Testing Time

While Tennessee teachers are raising concerns about the amount of time spent on testing and test preparation, the Department of Education is lauding the new TNReady tests as an improvement for Tennessee students.

According to an AP story:

However, the survey of nearly 37,000 teachers showed 60 percent say they spend too much time helping students prepare for statewide exams, and seven out of ten believe their students spend too much time taking exams.

“What teachers recognize is the unfortunate fact that standardized testing is the only thing valued by the state,” said Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

“Teachers and parents know there are so many things that affect future student success that are not measured by these tests, like social and emotional skills, cooperative behaviors, and academic abilities that do not lend themselves to be measured this way.”

Despite teacher concerns, the Department of Education says the new tests will be better indicators of student performance, noting that it will be harder for students to “game” the tests. That’s because the tests will include some open-ended questions.

What they don’t mention is that the company administering the tests, Measurement, Inc., is seeking test graders on Craigslist. And, according to a recent New York Times story, graders of tests like TNReady have, “…the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.”  The more you grade, the more you earn, in other words.

Chalkbeat summarizes the move to TNReady like this:

The state was supposed to move in 2015 to the PARCC, a Common Core-aligned assessment shared by several states, but the legislature voted in 2014 to stick to its multiple-choice TCAP test while state education leaders searched for a test similar to the PARCC but designed exclusively for Tennessee students.

Except the test is not exactly exclusive to Tennessee.  That’s because Measurement, Inc. has a contract with AIR to use test questions already in use in Utah for tests in Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee.

And, for those concerned that students already spend too much time taking standardized tests, the DOE offers this reassurance about TNReady:

The estimated time for TNReady includes 25-50 percent more time per question than on the prior TCAP for English and math. This ensures that all students have plenty of time to answer each test question, while also keeping each TNReady test short enough to fit into a school’s regular daily schedule.

According to the schedule, the first phase of testing will start in February/March and the second phase in April/May. That means the tests are not only longer, but they also start earlier and consume more instructional time.

For teachers, that means it is critical to get as much curriculum covered as possible by February. This is because teachers are evaluated in part based on TVAAS — Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System — a particularly problematic statistical formula that purports to measure teacher impact on student learning.

So, if you want Tennessee students to spend more time preparing for and taking tests that will be graded by people recruited on Craigslist and paid bonuses based on how quickly they grade, TNReady is for you. And, you’re in luck, because testing time will start earlier than ever this year.

Interestingly, the opt-out movement hasn’t gotten much traction in Tennessee yet. TNReady may be just the catalyst it needs.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

10 thoughts on “Testing Time

  1. Can students opt out in Tennessee? I was under the assumption that the results contributes up to 25% of their final average. What is the actual policy? Can LEA’s decide not to count the results in average? Can a LEA opt out as a whole system?

    • I am under the impression that a new law has passed that leaves it up to each district to decide if students can opt out and if it counts toward their final grade. I am going to be speaking to my daughters teacher and I have a letter typed up, in hopes that I can have her opt out without to many repercussions. She is only in Kindergarten but I want to go ahead and get in front of the situation.

      • There was a bill this year that would have explicitly authorized opting-out, but it failed. That said, it’s difficult to compel students to take the test — although districts (because of state mandate) have policies incorporating test scores into report cards. There are no state-mandated tests for students in K-2. It’s not clear (to me) how test scores will be incorporated into student grades this year, as the final scores are not expected to be available until October. Quick scores may be used, I suppose.

  2. state level elected officials always have the same story when you talk to them about over-testing…they claim all they require is TCAP and all other testing is due to district-level decisions. what they fail to realize is that the culture they create through legal means is what causes districts to over-test. the district officials are scared not to, because there are such high stakes attached. something must change at the state level in order to change this culture of fear which is greatly contributing to over-testing! the reigns have been loosened with the reauthorization of ESEA, and it’s time TN take advantage.

  3. I believe that the testing starts earlier and has a bigger window. We are taking some kind of TnReady test from end of Sept to end of Oct, I think. Probably a benchmark. We have to give frequent benchmark tests.

  4. TN students can opt out.. if they are willing to take the 25% cut in their grade when they receive zeros for the tests. And for 7th graders, the tests are used to determine whether they can take high school credit classes in 8th grade. So, TN DOE has figured out how to punish students for going against the system and force the tests upon them regardless.

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  6. Teachers are being turned into data analysts. There is even more emphasis this year on accumulating data in the core subjects. Some states are recognizing that there has been an over-emphasis on testing. Tennessee is not among them. We seem to be testing more than ever.

  7. Pingback: Tennessee Education Report | A Little Less Ready

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