By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With new tests on the way in math and English for students in grades three through 11, a survey released Wednesday shows Tennessee teachers worried that they’re spending too much time on testing and test preparation.
TNReady will be given to students in the spring. It’s part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, which includes achievement tests and end-of-course exams for science, social students, math and English.
Officials say the new test is designed to measure students’ understanding of the material, not just memorization and test-taking skills. They say it will better measure students’ progress and make sure they are on track to succeed after graduation.
State education officials told reporters last week that the best thing teachers could do to get students ready for the test would be to provide “strong instruction every day.”
However, the survey of nearly 37,000 teachers showed 60 percent say they spend too much time helping students prepare for statewide exams, and seven out of ten believe their students spend too much time taking exams. (Note: The department’s report on the survey is HERE.)
“What teachers recognize is the unfortunate fact that standardized testing is the only thing valued by the state,” said Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.
“Teachers and parents know there are so many things that affect future student success that are not measured by these tests, like social and emotional skills, cooperative behaviors, and academic abilities that do not lend themselves to be measured this way.”
Earlier this year, the Education Department announced a task force had been created to review student testing and assessment amid concerns students were being over-tested.
The group is charged with identifying best practices in testing and how those assessments align with required state tests.
“There is a concern about the amount of testing,” Gov. Bill Haslam told The Associated Press after an education event this week. “We will give that a really strong look.”
Education Department spokeswoman Ashley Ball said the task force will make recommendations next month “to help guide district and state decision making about testing.”
Another concern of teachers in the report — a collaboration between the Education Department and Vanderbilt University’s Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development — is how they are evaluated.
Teachers have long held that the evaluation process relies too heavily on standardized test scores.
The survey found that while most teachers find evaluations useful, half of those surveyed say the evaluation process is a considerable burden, and a third of teachers feel the system is unfair.
Ball said the department plans to address those concerns as well. She recommended giving districts “more flexibility to tailor teacher evaluation to meet their unique local needs.”
“Currently, over 70 districts throughout the state already take advantage of flexible options in the teacher evaluation model. Our goal is to increase that number to help customize the evaluation model based on local needs,” she said.
Despite the concerns, two-thirds of teachers say the evaluation process has helped them improve their teaching, up 14 percentage points since 2014, and 30 percentage points since 2012.