Task force recommends scrapping some tests

From Chalkbeat-Tennessee:
Amid concerns that Tennessee is over-testing its students, a state task force recommended on Tuesday eliminating the option to test kindergarten and first-graders, as well as dropping two mandatory college preparatory tests for eighth- and 10th-graders.

The panel, charged with reviewing K-12 tests and testing policies, also recommended releasing test questions from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), including the state’s new TNReady assessment, despite the likely high financial cost to the state.

The recommendations come as Tennessee makes a major shift in testing this year with the launch of the TNReady assessment in math and English language arts for grades 3-11. Tennessee students will begin next spring taking the Common Core-aligned test, which will replace the previous exam that doesn’t align with the state’s current academic standards.

The task force urged the release of TCAP questions in order to increase testing transparency — something that teachers have pushed for as tests have become more critical in Tennessee’s teacher evaluation process.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she was unsure of the cost for releasing test questions, since developing new questions each year likely would be expensive. But, she said, the cost is worth it to build trust among students, parents and teachers.

“This is a new time, a new era, and so we believe transparency is more important than ever,” McQueen said during a morning press briefing on the report.

Note The Department of Education’s press release is below.

News release from Department of Education
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment, comprised of 18 educators and education leaders from across the state, concluded six months of discussions and research today as they released more than a dozen recommendations to address concerns about “too much testing” and to ensure the meaningful use of assessments across the state.

The task force’s work and recommendations focused on four key areas of assessment:

Reducing unnecessary or redundant student tests,
Transparency in testing,
Aligning tests to postsecondary and workforce expectations,
Supporting districts around test scheduling and logistics.

After gathering feedback and input from teachers, parents, and educators across the state, the task force offered a series of 16 tangible recommendations to help reduce unnecessary or redundant student tests, including at the state level, the elimination of the kindergarten and first-grade annual standardized tests; elimination of the mandatory EXPLORE (8th grade) and PLAN (10th grade) tests; and continued requirement of the ACT or SAT for 11th grade students, but not the adoption of ACT’s new alternative ASPIRE test.

Among other recommendations in the report, the task force requested that test items from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) be released to students, parents, and educators in order to provide better information and more transparency on student understanding and performance.

“Assessments help educators measure student learning, but we must ensure that the assessments we invest our time and resources in are providing meaningful and actionable information to teachers, parents, and students to actually help improve student achievement,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “As I have traveled the state listening and learning from teachers and parents, I have heard repeatedly that we must make sure that we aren’t duplicating state and district efforts on assessments that take away from important instructional time in the classroom.”

While Tennessee students will spend only approximately 11-12 hours or one percent of the school year taking state-required TCAP assessments each year, the task force concluded that some districts are utilizing and requiring a variety of additional benchmarks or formative assessments throughout the year to measure student progress that are not always used for instructional decision making or might be duplicative of the information derived from state assessments.

To address this concern, the task force developed specific principles to help guide district, schools, and teachers as they select and evaluate benchmark or formative assessments given throughout the year, emphasizing that teacher or school-made benchmark assessments best measure student progress toward annual goals and inform instructional change.

The task force also developed principles for using statewide annual or summative tests and for test preparation and logistics.

Additional recommendations in the report include ensuring that higher education continues to be involved in the validation and use of TNReady to determine entry-level college coursework and creating more opportunities for parents to provide feedback both at the state and district level.

The task force concluded the report with areas it recommends for further analysis, including more work on district grading practices and policies and the usage of screening tools in early grades.

The task force was formed by Commissioner McQueen in spring 2015 as a result of feedback from the field about the amount of testing, quality of testing, and associated test preparation. You can view a complete list of task force members online: http://www.tn.gov/education/news/14299.

You can also review the complete task force report online: http://tn.gov/education/topic/assessment-task-force