primer

Your guide to district- and school-level TNReady scores

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia

Tennessee soon will release district- and school-level scores from the state’s new, and supposedly harder, standardized test. And for many, the results will be grim.

While the State Department of Education released statewide scores last month, this week’s scores will provide the first look at how individual high schools and districts fared in the first year under the state’s new testing program, called TNReady.

The statewide scores showed far fewer high school students scoring on grade-level than in years past, though state officials have cautioned against comparisons. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen emphasized that drops in math, English and social studies are because the new tests for those subjects are harder and are aligned to more rigorous standards.

Tennessee is only releasing scores for high schools because end-of-year tests for middle and elementary schools were cancelled in April after a series of logistical and technical challenges. The testmaker, Measurement Inc., was fired.  

Here’s what you need to know about the new test scores, and how they will be used:

Scores are supposed to provide more accurate information about postsecondary readiness.

Statewide scores mirrored Tennessee’s ACT scores, which suggest that they more accurately reflect how ready students are for college. With more open-ended questions and fewer multiple-choice ones, TNReady and the state’s new social studies TCAP aim to measure critical thinking skills necessary to succeed after high school. The math and English tests also were aligned for the first time to the Common Core State Standards, which have been in all Tennessee classrooms since 2012 and are supposed to be geared more toward college readiness than previous benchmarks. (The state is rolling out revised standards based on the Common Core next school year.) Science scores are the exception, as the state won’t revamp science tests until new standards are phased in during the 2018-2019 school year.

Scores from this year and last year are apples and oranges.

Most schools will see declines in passing rates, but that doesn’t mean that the schools declined in quality. State officials emphasize that any big differences in scores are a reflection of the new test, not changes to the schools or districts.

But the state is still measuring growth.

Even though direct comparisons of test scores are invalid, they still can measure growth, say state officials.

As always, Tennessee is using its complicated value-added formula, which is supposed to show how much teachers contribute to individual student growth. In theory, the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, measures a student’s growth, but it really measures how a student does relative to his or her peers. This year, the state examined how students who scored at the same levels on prior assessments performed on TNReady in 2015-16. Students were expected to perform about as well on TNReady as their peers with comparable prior achievement. If they performed better than their peers, no matter how their performance compares to last year’s, they will positively impact their teacher’s or school’s score.

Teachers can choose whether to count scores in teacher evaluation scores.

High school teachers can choose not to have TVAAS calculated with their 2015-16 evaluation scores if it doesn’t boost their overall score. Instead, they can use TVAAS from years past.

This year’s scores won’t be able to put schools on the state’s “priority school” list.

Schools on the state’s priority list — which identify those in Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent — have been eligible for state takeover in recent years. But this year’s scores can’t land a school on that list. To address this year’s bumpy transition to TNReady, the State Department of Education plans to release two priority lists in 2017: one that includes available TNReady data from this year, and one that only includes data from the 2014-15 and 2016-17 school years. A school must be on both priority lists to be eligible for state intervention.

The score reports will look different.

This year’s scores no longer will be categorized as advanced, proficient, basic or below basic. The state has rebranded performance levels as mastered, on-track, approaching grade level, and below grade-level. State officials also unveiled a redesigned score report this fall. It’s designed to help students, parents and educators understand better what the student scores say about their college readiness. The reports also will offer next steps for improvement.

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.