Almost here

Tennessee is about to release its first TNReady scores. Here’s what to expect.

On Friday, Tennessee will release its first batch of scores from the state’s new, and supposedly harder, standardized test.

The 2015-16 TNReady scores for high school students will offer the first snapshot of performance on math and English as the state seeks to raise the bar on classroom rigor and grading. State officials have warned that scores on the new test will be lower at first — but will give students (and their parents) a better picture of where they stand academically.

The Tennessee Department of Education will release scores in three batches, beginning this week with a breakdown for the whole state. In the coming weeks, the state will release each district’s scores, and finally, each school’s performance.

Here are four things to expect:

  • Only high school students will receive scores. That’s because state officials canceled the second half of the assessment for grades 3-8 last spring after the rollout of TNReady was plagued by technical and logistical problems. Elementary and middle school students took Part I of TNReady but won’t receive those scores. However, their schools are receiving students’ raw scores showing what they got right and wrong on Part I. State officials hope teachers and administrators can use those results to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • More students will score below-grade level. When the State Board of Education approved “cut scores” last month to determine what constitutes a passing grade, the breakdown had as few as a quarter of students scoring on grade level in some subjects. In the previous year, passing rates hovered closer to the 50 percent mark. The test is supposed to be harder than previous assessments because it’s the first one aligned with the current Common Core State Standards. Adopted by Tennessee in 2010, the standards were intended to be more rigorous and better aligned with college readiness. Accordingly, TNReady has more open-ended questions and less multiple-choice ones — making it “harder to game,” according to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.
  • The score reports will look different. This year’s scores will no longer be categorized as advanced (4), proficient (3), basic (2), or below basic (1). The state has rebranded performance levels as mastered, on-track, approaching grade level, and below grade-level. And under a redesigned score report unveiled last month, state officials say students, parents and educators should better understand what student scores say about their college readiness. The reports also will offer next steps for improvement.
  • These scores won’t be included in students’ grades from last year. Students got their report cards for the 2015-16 school year months ago, meaning these scores come too late. Because TNReady is a new test, a panel of teachers had to review students’ answers and determine what was considered grade-level. In the future, TNReady scores will be phased into students’ grades.

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