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Tennessee lawmaker urges teachers to make students “winners” not “whiners” about TNReady

The Tennessee State Capitol sits in downtown Nashville.
The Tennessee State Capitol sits in downtown Nashville.
Marta W. Aldrich/Chalkbeat

Sounding almost like a parent chiding a a wayward child, one Tennessee lawmaker asked educators to use the state’s testing snafus as teaching moments, prompting accusations that he was minimizing the problem.

Rep. Sabi Kumar
Rep. Sabi Kumar

Rep. Sabi Kumar, a Springfield Republican, sent an email Wednesday to Robertson County educators after several urged him to advocate for this year’s state test results not counting on their evaluations.

On the first day of Tennessee’s state test, TNReady, log-in problems erupted on the online version. The second day, Questar blamed some of the glitches on a cyberattack. This week, a fiber optic line reportedly severed by a dump truck led to more disruptions, and an online testing system feature glitch caused about 1,800 tests to be invalidated.

“We do not want a child to learn that if they complain loud enough or cry in response to stress, life will get better,” Kumar said in the email. “It is more important that they learn how to overcome stress and find solutions to problems in the Software of Life.

“We want our students to be Winners Who Overcome Circumstances in Life and not whiners who complain. I do agree that each child has different needs and responses but our goal should be the same.”

Kumar later clarified to Chalkbeat that the majority of children aren’t whiners, but that “they are stressed by the uncertainty of the test. And so let’s teach them how to handle that stress.”

He added that he didn’t think the test results should count on teachers’ evaluation scores — and that he voted in favor of a measure passed on Wednesday that said “no adverse action may be taken” against any student, teacher, school, or district based on results from this year’s bungled state standardized tests. In his email to educators, Kumar also included guidance from state education officials regarding those concerns.

His advice sparked immediate criticism.

Kristian Kimbro Rickard, whose Nashville company seeks to get more students of color interested in technology careers, said on Twitter that Kumar’s stance is out of touch.

Andy Spears, a public policy consultant who writes about state education issues in Tennessee Education Report, wrote that Kumar’s email misplaces scrutiny.

“Kumar speaks of teaching children to find solutions to problems while simultaneously refusing to hold the Tennessee Department of Education accountable,” Spears wrote in a post Friday.

Kumar, a surgeon, is running for a third term in Tennessee’s 66th House district against Larry Proffitt, a teacher who lost to Kumar in 2016.

“While we assure the students that they will not be affected by unreliable testing. … Let’s turn it around to a positive happening,” Kumar told Chalkbeat.

You can read the full email below:

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