This post is part of Coffee and Conversation, a monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. Our guests are teachers Erica Stephens of Shelby County Schools, Erin Rains of Bradley County Schools, and Heather Hobbs of Kingsport City Schools. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You as a teacher support TNReady. Why?
Erica Stephens: Okay, I’ll start! I think TNReady is an excellent resource for us teachers to understand if our children are on grade level and if there are any areas where we need to improve our instruction.
Erin Rains: Also, I like the ease of reading the score report for parents and that way they can also figure out how they can plug in to help their kids reach their potential. I love the alignment to the college and career readiness standards.
How do you use information from state tests like TNReady to inform your instruction? Can you walk me through what happens on your end as a teacher after students take the TNReady test?
ES: We get together in vertical teams [or by subject area] – we work with all the math instructors across the board – we see what our weaknesses are in and what we need to do to make changes either for our instruction or for how we group our students, then we meet at grade level to be sure that from the first day we start instructing students that we are hitting those areas they didn’t perform well in the previous year.
ER: I like to look specifically at my class summary reports – for instance, I noticed a gap in my instruction as far as students understanding how the main idea of a text is developed. So I can go back and really reiterate that and drive that home.
Did the lack of data in the 2015-16 school year affect you? If so, how?
Heather Hobbs: Last year was my first year in fifth grade, so I would have really liked having more information on my students. I would have liked to have time to reflect from a state standpoint how I did, so I could monitor and adjust instruction as needed.
ES: Yes, it was challenging not having anything in term of the students. I had to pull other resources that were aligned to our standards to help me see where they were, what I needed to do. But that happens. As teachers, we push forward, preserve, and find other resources.
What information does TNReady give that districts tests or tests that you give in your classroom don’t give you?
HH: Having a standardized assessment that all students are taking and getting that data to compare really allows you to see that big picture we need for equity for all students in Tennessee.
ES: The purpose of the test is that you see if your students understand that standard so they can apply it to any situation. Not just the way you’ve shown them in class.
ER: It helps me see that I’m hitting the target in my instruction – that I’m not teaching in isolation. My students need to be able to be competitive on a state, national, or global level if they so choose and if I’m teaching in my box it’s hard to ensure that it’s happening.
Do you have any words of encouragement for families – parents or students – who might be taking TNReady for the first time starting in April?
ES: Parents should know that this is the first step in the right direction. We want our students to be able to excel. No matter what comes their way, no matter what job they decide to dive into. Change is difficult for everyone – it’s new. But we embrace it and we can go to higher heights.
ER: Also, as an ELA person, I would encourage families to read. The more you read for different purposes and in different texts and contexts, the less something like this becomes a daunting undertaking.
HH: I think, just for the students to know to give their best. And then, for parents to know that their children have been prepared all year and they are able to complete their task.
What is your go-to workday pick-me-up?
HH: Green power smoothies from Panera.
ER: Mine is the boldest cup of coffee that I can find. I kick off my day with AP Psych so I need to be fully caffeinated.
Erica Stephens has been educating children for 13 years in the city of Memphis. During this time, she has created an environment conducive for all students to be successful. Erica has held many positions as a testament to her expertise, such as 4th Grade Team Leader, Instructional Leadership Team Member, America Achieves TN Ed Fellow, and SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellow. Follow her on Twitter at @apple4urteach.
Heather Hobbs is a fifth-grade teacher at Andrew Johnson Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee. Heather teaches literacy and social studies. She believes in high expectations, and she strives to help each student fulfill their dreams. Follow her on Twitter at @Live2Learn5.
Erin Rains teaches at Walker Valley High School in the Bradley County school district. She is an alumna of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Arkansas State University. Erin has been teaching for 13 years. Follow her on Twitter at @erains1.