Rite of Passage

Ah, springtime. A time for warm days, cool nights, rain, and graduation. Yes, spring marks a rite of passage for students leaving one phase of life and entering another.

Lately, this season has brought another ritual: The Tennessee Department of Education’s failure to deliver student test scores. Each of the last three years has seen TNDOE demonstrate it’s inability to get state testing right (nevermind the over-emphasis on testing to begin with).

Back in 2014, there was a delay in the release of the all-powerful “quick scores” used to help determine student grades. Ultimately, this failure led to an Assistant Commissioner losing her job.

Then, in 2015, the way “quick scores” were computed was changed, creating lots of confusion. The Department was quick to apologize, noting:

We regret this oversight, and we will continue to improve our processes such that we uphold our commitment to transparency, accuracy, and timeliness with regard to data returns, even as we experience changes in personnel.

The processes did not appear to be much improved at all as the 2016 testing cycle got into full swing, with a significant technical failure on Day One.

As the now annual spring testing failure season approached, it was all out chaos, with the state’s testing vendor and the Commissioner of Education playing the blame game and students, teachers, and schools left with no test at all.  

All of the TNReady’s unreadiness led to an “emergency” contract for grading tests that will have them back in the hands of teachers and parents in time for the December holidays. Just the gift everyone wants!

Last year, Commissioner McQueen and her staff blamed a lack of communication during a staff transition:

Our goal is to communicate early and often regarding the calculation and release of student assessment data. Unfortunately, it appears the office of assessment logistics did not communicate decisions made in fall 2014 regarding the release and format of quick scores for the 2014-15 school year in a timely manner

This year, it was the state’s vendor, Measurement Inc:

TNReady was designed to provide Tennessee students, teachers, and families with better information about what students know and understand, and the failure of this vendor has let down the educators and students of our state.

Three years, two Commissioners, and a series of testing failures, with 2016’s the biggest yet.

What does spring of 2017 hold for Tennessee’s schools? Can we expect another testing mishap, or will the cycle be broken? Who will Candice McQueen blame if and when the testing failures we’ve come to expect happen again?

Maybe our old friend Pearson will not only provide a holiday miracle (graded tests, yay!) but also save us from the perils of yet another year with incomplete, confusing, or just plain meaningless results.

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


8 thoughts on “Rite of Passage

  1. Excellent commentary. So much instruction time has been lost to these tests. The kids didn’t even care about this latest TnReady round. They knew that they wouldn’t get their results. Even if they do get results, they don’t mean ANYTHING. Students and teachers want to be able to review the questions and answers. Sadly, teachers have to sign gag orders, so we never even know for sure what the test asks. Students know this. The results from this latest round of tests is absolutely worthless. Why do taxpayers have to spend millions of dollars on this?! These tests do not inform instruction in any way. I think they only exist to justify jobs for bureaucrats.

  2. Commissioner McQueen is quoted as saying ” . . . students will lose the experience of an improved, high quality test aligned to our higher standards. . . .” It is improved over what? Who has determined that it is “high quality”? If we had such high standards, then why were they revised? Who wrote the test questions? Were they the ones that Measurement, Inc., contracted with The American Institute of Research (AIR) which then signed a contract with the State of Utah to lease its Common Core aligned assessment questions for TN at $2.34 million per year? Who has taken the test . . . any HS teacher or college professor? Too many unanswered questions to have our students use their precious time taking these tests. Who will check the tests? How much will this cost? When will the results be available?

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