Now that the drop in state test scores is official, Tennessee education leaders have a plan to soften the initial blow to high school students’ GPAs.

The State Board of Education on Friday gave its initial endorsement to a Tennessee Department of Education proposal to phase in TNReady scores to high school student grades over the next three years.

The vote came one day after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen reported that, as expected with a new test, last school year’s scores are lower than in previous years. Few students met grade-level benchmarks, a trend that she said is likely to continue for several more years.

The phase-in is designed to address the transition to a more rigorous test that is supposed to better gauge whether students are on track for college or career after high school.

“We want to support our teachers and students as they become comfortable with this tougher assessment that is tied to our higher expectations,” McQueen said. “As we have been saying for several years, we expect scores to dip as we set a new baseline aligned with the expectations of our colleges and employers, but we also know scores will rebound and rise over time.”

McQueen’s proposal would change state policy so TNReady results can be phased into student grades as follows:

  • 2016-17: 10 percent of final grade
  • 2017-18: 15 percent of final grade
  • 2018-19: 15-25 percent (districts will have flexibility)

The State Board is scheduled to give its final vote on the phase-in in January.

Finalized statewide scores for the first round of TNReady testing will be released within the next month, and to students by the end of the year. Because of the test’s troubled rollout last spring, only high school students will have scores this year — but those scores will come too late to count in their grades for 2015-16. Last year, the State Board approved a policy that allowed scores to be excluded from GPAs if results were not available within five days of the end of the school year.

State officials expect high school scores for 2016-17 to be ready by early next June. However, 2016-17 scores for grades 3-8 assessments won’t be available until next fall because it will be the first year that students in those grades take the full assessment.

State officials have emphasized that the shift to a more difficult test will not negatively impact teachers’ growth scores, which are supposed to measure teachers’ impact on individual students and contributes to decisions on hiring, tenure, and pay.