testing testing

Proposed bill that has governor’s blessing would drop PARCC from Colorado high schools

Sheridan School District sixth grader Monica Dinh takes part in a practice session last year (Photo By Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post)

Colorado high school freshmen no longer would be required to take the state’s controversial standardized English and math tests under a bipartisan bill that has the governor’s support.

The state House Education Committee gave its unanimous approval Monday to legislation that would eliminate PARCC tests for freshmen, replacing them with tests that measure mastery of those subjects and line up with exams sophomores and juniors take now.

As part of broad reforms to the state’s testing system in 2015, lawmakers dropped PARCC testing for sophomores and juniors. Sophomores began taking the PSAT last year, and juniors will be required to take the SAT for the first time this spring.

The legislation —House Bill 1181 — would reduce the number of testing hours from about nine to two-and-a-half. It would also save the state about $650,000, according to a legislative budget analysis.

Sponsors and supporters of the bill believe the link to college and a recognizable brand such as the SAT would restore trust with families and students.

“This relevancy will provide students with motivation to take the test and do well on it,” Emily Richardson, director of government affairs for the STRIVE Prep charter network in Denver, told the House committee.

Monday’s committee hearing was the bill’s first legislative test and it faces several more hurdles to become law.

The legislation, sponsored by state Reps. Brittany Pettersen and Paul Lundeen, grew out of years of work on testing that began with a committee studying the state’s testing system in 2014.

Since then, ninth-grade testing has been a sticking point in the testing reform debate. Lawmakers in both parties have tried to eliminate the testing mandate or make the test optional. But Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has promised to veto any bill that would do so.

“This is a piece of legislation that I think we can actually pass and make a meaningful change,” Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, said. “That’s important in this building.”

Three other bills have been introduced this year to either eliminate or make ninth grade testing optional. Two of those bills were killed by the House committee Monday. A Senate committee is scheduled to consider the third later this week.

State Rep. Tim Leonard, an Evergreen Republican, is one of those lawmakers who wants to eliminate ninth grade testing altogether.

“Even the federal government recognizes the amount of standardized testing we do in the United States and Colorado goes too far,” Leonard said.

Federal law requires that students in grades three through eight be tested every year in English and math. States are also required to test students on those subjects at least once in high school. Under the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, states may use the ACT or SAT to meet that requirement.

The Colorado PTA spoke in favor of all three bills that would reduce testing time, but the group said it favored rolling back to the federal minimum the most. Leonard’s bill would align Colorado’s system to the federal minimum.

“If everyone would just follow the federal minimum, we believe that students would be very willing to take those tests,” said former state Sen. Evie Hudak, the PTA’s legislative committee chairwoman.

There is evidence that shifting the entire high school testing system to a set of college entrance exams such as the SAT could turn the tide in students opting out in large numbers.

Lawmakers in 2015 eliminated PARCC testing in the 10th grade. Sophomores last spring took for the first time the PSAT, which is part of the SAT family, as their state-mandated test. Statewide participation rate for 10th graders jumped by 27 percentage points to 88 percent.

Only 73 percent of ninth graders took the 2016 PARCC tests.

Colorado has been an epicenter for the nationwide movement to opt students out of standardized tests. Critics generally argue that students spend too much time testing and believe the multi-state testing group PARCC is federal overreach.

The Obama administration incentivized states to adopt the Common Core State Standards in math and English and join a multistate testing group like PARCC, but did not mandate it.

Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said he favors using a college entrance-aligned test in ninth grade because it would move the state one step closer away from PARCC, a test he’s opposed since he served on the State Board of Education.

“This bill makes the ninth grade test meaningful,” he said. “It changes something that many see as a burden into an advantage.”

year two

Tennessee high schoolers post higher test scores, but some subjects remain a struggle

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen presents 2017 high school test scores to the State Board of Education.

High school students in Tennessee saw their state test scores rise in 2017, the second year that a new test aligned to the Common Core standards were given in the state.

The increases were modest on average, but sharp for some of the students who have historically struggled most. Just one in five poor students scored at the lowest-level on the ninth-grade English exam, for example, compared to one in three last year.

But in most courses, especially in math, students continued to fall far below the state’s expectations. Even as the state estimates that 11,000 more students met the English proficiency bar this year, two thirds of students still fell below it. And in two advanced math courses, scores actually declined slightly.

The upward trajectory across most subjects puts Tennessee in line with other states that have seen their scores plummet in the first year of new exams, but then rise incrementally afterwards as students and teachers adjust to tougher standards.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen touted the results Thursday during a brief presentation to the State Board of Education in Nashville.

“These results are encouraging because they show that we’re on the right track,” McQueen said. “As we have moved our standards forward, our teachers and students are meeting those expectations.”

She singled out improvements with historically underserved groups, particularly students with disabilities, and a reduction in the percentage of students performing at the lowest achievement level.

“This positive movement is showing we are taking seriously the work we’re doing with all of our student groups,” McQueen said.

High schoolers scored best on their science exams, which was expected since Tennessee has not yet switched to more rigorous science standards. Those standards will reach classrooms in the fall of 2018.

The statewide scores are the first batch to be released. District- and school-level high school scores come next in August, while results for students in grades 3-8 are due out this fall. Grades 3-8 took TNReady for the first time last school year after their 2016 exams were scuttled amid technical failures.

 

previewing TNReady

Why Tennessee’s high school test scores, out this week, matter more — and less — than usual

PHOTO: Nic Garcia

When scores dropped last year for most Tennessee high school students under a new state test, leaders spoke of “setting a new baseline” under a harder assessment aligned to more rigorous standards.

This week, Tennesseans will see if last year’s scores — in which nearly three-quarters of high schoolers performed below grade level — was in fact just a reset moment.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has scheduled a press conference for Thursday morning to release the highly anticipated second year of high school scores under TNReady, which replaced the state’s TCAP tests in 2015-16. (Students in grades 3-8 will get TNReady scores for the first time this fall; last year, their tests were canceled because of a series of testing failures.)

Here’s what you need to know about this week’s data dump, which will focus on statewide scores.

1. Last year’s low scores weren’t a big surprise.

Not only was it the first time Tennessee students took TNReady, it also was the first time that they were being tested on new academic standards in math and language arts known as the Common Core, which reached Tennessee classrooms in 2012.

Other states that switched to Common Core-aligned exams also saw their scores plummet. In New York, for example, the proportion of students who scored proficient or higher in reading dropped precipitously in 2013 during the first year of a new test for grades 3-8.

McQueen sought last year to prepare Tennessee for the same experience. After all, she said, the state was moving away from a multiple-choice test to one that challenges students’ higher-order thinking skills. Plus, while Tennessee students had been posting strong scores on the state’s own exam, they had struggled on national tests such as the ACT, raising questions about whether the previous state test was a good measure of students’ skills.

“We expected scores to be lower in the first year of a more rigorous assessment,” McQueen said after only 21 percent of high school students scored on or above grade level in math, while 30 percent tested ready in English and reading.

2. It’s expected that this year’s scores will rise … and it will be a bad sign if they don’t.

Over and over, state officials assured Tennesseans that 2016 was just the start.

“[We] expect that scores will rebound over time as all students grow to meet these higher expectations — just as we have seen in the past,” McQueen said.

She was referring to the state’s shift to Diploma Standards in 2009, when passing rates on end-of-course tests dropped by almost half. But in subsequent years, those scores rose steadily in a “sawtooth pattern” that has been documented over and over when states adopt new assessments and students and teachers grow accustomed to them.

That includes New York, where after the worrisome results in 2013, the percentage of students passing started inching up the following year, especially in math.

In Tennessee, this year’s high school scores will provide the first significant data point in establishing whether the state is on the same track. Higher scores would put the state on an upward trajectory, and suggest that students are increasingly proficient in the skills that the test is measuring. Scores that remain flat or go down would raise questions about whether teachers and students are adjusting to more rigorous standards.

3. There’s lots more scores to come.

This week’s statewide high school scores will kick off a cascade of other TNReady results that will be released in the weeks and months ahead.

Next comes district- and school-level high school scores, which will be shared first with school systems before being released to the public. That’s likely to happen in August.

In the fall, Tennessee will release its scores for students in grades 3-8, who took TNReady for the first time this year after the 2016 testing debacle. While testing went better this year, the state’s new testing company needed extra time to score the exams, because additional work goes into setting “cut scores” each time a new test is given.

A group of educators just concluded the process of reviewing the test data to recommend what scores should fall into the state’s four new categories for measuring performance: below grade level, approaching grade level, on grade level, or mastered. The State Board of Education will review and vote on those recommendations next month.

4. This year’s scores are lower stakes than usual, but that probably won’t last.

For years, Tennessee has been a leader in using test scores to judge students, teachers, and schools. Like most states, it uses the data to determine which schools are so low-performing that they should be closed or otherwise overhauled. It also crunches scores through a complicated “value-added” algorithm designed to assess how much learning that teachers contribute to their students — an approach that it has mostly stuck with as value-added measures have fallen out of favor across the nation. And unusually, the state exam scores are also supposed to factor into final student grades, this year counting for 10 percent.

But the rocky road to the new tests has temporarily diminished how much the scores count. Because preliminary scores arrived late this spring, most districts opted to grade students on the basis of their schoolwork alone.

And because of the testing transition, the scores won’t be given as much weight in this year’s teacher evaluations — an adjustment that lawmakers made to alleviate anxiety about the changes. Test scores will contribute only 10 percent to teachers’ ratings. Depending on the subject, that proportion is supposed to rise to between 15 and 25 percent by 2018-19.