Testing transition

TNReady scores are down, but GPAs shouldn’t take big hit under phase-in plan

PHOTO: Laura Johnson

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.

Take Two

One year after TNReady collapse, Tennessee unveils plan to test online again

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier

After last year’s mostly failed transition to online testing, Tennessee will try again next year. And this time, state officials say they “feel confident” that the new online platform will work.

But unlike last year, the state will stagger the transition. All high schools will administer the test online in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the state’s test on paper to its youngest students.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced the new game plan for TNReady testing on Thursday after sharing the timeline with superintendents the day before.

“Given the challenges we experienced last year, we took a step back this year and have worked very closely with our vendor, Questar, to create an online product that is right for Tennessee,” McQueen wrote to superintendents. “We are proud of the progress that has been made and feel confident in the strength of the Nextera platform.”

Many districts are expected to get a head start and use the option to administer the high school test this spring. McQueen reported that more than half of the state’s high schools participated in online practice tests last fall, and that feedback was “generally very positive.”

Districts have until Feb. 15 to decide whether to take this year’s test online, and testing will start on April 17.

McQueen has said repeatedly that Tennessee is committed to transitioning to online testing, even after its platform collapsed last year on the first day of testing. The test maker later acknowledged that its platform did not have enough servers for the volume of students online as most of the state tried to make the shift for all grades.

The commissioner reiterated the state’s commitment this week. “It is our responsibility to ensure Tennessee students are prepared to meet the demands of postsecondary and the workforce, and online readiness is a part of that effort,” she wrote. “… Online is the future for our students.”

However, McQueen said that the transition plan isn’t set in stone.

We will continue to look at proof points along the way to be sure we are setting up districts and schools for success using the online platform,” she wrote.

Last year’s failed online rollout was followed by the test maker’s inability to deliver printed test materials, prompting McQueen to cancel tests for grades 3-8 and fire North Carolina-based Measurement Inc.

This year’s test has several differences from 2016:

  • It was designed by Questar, a Minnesota-based testing company that Tennessee hired last July;
  • It will take place during a single testing window, in April 17 to May 5, rather than also having testing in February.
  • It will be slightly shorter, with shorter sections.

breaking

‘ILEARN’ test would replace ISTEP in 2019 under House GOP plan

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

A key Republican lawmaker is calling for Indiana’s next state test to be known as “ILEARN,” finally abolishing the hated ISTEP in time for the 2018-19 school year.

But the new test, should the plan move forward and become law, might not look that different to students and teachers.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, filed House Bill 1003 in the Indiana General Assembly Wednesday setting out details for a new state testing system, whose name stands for “Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network.” Behning championed the so-called “kill ISTEP” bill last spring, which came out of complaints about the test’s history of scoring glitches and delays.

Behning’s bill is the first to outline a plan to replace the test, and it still faces a number of legislative hurdles. But as House Education Committee chairman, Behning has considerable influence.

“ILEARN” would be similar to recommendations released late last year by a committee of lawmakers and educators charged with helping create a new test. That committee called for mostly tweaks to the ISTEP testing system, not an overhaul as some educators had favored.

His plan would include a few changes. In addition to continuing to test students in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school in math and English, the bill would require Indiana schools to give high school students a “nationally recognized” college or career readiness test. That test could be an exam for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, a college entrance exam, or another test approved by the Indiana State Board of Education.

The bill would also have the state exams given in one testing period at the end of the year, rather than the current two periods in late winter and spring.

In order to graduate, the state would go back to requiring high school students to pass end-of-course assessments in English, Algebra I and science, not a 10th-grade test like what the state introduced in 2016.

Tests in social studies would also no longer be required.

The bill would also require that scores be returned to the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1 of the year the test was given. It also says the Indiana Department of Education would be able to make rules that encourage Indiana teachers to grade the writing questions.

Originally, Behning called for ISTEP to formally end after it was given in 2017, but because of the challenges of creating a new test in such a short time window, he and fellow Republicans in the Senate have said the current ISTEP needs to stick around for another year or so. His plan would have ILEARN given for the first time in 2019.

Below, find some of our top stories over the past year on the ever-changing exam, where we explain how Indiana got to this point. You can find all of Chalkbeat’s testing coverage here.