the year if their reading skills do not meet state requirements. Based on the most recent TNReady exam, the state could retain as many as two-thirds of third graders statewide beginning in the 2022-23 academic year. 

The statement says the state’s standard is too high for students and could potentially hold back students who are actually reading on grade level, echoing concerns from other school leaders across Tennessee. Instead of relying on one test, the statement presented Tuesday at a board work session suggests the state should consider other ways for students to show their reading skills.

The second law allows districts, teachers, and students to skirt any negative consequences from this year’s test scores, but only if 80% of students participate in person for annual statewide testing. Normally, decisions about teacher raises, student grades, and school improvement at least partially depend on state test scores. 

Shelby County Schools will be the last district in the state to reopen classrooms after some students return in March. District officials in Germantown and Lakeland have been offering in-person instruction for months now. Despite their different approaches, each district has been concerned about what state testing will look like during the pandemic.

The statement says it would be “extremely difficult” for districts to test 80% of students in person because many parents have chosen remote learning “out of concern for their health and the health of others in their family and the larger community.”  

And even though the state allows parents to choose remote learning this year, the state currently only allows students to take the TNReady and other annual exams in person. 

“The boards do not expect all students enrolled in full-time remote instruction will agree to take these tests in person, nor do the boards believe those students should be required to do so,” the statement reads.

Instead, the statement requests that the state either provide a remote testing option, lower the required student participation rate, or cancel testing this school year.

Board chairwoman Miska Clay Bibbs said the resolution would help the board “move forward advocating for our students.” 

Board members are scheduled to vote on whether to sign the statement at their full meeting Tuesday.

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