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.

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