TNReady scores won’t count for much in Memphis student grades

TNReady scores from 2019 will have a minimum impact on student grades — and in some cases, no impact.

The Shelby County Schools board approved a recommendation Tuesday evening to set the weight of state test scores in report cards at 0 percent for elementary students, and 10 percent for middle school students. Both are the minimum allowed under state policy.

The action highlights the mistrust still prevalent among school leaders after years of major technical failures from the state’s test known as TNReady.

“We do not think there is a good rationale for increasing the weight of TNReady assessments on students’ grades beyond the minimum required by the state, especially considering recent testing challenges,” the proposal read.

State testing is the linchpin of Tennessee’s system for evaluating student achievement. But as technical failures have marred the rollout in recent years, educators have clamored for limits on how the scores are used.

TNReady’s new online system failed on the first day of testing in 2016, and when replacement tests for third- through eighth-graders were not delivered on time, the state Department of Education canceled testing. Last year, many students couldn’t log into their tests and answers weren’t being saved. State lawmakers then moved to ban 2018 test scores from penalizing schools and allowed school boards to exclude them from student report cards. Many school boards took the legislature up on that offer.

The problems prompted former superintendent Dorsey Hopson and his counterpart in Nashville to declare “no confidence” in TNReady and request a pause in testing in August.

Related: Tennessee was ‘overly ambitious’ in pushing online testing, says state’s chief investigator

State law now gives local school boards a range to choose from every year for how much test scores will count in student grades. The range is 0-25 percent for third- through fifth-graders, and 10-25 percent for middle schoolers.

For high school students, Shelby County Schools already planned to use TNReady scores as 15 percent of a student’s grade, which is also the minimum allowed in state board policy. The maximum is 25 percent. Districts are not required to incorporate their test scores unless the results come back within five days of the end of the school year.

For older students, teachers and school leaders have worried that if scores don’t count in their grades, they won’t try as hard on the state test. That’s not without merit, but the portion of students taking the exam did not drop significantly last year, according to the state.