Hamilton County school board upset over extra testing time

Hamilton County school board upset over extra testing time

August 9th, 2015 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

In this 2014 photo, seventh-grade math teacher Jamal Lett, center, and assistant teacher Brandy Powell, foreground right, use a giant graph as Orchard Knob Middle School students participate in a TCAP boot camp. Tennessee schools are adopting a new test this year called TNReady.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Previous TCAP vs. TNReady total testing times:

Grades 3 through 5: TCAP / TNReady

English and writing: 226 min. / 290 min.

Math: 83 to 92 min. / 135 min.

Science: 95 to 104 min. / 95 to 104 min.

Social Studies: 92 to 104 min. / 145 min.

Grades 6 through 8:

English and writing: 260 min. / 320 min.

Math: 83 min. / 150 min.

Science: 95 to 104 min. / 95 to 104 min.

Social Studies: 92 to 104 min. / 135 min.

High School

English I, II, and III plus writing: 240 to 360 min. / 350 min.

Math I, II, and III: 120 to 240 min. / 210 min.

Biology: 120 to 240 min. / 75 min.

Chemistry: 120 to 240 min. / 75 min.

U.S. History: 120 to 240 min. / 180 min.

Source: Tennessee Department of Education

Hamilton County school board members were told last week that a new, state-mandated testing schedule will consume seven weeks of the upcoming school year — extensive testing robbing students of valuable instruction time.

But the Tennessee Department of Education says this isn't true.

"[Testing] is approximately 1 percent of the student's entire year," said Ashley Ball, education department spokeswoman. She added, "The amount of time students spend testing this school year will be very similar to last school year."

That contradicts what Superintendent Rick Smith told board members about the new assessment test — TNReady — on Thursday. In a special called meeting, Smith said testing will drastically reduce student learning time.

"Really good teachers are going to look at this and say, 'I've lost 30 or 40 percent of my instructional time,'" Smith said.

TNReady, which will be used throughout the state this year, is a revision of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, known as TCAP.  The new TNReady assessment will test students in math and English and language arts.  And students will also take a science and social studies test that is similar to the previous TCAP test.  Testing will be administered differently this year, as most students will take the tests in sections throughout the spring instead of during one large chunk of sequential days.

POLL: Are Tennessee students tested too much?

The state education department says testing times for grades three through eight will increase by a maximum of 179 minutes from TCAP. High schoolers' maximum testing time will actually decrease — from about 18 hours to 14.8 hours — with TNReady. If testing times across grades are combined, TNReady will take less than 38 hours to administer, compared to 36 for the old tests.

And testing will be divided into two parts, the first part will be given for the majority of students in February/March, and second portion will be administered in April/May.  For example, students in grades three through five will spend an additional hour in English and language testing this year, but instead of taking all 290 minutes of the test at once it will be divided into four subtests. Students on a block schedule will take some testing during the fall semester.

More Info

To learn more about TNReady check out: http://tn.gov/tnready

The state says the new test provides students multiple ways to show what they know, just like their teachers do in the classroom. It also allows 25 to 50 percent more time per question on the English and math portions.

When the testing schedule was presented to the school board Thursday, it was not explained this way. Instead Smith and Kirk Kelly, director of testing and accountability for the district, focused on what they called "drastic" increases of required testing time.

The schedule shows weeks designated for TNReady testing throughout the fall and spring.

"Basically seven weeks we have devoted to testing," Kelly told the board. That compares to one week for TCAPs.

Board members expressed outrage at the lengthy testing schedule. Smith offered no solutions, but blamed the state for mandating the test. He also did not clarify that actual testing would take only 45 to 180 minutes in any designated test week, or say whether students could spend the rest of those weeks in their regular academic classes.

Smith and Kelly did not respond to requests for comment Friday or Saturday.

The TNReady presentation diverted the board's attention from this year's TCAP scores, which is what they thought they were to discuss at the meeting.

Hamilton County students scored below the state average in nine of the 10 tested categories by as many as 16.7 percentage points.

Asked for comment Friday and Saturday, several board members told the Times Free Press they prefer to wait until the Aug. 20 board meeting to hear Smith's and Kelly's clarifications and answers to their questions.

"[The new testing schedule] looked like a nightmare," said board member Joe Galloway. "I'm sure it will get cleared up, and hopefully it will not be as bad as we thought in that meeting."

Galloway questioned Saturday whether the local school system misunderstood the state's mandates, but Ball said the education department gave the district about 150 pages of information about TNReady as early as March. She said several meetings have been held across the region to discuss details, and she thought at least one representative from Hamilton County was present.

Board Chairman George Ricks said the state has one opinion and the Hamilton County school system has a different one.

"I can only go off of what is presented to me at that meeting," Ricks said Saturday.

Board member Steve Highlander agreed, saying his information on TNReady is based on what Smith said at Thursday's meeting.

Highlander also is concerned about a 75-minute test for third graders under TNReady.

Board member Jonathan Welch said the problem is "not just simply the hours our kids are testing, but the disruption it causes throughout the school when the kids are testing."

He said having kids shuffle in and out of classrooms to take tests consumes more time than the test itself requires, and can disrupt instruction throughout the school.

Welch also expressed concern on Friday evening regarding the length of the test, and wishes school districts could be given assessment options besides TNReady.

"Accountability is one thing, but I think we can get accountability with less test time," Welch said.

Board members at Thursday's meeting also talked about the number of schools that are not equipped to administer TNReady on computers, the primary testing method.

The state is providing waivers that allow students to take the test with pencil and paper for school districts that do not meet its online readiness status— those in which less than 80 percent of the district's schools have enough devices to administer the test. But Hamilton County is not eligible for a waiver because the district told the state it meets those standards, Ball said.

School board member Rhonda Thurman said the board has not done "due diligence" and is to blame for the "lack of preparation" and "absence of technology" in some schools.

"The kids needed computers to test on; we've known this was coming and didn't handle it," Thurman said. " We can't do anything about state-mandated tests, but we can do something about our schools not having computers."

Board member Greg Martin said his biggest concern from Thursday's meeting is that the board spent hardly any time discussing the district's low TCAP scores, which he thought was the intent of the specially called meeting.

"I am more concerned about this year's test results that we just got than the test that is in the future," he said. "I'm very disappointed with last year's test, and it doesn't set us up well for the future."

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