TN(never gonna be)Ready

By Sally Absher

“Hallelujah!! The entire state of Tennessee Opts Out” reads the headline of the 4/28/2016 Momma Bears blog (mommabears.org). Oh the rich irony! Parents were told they couldn’t opt their kids out, but now if you have a student in grades 3-8, they are all opted out!

After repeated glitches, delays, and failure to deliver, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced last Wednesday that the department will terminate its statewide testing contract with Measurement Inc., effective immediately. The state also suspended grades 3-8 testing for this year due to Measurement Inc.’s inability to deliver all testing materials.

First there was the online testing debacle back in February, when computers across the state bogged down on day one of TNReady Part 1, causing McQueen to ditch the online assessment and go back to a paper and pencil test.

The state was assured by TNReady Assessment vendor Measurement Inc. that they could deliver the Part 1 paper tests on time. They didn’t. The tests were late – a week late in most districts, more than that in a few.

Part 2 of TNReady was scheduled to begin on April 25, but as of April 27th, all districts in the state were still waiting on some grade 3-8 testing materials to arrive, with 2 million documents yet to be shipped.

The TNReady delay did not impact high schools, at least not directly. High schools received the test materials in plenty of time to start TNReady testing the week of April 18, and McQueen said that high school testing will continue as planned. This includes middle school students taking high school courses, e.g., Algebra 1.

But schedule disruptions at the high schools due to TNReady testing are causing major headaches for students and teachers alike. While high school students have been busy taking Part 1 and Part 2 of English and Math, and U.S. History TNReady tests, they have been missing valuable instructional time in other classes. Teachers are losing their plan time – and sometimes class time – to proctor the assessments.

State End of Course tests for Chemistry and Biology, and AP exams, start on May 2. One high school science teacher lamented, “I’ve had to teach every lesson for the past two weeks twice, because I only have half of my students present at any given time. So I’ve only been able to cover half the material I needed to cover these two weeks. Add to that the end of course test is given 3 weeks before the end of the course, and my students have only thirteen or fourteen weeks of instruction to learn eighteen weeks of material.”

At least one Superintendent, Williamson County’s Mike Looney, notified his district that “…because of my continued concerns, I am suspending End of Course tests at the high school level.” This is Leadership. Not that McQueen was happy about this. She served notice to Looney and all other directors that refusing to administer the EOC would be considered a violation of state law. But God love him for standing up to the insanity. Every superintendent in the state should have joined him.

The utter incompetency of the state in handing the roll-out of the TNReady assessment has fueled a growing number of parents who are questioning the purpose and validity of annual high stakes tests, leading to an increase in the number of students who are opting out – or “refusing” the test.

Even parents who were willing to have their child endure the testing regime are angry and frustrated. Many wondered why it took the state so long to pull the plug, especially when they already announced that the scores would not count for student grades, teacher evaluations, or school accountability metrics. Days and weeks were spent on test prep and practice that could have been spent learning.

Manipulating schedules around the ever-changing TNReady testing meant that numerous field trips and education activities were shelved this year, including a Farragut Middle band trip to Washington, D.C. Which do you think will have a greater impact on the student: hours of useless testing that serves no purpose other than to advance the education reform agenda or experiencing a real life educational adventure?

Meanwhile, the Department is working with the Central Procurement Office to expedite the selection of a vendor for both the scoring of this year’s high school assessment and the development of next year’s test.

But as Momma Bears writes, “While our kids are happy this is not happening, they feel cheated out of a school year that was totally devoted to a test that never happened. Next year doesn’t look any better. There is no way on this green earth that the TDOE will have a test ready for next school year. This is what happens when you build a plane in mid-air. It crashes and burns with our kids inside.”

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