At the Hamilton County School Board meeting Thursday, a joint resolution failed that was written in opposition to a state law aiming to hold back third graders who can’t read.
The resolution won only five votes instead of the six required to submit the resolution to the state.
The school board also voted unanimously to reinstate federal money added to paychecks of teachers at Hope schools and Promise schools, to cheers from the public audience. Some teachers had lost the money in the fall for low level of effectiveness scores or for their own excessive absences, and had protested the losses in January.
Three school board members voted against the resolution: Faye Robinson, Rhonda Thurman and Joe Wingate.
Faye Robinson said, almost through tears, that she ran for the school board because “to me, it’s cruel” to keep pushing through school a student who can’t read.
“I’m just glad that somebody is finally doing something about this,” Ms. Thurman said. “Until children can read, nothing else matters.”
Ms. Thurman, Robinson and Mr. Wingate all said that the state law is not perfect, but it’s a start. Mr. Wingate said the law is “expedient, not excellent.”
Gary Kuehn, who helped write the resolution, said he wants to hold teachers and parents accountable locally. He said 21 other school systems in Tennessee have passed similar resolutions.
The five school board members who voted in favor of the resolution said that students would be retained for one poor score on one indicator, the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test.
“That’s as bad as you can do,” Mr. Kuehn said.
Jill Black, Karitsa Jones, Marco Perez and Tiffanie Robinson also voted in favor of the resolution. Ben Connor, who helped write the resolution, and Larry Grohn did not attend the meeting. Mr. Kuehn said Mr. Connor was absent to do legislative work for the school board.
“We think the law as written is poorly written,” said Mr. Perez. “It’s holding a third grader accountable,” he said, instead of parents and educators. “The one that I want to protect the most is that nine-year-old kid.”
“It’s hard to say this one test implicates what a teacher can do with a kid,” Ms. Jones said, and that such a mandate should be fully funded by the state.
Mr. Wingate pointed out that the local education association should not have sole responsibility, nor should the state.
Ms. Black said the law is the “opposite of parents rights.”
Under the new law, third graders who score “below expectations” or “approaching expectations” on the TCAP test are flagged for intervention through tutoring and summer classes. The student may still be promoted if he participates in the intervention and shows certain improvement on a “post-test.” There are exceptions for English as a new language students and exceptional education students, and for students who have been retained before. There is a family appeal process.
Director of Talent Dr. Zac Brown said the differentiated pay will be reinstated retroactively for anyone who lost the pay in the fall for low LOE scores or for attendance. He said that teachers won’t lose the money in the spring for attendance, either.
This affects 160 to 180 recipients, Dr. Brown said, and amounts to less than $200,000 in retroactive payments for the fall.
Differentiated compensation in Hamilton County is funded through fiscal year 2025 with a federal coronavirus aid program that expires in Spring 2024.
“Be prepared to have a really hard conversation about differentiated pay,” said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson. To continue the program, Hamilton County would have to work the $7.5 million into its own budget.
“Differentiated pay has a purpose,” said Mr. Perez. “We want to see outcomes actually reflect this program.”
Teachers had told the school board in January that they didn’t know more than 10 absences in a school year would make them ineligible for the money.
“There is no substitute for our teachers,” said Dr. Brown. Next year, he said, “We will over-ommunicate.”
Ms. Jones said she had talked with 10 teachers who planned to quit after losing their differentiated pay, and now they won’t, she said.
Teachers at county Hope schools and Promise schools are eligible for the extra money if they teach certain subjects and maintain a state level of effectiveness of three, four or five. Some LOEs are affected by the school’s performance, too. Differentiated compensation ranges from 2.5 to 20 percent of a teacher’s Hamilton County salary.