Testing Testing

Standard setting process, short on time, raises stakes for state board vote

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Notes from a committee during work to create new Indiana math standards in last year.

Indiana State Board of Education member Andrea Neal raised a question at Wednesday’s board meeting that nobody was quite sure how to answer:

What happens if the board fails to approve new Indiana academic standards by the July 1 deadline set by the legislature?

“We must have new standards adopted by July of 2014,” was the best state Superintendent Glenda Ritz could muster for an answer.

But there is at least the possibility that might not happen.

Since lawmakers first moved earlier this year toward the idea of voiding Indiana’s 2010 adoption of Common Core as its state standards, a team of experts Ritz assembled to review English and math standards has been working to write new, Indiana-specific standards.

House Bill 91, voiding Common Core, ultimately passed and was signed last month by Gov. Mike Pence. Common Core is a set of standards laying out what children should learn at each grade in order to graduate high schools ready for college and careers.

But its Indiana critics persuaded lawmakers that following Common Core ceded too much control over student learning to the U.S. Department of Education. President Obama’s administration did not write the standards but does endorse then.

Draft standards to replace Common Core were released in February for public comment and have been under revision for weeks. The final revision is due out next Wednesday. Then the Education Roundtable will vote on them on April 21.

State board members are scheduled to give final approval on April 28, but some board members were surprised to learn that they will not have the latitude to make changes to the standards at that meeting if they want to stay on schedule. That’s because state law dictates any changes would kick the standards back to the Roundtable to be reconsidered.

“If we have to have an up or down vote and the vote fails then we need to have a plan B,” Neal said at Wednesday’s meeting.

While Neal suggested keeping standards created in 2006 and 2009 in reserve should the new standards fail, Ritz said that would be impractical. Those standards were not specifically designed to be “college and career ready.” Ritz said she is counting on board approval of the new standards to meet the required deadlines.

But Neal feels there is much to discuss. She said she has seen expert reviews, which Ritz said would be released Wednesday along with the final draft standards, that suggest a further overhaul of the standards may be needed.

“The errors they pointed out are not the kind that can be cleaned up overnight,” Neal said. “In fact, the corrections themselves deserve careful scrutiny to make sure they are done as intended. How can this occur in the mere five days between release of the next draft and the scheduled vote of the Education Roundtable?”

The time schedule is so compressed that Ritz initially balked at publicly releasing the final draft standards before the April 28 board meeting, but relented when board members pushed her to do so.

The draft can be released, she said, but there will not be time for any more public input or changes.

“Making them available is one thing,” she said. “Having another whole process of public review is an issue.”

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