In final year of Common Core, Tennessee teachers can use practice test questions from PARCC

As Tennessee prepares students for its final year of tests aligned with Common Core standards, teachers can pull practice questions from a variety of sources, including the same testing consortium that the state once distanced itself from.

In 2014, Tennessee joined other states that pulled out of a multistate consortium known as PARCC due to the growing political backlash over Common Core — the standards on which the consortium is based. That exit led Tennessee to work with a private test maker to develop its own assessment called TNReady.

At a TNReady training session last week in Memphis, educators were told that this year’s TNReady questions will look different than they’ve seen on past tests. Those seeking practice questions for their students were directed to the state’s internal online platform called EdTools. Questions from PARCC and Smarter Balanced, another testing consortium, also are acceptable as long as they “aligned to our standards,” said Nakia Towns, assistant state education commissioner for data and research.

“But in terms of the rigor of those items and the development process for those two consortiums, I would say definitely those are high-quality items,” Towns told the group.

Tennessee still uses Common Core as its guide for teaching and testing, even though state officials formally dropped using the controversial name in recent years.

Officially, this will be Tennessee’s final year to administer Common Core-aligned tests for math and English language arts. Next school year, the state switches to teaching and testing to its Tennessee Academic Standards, developed after 18 months of review and revisions that began with an order from Gov. Bill Haslam.

And when the testing window opens on April 17 for grades 3-11, this will be the first year of administering TNReady under Questar Assessments Inc., the state’s new testing company. The State Department of Education hired the Minneapolis-based firm last summer after firing North Carolina-based Measurement Inc. only a few months earlier. The switch came after the botched online debut of TNReady led to the test’s cancellation last year for grades 3-8.

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Representatives of Questar were among those fielding questions from teachers last week in Memphis. Marty Mineck, a Questar vice president, said TNReady is a homegrown test that won’t look like the company’s assessments in other states.

“This is not a Questar assessment. This is not a Questar test. The reason we are here is to build a TNReady that is literally for the students of Tennessee,” he told the group.

Unlike last year, most students will take TNReady by pen and paper. After the statewide attempt at online testing failed in 2016, the Department of Education adopted a new game plan that includes gradually transitioning most schools to online testing by 2019. Only 25 out of 130 eligible districts have signed up for online testing this spring for their high school students.

The TNReady training in Memphis was among six hosted across Tennessee by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, a nonpartisan education advocacy group founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist. The other sessions were held in Chattanooga, Kingsport, Knoxville, Jackson and Nashville. In all, about 500 teachers have attended.

Clarification: March 30, 2017: This version clarifies that the State Department of Education is directing teachers seeking practice questions to its EdTools platform, but also has endorsed using PARCC as a resource.