Standardized testing to be scaled back next year in Tennessee schools

Standardized testing to be scaled back next year in Tennessee schools

April 5th, 2016 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks to media representatives while at the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

“I think our educators will applaud this decision.”
Kirk Kelly, acting superintendent of Hamilton County Schools

POLL: Do you support Candice McQueen's decision to scale back testing?

Students will spend less time taking standardized tests next year, according to Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

"Next year, TNReady will be shorter and will take less time, while maintaining its level of rigor," McQueen told reporters Monday over the phone.

McQueen said a variety of perspectives — especially from teachers — influenced the changes, along with the lessons learned from the inaugural year of TNReady, the standardized test that replaced the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.

The Hamilton County Department of Education's acting Superintendent, Kirk Kelly, said he thinks shortening testing time is a step in the right direction.

"I think our educators will applaud this decision," Kelly said.

Educators and parents in Hamilton County have criticized TNReady for months, claiming the test robs students of valuable instructional time and is developmentally inappropriate. Principals said they were forced to change their school schedules several times because part one of the two-part test was delayed earlier this spring.

McQueen told reporters the state shared the school districts' frustration about the delays in testing, and has apologized to school leaders several times.

She said the future of the state's contract with Measurement Inc. — the company that created TNReady and the online testing platform that crashed in February, forcing the state to return to paper and pencil administration of the test — is being discussed.

But regardless of whether the contract continues or not, McQueen said Tennessee is committed to moving toward an online assessment.

"We know that the real world requires technology skills, and we believe an online assessment mirrors those expectations," McQueen said. "But we want to move forward at a pace that is right for Tennessee."

McQueen said the TNReady math and English tests will be shorter next year, and the state has not made a decision about the length of the social studies test, yet.

The first portion of the math test will be eliminated next year, McQueen said, as she wants educators to have time to cover all the material before students take the test.

Kelly said that means the TNReady math test will be very similar in length to the old TCAP test and taken at a similar time near the end of the school year.

McQueen said the English and language arts test next year also will be shortened, but still administered in two portions.

Heather DeGaetano, a parent who has been vocal against TNReady and is keeping her daughter out of testing this year, said decreasing testing time for next year is a huge win for kids.

"I'm not against assessments," she said. "We just need to find a smarter way."

DeGaetano said she thinks online assessments can be good, but worries they are developmentally inappropriate for younger students, especially those who haven't been taught to type on a keyboard.

She said changes to curriculum need to be made to better prepare kids, teachers and schools if third- and fourth-graders are expected to test online.

Across the county, DeGaetano said she has seen parents stand up and advocate on behalf of their kids regarding this year's testing, and she is encouraged that the state seems to be listening.

McQueen said she hopes next year's testing experience will be different, and positive for everyone. She said the state wants to be transparent moving forward and update the public as soon as decisions around testing changes are made.

"We also want educators, families and students to have plenty of time to prepare for whatever [the testing] format is," she said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.