State tests count more than ever

State tests count more than ever

April 27th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in News

Kirk Kelly is the director of testing and accountability for the Hamilton County School system. Staff File Photo

Kirk Kelly is the director of testing and...

Standardized tests have put pressure on teachers, school districts and states for years. But this year, some of that pressure is on the backs of Tennessee students.

New legislation requires schools to factor test results into students' grades. While it's been a long-standing practice for high school students, this is the first year the tests have counted for elementary students, who take assessments in grades four through eight.

Educators have tried to raise student test scores since the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and its stringent benchmarks were implemented. Now students are sharing some of that burden.

"Now everybody's involved and everybody's got a stake," said Kirk Kelly, director of accountability and testing for Hamilton County Schools. "They've always had a personal stake, but now it's going to impact them in some way."

In the past, end-of-course exams have counted for 20 percent of a student's grade in each tested course. This year, that percentage increases to 25 percent of a student's second-semester grade when high schoolers take their exams in early May. Results for third- through eighth-graders, who took tests this week, will count as 15 percent of a second-semester grade.

"In some cases, it could boost you up or bring you down a grade," Kelly said.

Results of the tests should be returned in time to avoid any delays with report cards or graduation, he said.

Local educators and parents said they aren't too worried about the implications of test results.

"Parents were notified, and I really haven't heard a lot of feedback, either positive or negative," said Ooltewah Elementary School Principal Thomas Arnold.

Jennifer Caldwell, who has children at Allen Elementary School and Loftis Middle School, said she's well aware of the change and isn't bothered by the heightened sense of student accountability.

"I feel like my kids have been well prepared. I think it will only help their grades," she said. "But my kids test well, so I can see how it would vary student by student."

Caldwell said she has some hesitancy over the national emphasis on assessments and worries that some teachers are pressured to teach only to the test.

She said she does whatever she can to help her children do well on the tests. That includes feeding them a more substantial breakfast during testing time and limiting evening activities such as athletics that may disrupt their sleep schedules.