Teaching and learning haven’t stopped during Tennessee’s two-year gap in standardized testing, but the scores that help gauge how students, teachers and schools are doing have definitely been interrupted.
That void will start to be filled on Wednesday morning when the State Department of Education releases this year’s statewide TNReady scores for grades 3-8. (District- and school-level scores will come later this fall.)
Circumstances have changed significantly since 2015 when the last state scores were available for Tennessee’s elementary and middle school students. This spring marked the first time that those grades took a harder test in alignment with Common Core academic standards.
As such, this year’s scores are expected to drop significantly from 2015, just as they did for high schoolers in 2016 during their first year of testing in the TNReady era.
Preliminary data backs that up. In August, Tennessee’s State Board of Education set thresholds for what constitutes passing scores at each grade level, offering an early glimpse of this year’s results for grades 3-8. Only about a third of those students scored on or above grade level in English language arts, while a slightly higher percentage passed in math.
The “new baseline scores,” as state officials are calling them, are part of the “reset” that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has been talking about since becoming the state’s education chief in 2015. Before a series of snafus prompted McQueen to fire the state’s testmaker and cancel 2016 tests for its youngest students, she warned that scores would drop initially under TNReady, then begin to climb, as they did for high schoolers this year in their second year of testing.
But the initial tumble in scores also will be accompanied by a sigh of relief from education leaders across Tennessee. Once again, they’ll finally have the testing data that serves as the lynchpin of the state’s system of education accountability. Without that data, they’ve been challenged to track progress, especially of historically underserved groups of students.
The blip has prompted temporary changes in the way the state rates its teachers and schools. This year, for instance, student growth scores that were released last month will count for only 10 percent of teacher evaluations, compared to up to 50 percent in 2015.
The Achievement School District also pushed pause on its takeover of low-performing schools during the testing transition — a retreat that has been extended as the state has made the turnaround district a tool of last resort under its new education plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.