After weeks of hard conversations prompted by the rocky debut of Tennessee’s new assessment, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Monday that the state will reduce the number of hours that students spend taking TNReady in its second year.
Beginning in 2016-17, the State Department of Education plans to scrap TNReady Part I in math and streamline the English portion of Part I, she said. Department officials will determine how many hours of testing the changes will save students in the coming weeks.
On average, third-graders this year will have spent 11.2 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science; seventh-graders, 11.7 hours; and high school students, 12.3 hours. Educators, parents and students alike have said that that’s simply too many hours devoted to testing, especially considering the hours that students spend taking practice tests and screeners through the state’s 2-year-old Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI-squared) program.
“We’ve always maintained we had two goals: strengthen content and reduce testing time,” McQueen told reporters during a conference call.
The changes were announced before even the completion of the first year of TNReady testing and amid widespread criticism of the rollout of the state’s new standardized test, which was marred by technical problems and delays, as well as growing concerns about overtesting in Tennessee.
In addition to revising next year’s test to reduce testing time, McQueen said the department is working to ensure smoother administration of TNReady Part II this spring. The state is pre-printing tests to include students’ names and other identifying information. She said tests will be shipped to schools before the testing window begins on April 25.
The time spent testing in Tennessee classrooms has been at the center of the state’s nascent opt-out movement, as well as calls from districts to ditch TNReady altogether in favor of the ACT suite of tests, which take less time overall.
“Kids don’t see the value when you take so many tests,” said Clint Wilson, principal of Nashville’s Glencliff High School, days before McQueen’s announcement. “It’s less time with instruction (and) it’s a lot less time with administrators making sure quality instruction is occurring.”
Tullahoma City Schools Superintendent Dan Lawson said the amount of testing this year has seemed significantly more than in any other year in his two-decade-long career in Tennessee schools.
“Outside of RTI-squared and TNReady, we don’t have time to do anything,” Lawson said. “We’re trying to have class on occasion.”
Concerns about over-testing predated TNReady’s rollout but intensified during the last few months of testing, when a network outage prompted McQueen to ditch the state’s new online assessment and revert to paper-based tests. Last year, McQueen convened a testing task force, which recommended eliminating a handful of state-mandated tests — a move that the Department of Education supports. She plans convene a second assessment task force in the coming months to assess other ways to improve testing.
McQueen said more hard decisions over the fate of TNReady lie ahead, such as whether the state should try once again to transition to an online version of the test next year, and whether the state should stick with Measurement Inc., the vendor that many blame for the troubled rollout.
When those decisions are made, she wants educators to be at the table.
“We’ve had difficult conversations that we needed to have,” she said. “We will keep working together and we will keep getting better.”