KNOX COUNTY — After several years of problems with administration of the TNReady standardized test, Gov. Bill Haslam kicked off his state-wide listening tour in East Tennessee on how to improve the exam.
Haslam attended a roundtable discussion Friday afternoon at Halls Elementary School where he met with local education leaders, including Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas and Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.
"We’ve had some issues with our testing and it’s really critical that we talk about that now," Haslam said in an interview with 10News before the event. "We’re sorry. We understand the frustration."
Last school year, the scores of the test did not count after numerous problems derailed the exam. Haslam now says it's crucial for the state to fix the problems so students and parents regain trust in the test. He says doing away with the standardized test completely is not a viable option.
"Obviously the implementation has not gone well. We take responsibility for that. It's been as frustrating and disappointing to us as to anyone," said Haslam. "But the answer is not to throw the baby out with the bath water and say we are just not going to do that anymore. That's the wrong answer for the state."
Some Knox County teachers say they feared they were being left out of the conversation and say they were not invited to attend Friday's meeting.
More than two dozen teachers and parents arrived Friday to protest at the event. After the event wrapped up Friday, the governor walked over to the protesters to speak with them and field some of their questions.
"Neither the Halls Elementary teachers (except for one SCORE fellow) nor the principal were invited to the Governor’s TN Ready listening tour tomorrow," wrote Halls Elementary School teacher Lauren Sorensen on Thursday on Twitter. "But they had to set up tables and chairs for it after school today."
Haslam's office says, "the event will provide an opportunity for teachers, school technology and assessment coordinators, and school district administrators to share information about recent challenges related to the online delivery of state assessments."
He's planning multiple stops in the state on the tour. The administration plans to organize a way for any educator around the state to provide feedback through an online form.
Sorensen, an outspoken critic in the past of school system actions, helped make signs protesting the state's spending on standardized tests and Haslam's visit to Halls Elementary.
Among the problems Sorensen brings up is that the event will happen right at the time when school is set to be dismissed.
"The goal of the Governor’s visit to Halls Elem. is NOT to get input and feedback on TN READY. It is a publicity stunt..... one which will cause headaches for parents and staff at dismissal time," Sorensen tweeted. "HES teachers are not even allowed in. Only hand picked guests."
Some parents protesting today say they have completely lost faith in the standardized testing system. Elizabeth Mactavish, who's kids go to school in Knox County, says she allows her children to skip the test.
"It’s not that we hate testing," Mactavish said. "It’s that we hate the way it’s being done right now. We don’t agree with it."
Knox County Schools says the Governor's Office organized the event and they are only playing host.
As kids head back to school, the Governor is heading into the classroom to hope TNReady, is actually ready this year.
"We’re still in the middle of the pack or slightly below," Haslam said. "That’s not where we need to be. This is a competitive world and we need to give our students every opportunity."