Testing Testing

After online testing failure, Tennessee students take new TNReady assessment the old-fashioned way

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

Less than a month after technical problems caused the state to cancel the official debut of its online assessment, the majority of Tennessee’s 142 school districts have received printed materials for students to take the test with pencil and paper.

But printing capacity issues have caused delayed shipments to about a dozen districts that were scheduled to receive their printed tests and answer sheets by now. Those districts are:

  • Tennessee Achievement School District
  • Bartlett
  • Hamblen County
  • Maury County
  • Madison County
  • Murfreesboro City
  • Putnam County
  • Robertson County
  • Sevier County
  • Sullivan County
  • Tipton County
  • Wilson County

The delays have made an already challenging testing year more challenging for districts awaiting their shipments.

Students in Dickson County Schools were scheduled to start taking the test on Monday, but Superintendent Danny Weeks delayed the assessment until March 7 after learning late last week that their printed materials had not been shipped, according to a report in The Dickson Herald.

The district has since received the materials but, in an earlier phone alert to parents, Weeks said the delay “further complicates the already difficult transition from traditional testing to TNReady tests.”

“Additionally, tests must be unboxed, labeled, and organized once they arrive at schools,” Weeks told parents.

The Tennessee Department of Education has been using eight printers across the nation to produce the materials and, as of Monday, nearly 1 million tests had been distributed statewide, said spokeswoman Ashley Ball.

Ball said 120 districts now have the printed materials in hand, and many school systems already have completed the tests. Last week alone, about 60 districts completed TNReady, she said.

Tennessee’s larger districts are scheduled to take TNReady later during the state’s new Feb. 22-March 18 testing window, since those printing jobs are bigger.

Assessment overseers for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools began this week waiting anxiously to see if their printed materials will arrive before scheduled tests in high school subjects.

“Should materials for any of our high schools or middle schools not come in time to begin testing on Wednesday, we will adjust the testing calendar as necessary,” wrote Paul Changas, Metro Nashville’s executive director of research, assessment and evaluation, in an email last Friday to district principals.

As of Monday, Ball said eight Nashville high schools had received their materials, and the rest were expected to receive them by Tuesday.

She said all districts should receive TNReady materials by March 8.

Testing for TNReady, the state’s new assessment for math and English language arts, had been scheduled to take place between Feb. 8 and March 4 via a a new online platform for which the state and districts had spent years preparing. But on the first day of online testing, major network outages on the platform developed by testing company Measurement Inc. brought the process to a halt. Within hours, state education officials scrapped this year’s online assessment and announced that the entire state would revert to paper-based tests.

State officials, teachers, parents and students have been challenged by the change, which has required a shift in classroom lesson plans and schedules while districts have waited for the testing materials to be printed and shipped. In response to frustration by educators, Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed giving teachers the option to waive test scores from their evaluations this school year.

Ball said delayed testing should not further push back the release of student scores, slated for this fall. 

This is the first year that Tennessee’s assessment has been aligned with the state’s current Common Core standards, and state officials have warned that scores likely will go down this year with the new test.

Editor’s note: This story updates a previous version with the list of districts waiting for materials and clarifies that only some have had to delay TNReady again due to delayed shipments.

Not Ready

Memphis students won’t see TNReady scores reflected in their final report cards

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

Shelby County Schools has joined the growing list of Tennessee districts that won’t factor preliminary state test scores into students’ final grades this year.

The state’s largest school district didn’t receive raw score data in time, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education began sharing the preliminary scores this week, too late in the school year for many districts letting out in the same week. That includes Shelby County Schools, which dismisses students on Friday.

While a state spokeswoman said the timelines are “on track,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the timing was unfortunate.

“There’s a lot of discussion about too many tests, and I think anytime you have a situation where you advertise the tests are going to be used for one thing and then we don’t get the data back, it becomes frustrating for students and families. But that’s not in our control,” he said Tuesday night.

Hopson added that the preliminary scores will still get used eventually, but just not in students’ final grades. “As we get the data and as we think about our strategy, we’ll just make adjustments and try to use them appropriately,” he said.

The decision means that all four of Tennessee’s urban districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga won’t include TNReady in all of their students’ final grades. Other school systems, such as in Williamson and Wilson counties, plan to make allowances by issuing report cards late, and Knox County will do the same for its high school students.

Under a 2015 state law, districts can leave out standardized test scores if the information doesn’t arrive five instructional days before the end of the school year. This year, TNReady is supposed to count for 10 percent of final grades.

Also known as “quick scores,” the data is different from the final test scores that will be part of teachers’ evaluation scores. The state expects to release final scores for high schoolers in July and for grades 3-8 in the fall.

The Department of Education has been working with testing company Questar to gather and score TNReady since the state’s testing window ended on May 5. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide in grades 3-11.

State officials could not provide a district-by-district listing of when districts will receive their scores.

“Scores will continue to come out on a rolling basis, with new data released every day, and districts will receive scores based on their timely return of testing materials and their completion of the data entry process,” spokeswoman Sara Gast told Chalkbeat on Monday. “Based on district feedback, we have prioritized returning end-of-course data to districts first.”

Caroline Bauman and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.

Making the grade

TNReady scores are about to go out to Tennessee districts, but not all will make student report cards

PHOTO: Chalkbeat Photo Illustration

The State Department of Education will start Monday to distribute the test score data that goes into students’ final report cards, but it won’t arrive in time for every district across the state.

That’s because some districts already have ended their school years, some won’t have time to incorporate TNReady grades before dismissing their students, and some missed the state’s first deadline for turning in testing materials.

“Our timelines for sharing TNReady scores are on track,” spokeswoman Sara Gast said Friday, noting that the schedule was announced last fall. “We have said publicly that districts will receive raw score data back in late May.”

Shelby County Schools is waiting to see when their scores arrive before making a decision. A spokeswoman said Tennessee’s largest district met all testing deadlines, and needs the scores by Monday to tabulate them into final grades. The district’s last day of school is next Friday.

School leaders in Nashville and Kingsport already have chosen to exclude the data from final grades, while Williamson County Schools is delaying their report cards.

A 2015 state law lets districts opt to exclude the data if scores aren’t received at least five instructional days before the end of the school year.

TNReady scores are supposed to count for 10 percent of this year’s final grades. As part of the transition to TNReady, the weight gradually will rise to between 15 and 25 percent (districts have flexibility) as students and teachers become more familiar with the new test.

The first wave of scores are being sent just weeks after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declared this year’s testing a “success,” both on paper and online for the 24 districts that opted to test high school students online this year. Last year, Tennessee had a string of TNReady challenges in the test’s inaugural year. After the online platform failed and numerous delivery delays of printed testing materials, McQueen canceled testing in grades 3-8 and fired its previous test maker, Measurement Inc.

Tennessee test scores have been tied to student grades since 2011, but this is the first year that the state used a three-week testing window instead of two. Gast said the added time was to give districts more flexibility to administer their tests. But even with the added week, this year’s timeline was consistent with past years, she said.

Once testing ended on May 5, school districts had five days to meet the first deadline, which was on May 10, to return those materials over to Questar, the state’s new Minneapolis-based testing company.

School officials in Nashville said that wasn’t enough time.

“Due to the volume of test documents and test booklets that we have to account for and process before return for scoring, our materials could not be picked up before May 12,” the district said in a statement on Thursday.

Because districts turned in their testing materials at different times, the release of raw scores, will also be staggered across the next three weeks, Gast said.