Testing Testing

Colorado among 14 states to begin field testing new assessments Monday

Colorado students at more than 400 schools will be among thousands across the nation that will take part in the trial run of new standardized tests beginning Monday.

And officials behind the tests, which will be used in more than a dozen states, are expecting there to be plenty of hurdles, hiccups, snags and snafus. But that’s the point of the trial run, they said during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

The aim of the pilot tests here and in the 13 other states apart of the coalition that developed the standardized tests, known as PARCC, is to work out any technological mishaps and to gauge the quality of the test questions, officials said. Those who designed the test, including teachers and instructional leaders across the country, want to make sure the questions are fair and accurately measure what students know.

“It’s my hope that when glitches arise — and they are inevitable — we don’t immediately assume things aren’t going well,” said Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education and chair of the governing board that is developing the tests.

Colorado is one of the 14 states participating in the development and execution of new standardized tests that will be used next spring. Most students will take the PARCC tests on computers and mobile devices in lieu of the paper-and-pencil TCAPs. The tests are supposed to measure student knowledge against the Colorado Academic Standards, which are based in large part on the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by 45 states.

The state also uses several years of testing data to measure student growth, or how much a student learned from year-to-year compared to their academic peers. That information factors heavily into school and district accountability measures.

Colorado schools have been putting those new standards into effect this year at various paces. And several districts have raised concerns that their technological infrastructure could be maxed out during testing time periods.

Most of the Colorado schools and districts participating in the trial run were identified by officials at PARCC, said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessments for the Colorado Department of Education, in a separate interview. But whether they participated was left up to local leaders.

She said the department hopes to learn how it will best be able to support districts when most students begin taking the new exams next spring.

No student, school or district data collected from the field study will be released, officials said. However, the PARCC governing board is expected to release several findings including how comparable the paper-and-pencil is to its digital counterpart.

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County