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Teachers worried about testing

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Possible poor scores could affect their evaluations

County teachers are concerned that the new Tennessee Ready assessments could affect their evaluations, they told the Wilson County School Board Monday night. They're worried because test scores may be lower on the new assessments for reasons having nothing to do with teaching and learning.

Kristi Dunn, representing the Wilson Teachers Association (WTA), asked the board to pass a resolution waiving the 2015-16 test scores for teachers' evaluations.

This is the first year the testing is being done entirely on computers, and many of the students can't type fast enough or accurately enough to do well, Dunn said. So the assessment actually tests their computer skills - not their knowledge, she asserted.

The tests are poorly designed and not always age-appropriate, Dunn added. "Seventy of Memphis's 'highly qualified' teachers took the test and only one passed," she told the board.

'Hold harmless year'

Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright said she understands why teachers are concerned, and that she favors treating this as a "hold harmless year."

She explained that pay raises are based on evaluations from two years earlier. And she added that for the past two years, those raises have been based on using the best scores from two consecutive years, since there have been issues each year with the validity of the scores.

"I think we should consider this year as a diagnostic year," she said. "Not that this year's testing doesn't count, but we use it to see what students need."

She also explained that unless the test scores come back on time, they don't have to be used in either teacher evaluations or student grades.

'Leave to local board'

Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers said he thinks the board should be able to make the decisions, since "the state board hasn't demonstrated any great skill at testing or evaluating."

Board Chair and Zone 5 Member Larry Tomlinson agreed, but pointed out that things are changing now at both state and federal levels.

"The process is very fluid," he said. "We don't know what's coming. And they aren't making rational decisions."

While the board didn't vote on the issue, there seemed to be agreement that teachers' and students' needs should be protected.

Mayor presents plan

On a different note, Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead told the board about a cooperative effort involving all four of Wilson County's mayors.

"The mayors got together to discuss ways to make a difference in our county," Craighead said. "First we need to work on infrastructure, but we want to create destination tourism in Wilson County."

He said this would help to improve sales tax revenues, which directly benefit the schools.

"It calls for cooperation and commitment," he continued. "Together we can build soccer and baseball fields, build on what we have, the CABA tournament (that's Little League baseball)."

The World Series of Continental Amateur Baseball Association (CABA) is already played in Lebanon, and about 6,000 children play soccer at fields all over the county. Youth sports are popular here, Craighead noted.

So far, he added, both the Mt. Juliet City Commission and Lebanon City Council have voted unanimously to support the plan, and the Watertown City Council will vote at its next meeting.

He ended by saying, "The big thing is the cooperation of Mt. Juliet, Watertown, Lebanon and the county, as well as Tourism and the Chambers of Commerce."

Repairs removing mold

Both the Watertown student representative to the school board, Austyn Walls, and Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall are anxious to see the repairs to eliminate mold at Watertown Elementary completed.

Walls told the board that while the fourth- and fifth-grade students are still enjoying their time at the high school, his classmates will be happy when the grade school is ready so the younger students can go back there.

Hall said the work should be finished in time for the planned open house on Jan. 10 and for students and teachers to return on Jan. 11.

"The first of the air-conditioning units are being put in place," he told the board. And before the school is occupied again, air-quality tests will be conducted to make sure there's no mold.

"It will be clean and pristine," Wright promised.

The last few AC units will be placed over Christmas break and the rooms will be cleaned and refurnished hopefully in time for teachers to have their Jan. 4 work day in the classrooms, preparing for the students' return, Hall said.

Land debate renewed

At the end of the meeting, Zone 4 Board Member Linda Armistead moved to reconsider buying a previously-rejected property on West Division Street in Mt. Juliet as a potential site for a new high school, but she met with stiff opposition from both Weathers and Zone 1 Board Member Wayne McNeese.

Weathers said he's opposed because the site would require moving about 2,500 students from one school to another. First, he said, at least 1,500 students would have to move from Mt. Juliet High to the new one, and then students from Lebanon and Wilson Central would have to transfer to Mt. Juliet.

He favors a site which would allow moving about 1,500 students, part from each of the county's three largest high schools, into the new one.

McNeese opposes the site because he says it would present a safety issue to have high school-age drivers traveling through either of two subdivisions, Hickory Hills or Willoughby Station, to reach the school. The roads in question are already congested and narrow, McNeese said.

While Zone 2 Board Member Bill Robinson seconded Armistead's motion, he also had questions about how expensive the $1.6 million site would be to prepare for building on.

In the end, Tomlinson asked Armistead to withdraw her motion so a feasibility study could be completed for the controversial site.

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at

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