Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


TEA member advocacy pushes rewrite of portfolio law

Teachers demand relief from the fundamentally flawed early learning portfolio. Legislation is moving in the House and Senate after powerful advocacy from TEA members.   

The proposed amendment allows school systems to choose to keep the portfolio or adopt an alternate growth measure. 

TEA is the lead organization highlighting problems and demanding action on the botched pre-k and kindergarten portfolio implementation. Those efforts and the state’s inaction were on full display last week when three teachers and one superintendent showed legislators the depth of the crisis in Tennessee’s pre-k and kindergarten classrooms, and articulated a dire need to fix it. 

Several bills have moved through the Tennessee Legislature aimed at fixing the portfolio disaster, ranging from making it optional to eliminating it altogether. TEA supported those efforts and is eager to see the problems addressed before the legislature adjourns for the year. The final language is currently in the works ahead of an education committee vote next Tuesday, April 16. 

“So far the only people who have reached out to kindergarten and pre-k teachers is the Tennessee Education Association,” said Natasha Patchen, a Knox Co. teacher who has been at the forefront of sounding the alarm about the portfolio roll-out and implementation. “TEA provided a survey to gather teacher ideas, concerns and input to the portfolio process. The state department of education has not asked for our input.” 

Patchen pleaded with the legislators on the Curriculum, Testing and Innovation Subcommittee to “end this fiasco before we spend another tax dollar on this portfolio.” 

Teachers across the state responded to the TEA survey in late 2017, providing detailed accounts of the failures of the portfolio system and offering solutions. TEA shared the survey results with legislators who have made an effort to address problems. A 2019 TEA survey on TNReady showed how far the portfolio crisis had spread, with 98% of pre-k and kindergarten teachers asking to eliminate the current portfolio system or make fundamental changes with better teacher input. 

Teacher input was precisely what made the pilot so attractive before the state bureaucracy came in and changed the portfolio system, according to last week’s teacher testimony. 

“There are many ways to measure children, but this is not it,” said Candy Arwood, a teacher from Sumner County. “Knox County piloted it with 24 standards and then it morphed to 48. There is no way to go back to the drawing board and fix this mess. You’re dealing with unreliable platforms. Educopia failed and we were told this was going to be glitch-proof. This is not working statewide.”

Arwood said with so many other avenues to test student growth, “in my wildest imagination I do not understand why the state department of education supports this [portfolio system].” 

TEA shared clips of the fiery testimony on social media, and it went viral in a matter of hours, reaching tens of thousands of viewers and generating another wave of comments and calls to end the portfolio mess. 

“This does not drive my instruction,” Arwood said. “This is just something I have to check off the list. If you want to see the data that supports what I’m doing in the classroom, I’ll pull the data and we can sit down and look at it, and I can show you where children have gone from a pre-reader to a k-level in guided reading. I can tell you where children couldn’t form a sentence at the beginning of the year, and now they are running full sentences with a strong phonics program. But this [portfolio] is a mandate and busy work for teachers, and there are other options out there, but you have the power to change this for the children.” 

“This portfolio is so demanding that to get good scores we focus on portfolio skills instead of making sure our children have the basic, foundational skills our students need,” Patchen said. “The demands of the portfolio have drained the joy for the love of learning in our students.”

“As the portfolio example has demonstrated time and again, TEA members have proven the power of collective advocacy is the only way to impact change in public education,” said TEA President Beth Brown. 

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