Finally

After a two-year gap, Tennessee is about to release test scores for grade-schoolers. Here’s what to expect.

Teaching and learning haven’t stopped during Tennessee’s two-year gap in standardized testing, but the scores that help gauge how students, teachers and schools are doing have definitely been interrupted.

That void will start to be filled on Wednesday morning when the State Department of Education releases this year’s statewide TNReady scores for grades 3-8. (District- and school-level scores will come later this fall.)

Circumstances have changed significantly since 2015 when the last state scores were available for Tennessee’s elementary and middle school students. This spring marked the first time that those grades took a harder test in alignment with Common Core academic standards.

As such, this year’s scores are expected to drop significantly from 2015, just as they did for high schoolers in 2016 during their first year of testing in the TNReady era.

Preliminary data backs that up. In August, Tennessee’s State Board of Education set thresholds for what constitutes passing scores at each grade level, offering an early glimpse of this year’s results for grades 3-8. Only about a third of those students scored on or above grade level in English language arts, while a slightly higher percentage passed in math.

The “new baseline scores,” as state officials are calling them, are part of the “reset” that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has been talking about since becoming the state’s education chief in 2015. Before a series of snafus prompted McQueen to fire the state’s testmaker and cancel 2016 tests for its youngest students, she warned that scores would drop initially under TNReady, then begin to climb, as they did for high schoolers this year in their second year of testing.

But the initial tumble in scores also will be accompanied by a sigh of relief from education leaders across Tennessee. Once again, they’ll finally have the testing data that serves as the lynchpin of the state’s system of education accountability. Without that data, they’ve been challenged to track progress, especially of historically underserved groups of students.

The blip has prompted temporary changes in the way the state rates its teachers and schools. This year, for instance, student growth scores that were released last month will count for only 10 percent of teacher evaluations, compared to up to 50 percent in 2015.

The Achievement School District also pushed pause on its takeover of low-performing schools during the testing transition — a retreat that has been extended as the state has made the turnaround district a tool of last resort under its new education plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.