Scores in

Most Tennessee high school students lag in college readiness according to first TNReady results

The vast majority of Tennessee’s public high school students are not prepared for college, based on scores released Friday from Tennessee’s new standardized test.

Under the state’s tougher new grading scale, nearly three-quarters of students performed below grade level on each of the new tests. Specifically, only 30 percent of high school students tested last school year are on track or have mastered their grade level in English and reading, while 21 percent are considered college-ready in math.

The results closely mirror how Tennessee students score on the ACT college-entrance exam. In 2016, only 17 percent met all four college readiness benchmarks.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen emphasized that the drop in scores was because the state’s new TNReady test is harder and aligned to more rigorous standards, not because students and teachers aren’t working hard.

“We are confident that this process will lead more students to be ready for opportunities after high school,” she said at a morning news conference.

McQueen called this year’s scores “a challenging moment” but a necessary one in order to “set a new baseline” for Tennessee students.

“These results are an opportunity, and we want our teachers, families, and students to know we will all grow from here,” she said in a separate statement. “In past transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term — and students performed better on national assessments, including by making our state the fastest improving in the country.”

When Tennessee shifted to its Diploma Standards in 2009, passing rates on end-of-course tests were cut nearly in half. Those scores steadily rose, and McQueen predicted the same will happen with TNReady.

The state also released end-of-course test scores in science, which held steady from last year. Because science standards have not been updated, the state used the same test and grading scale as years past. The science test will be updated in 2019 when new standards go into effect.

McQueen said the distribution of teachers’ value-added scores, which are based on students growth, will remain steady, just as they did during the last testing transition. Teachers can choose this year whether to include value-added in their evaluation scores.

“You still have students growing even though achievement levels are based on a new baseline,” she said.

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