Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


New kindergarten standards and portfolio need teacher guidance

Educators question age-appropriateness of new ELA demands. With new math standards being developed, TEA works for teachers to have their say

Kindergarten teachers across the state have been dealing with a new portfolio and student standards. For many teachers the changes came as a surprise after the hard work to implement the previous standards and portfolio system. 

There is growing concern the new English Language Arts standards are not age appropriate and the system to collect student data takes away an inordinate amount of instruction time. TEA members have been speaking out, and the association is launching a major survey to insert teacher opinions and perspectives in the growing debate on the new portfolio system. The survey is expected to launch this week.  

Some school boards have been taking action. On September 19, Knox County kindergarten teacher and member Natasha Patchen made a presentation to the board supporting a resolution asking the state for a waiver on using the portfolio system. Knox had been a pilot system and had fully implemented the portfolio last year to much success. 

“On August 1, Knox kindergarten teachers were blind-sided with the news that the portfolio system that we had successfully used for the past two years had been changed. The new data storage system would not be up and ready until the middle of October…we would have to be trained to use it on our personal time,” Patchen said. “The rigor of the portfolio has been ramped up to a new height of developmentally unacceptable levels. Of course, I am concerned at what this poorly designed and implemented portfolio will do to me, but even more alarming is the expectations placed on five and six year old children. My first concern is always my students.”  

“Is it any wonder we have crying kindergarten students and teachers,” asked Patchen. She noted the effort to achieve what may be impossible standards and bulky portfolio collection will come at a cost to things like motor and social skills, and infusing the joy of learning.   

TEA put Patchen’s speech on social media and it was a viral hit, with more than 68,000 Facebook impressions, likes, shares and views, with parents, teachers and administrators reacting in agreement to her statement about the potential problems for students. 

Knox County board chair Patti Bounds, along with two Knox kindergarten teachers Melissa Church and Sandra Guinn, testified to the joint education committees on October 24 about the problems with the standards and gathering student work for the portfolio. 

“We are supporters of the portfolio but we are concerned about the changes made this year,” said Guinn. The Knox educators then outlined the changes made, focusing on the highly complex demands of five-year-olds to demonstrate learning under the new English Language Arts standards. Guinn noted she had been involved in all aspects of developing the state portfolio system, and worked to help other systems get up and running this year, but no longer feels she can do so with confidence because of the changes.

“Teachers were excited they had control of their own growth measure, and things were going great. But now we have teachers that are stressed out with the changes. I am very worried,” she said.   
Their testimony was scheduled by vice-chair Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knox) who had been hearing about issues in his district. “It is clear we need to ensure our students have quality education, and that it’s developmentally appropriate,” Smith said. 

For the past months, TEA has put these concerns to state officials and lawmakers. The initial response was teachers were part of developing the new standards ensuring age appropriateness, and that rigor was not for all students but expanded to capture the most advanced. Others said the rigor had to be increased to improve reading scores in later grades.

It’s time for the teachers’ voice to be paramount on the new standards and portfolio system. The final judgement whether the standards are age-appropriate or the portfolio system is efficient or onerous should be kindergarten teachers or those with recent kindergarten experience. 

TEA is launching an extensive survey for current kindergarten teachers and those who have taught the grade in the past years. The survey asks opinions on the portfolio system, including questions on the amount of time taken to meet video requirements, as well as reflections on the old portfolio system.            

The survey will have an opportunity for teachers to go through the new standards in a manner to evaluate the age-appropriateness of each item, along with a comment section on each. The survey compiles data in a manner that expresses the opinion of teachers engaged in early education.

“Over and over, we find the standards-setting process doesn’t engage our profession broadly,” said TEA executive director Carolyn Crowder. “This kindergarten survey may be the first step in bringing the professional voice to more areas of standards and testing.”

The survey will be online, and links will be emailed to members in all Tennessee elementary schools. TEA will encourage members to have all applicable colleagues also take the survey to have the broadest participation. 

“We need the profession to be the key voice in standards and assessments. Everything we work on, from testing transparency to demanding accountability of the test makers and how TNReady is scored, is about fair and appropriate assessments and standards. It’s time data helped us to improve instruction,” said Crowder. 

Patchen had it right in the final portion of her September testimony.

“I am weary of the words ‘rigorous’ and ‘robust,’ and I would like to introduce two new words: relevant and realistic. Our children deserve a developmentally appropriate curriculum and teachers deserve a well thought-out teacher growth measure tool,” she said. 

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