Jill Speering, a retired teacher and reading specialist, is a member of the Metro Nashville school board and its most outspoken critic of high-stakes testing. She led a successful effort to block a Pearson contract to test reading by use of nonsense words. The test was intended to test decoding skills without the need for understanding. Speering pointed out that the committee that approved the contract contained no classroom teachers.

“In outlining her disapproval, Speering said a panel of 23 administrators used to recommend the assessment included no classroom teachers. “That’s one more reason why we have low teacher morale, ” she said. “When we ask teachers to administer an assessment we give them no voice in choosing the assessment.”

“She also took aim at the assessment’s definition of fluency — which emphasizes reading with speed — and its use of what are known as “nonsense words.” Those call on students to identify the phonetics and sounds of words not found in the dictionary. Speering believes employing them is a poor way to evaluate how well a child is understanding what he or she reads.”

The contract was deferred, not defeated. It is worth $357,200 to Pearson.