Assessment Update: Eliminating Part I, Reducing Testing Time, and Online Assessment Rollout

In an email to all Tennessee teachers, Commissioner Candice McQueen had the following updates to give regarding the upcoming year’s assessment, which includes eliminating Part I, reducing testing time, and a rollout of online assessments:

This summer we announced how we’re streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year.:

  • We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year, which will be April 17–May 5, 2017. High school students on block schedule will take fall EOCs November 28–December 16.
  • We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200–210 minutes shorter than last year; in high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes.
  • We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar, our new testing vendor, to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history & geography exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
  • In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place during the operational testing window near the end of the year. Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window.

You can find more detailed information in our original email announcement (here) and in our updated FAQ (here). 

2016-17 TCAP Blueprints Available

According to an email last week from Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, updated blueprints for TNReady — designed to provide guidance to teachers — are now available.

Here’s the email:

Last week I shared important assessment updates for the 2016-17 school year. Highlights from this announcement include moving to one assessment window, reducing testing time, and adopting a phase-in approach as we transition to online assessments. In case you missed it, you can view this update here.

Today I’m excited to share more information about our 2016-17 TCAP assessments, including updated assessment blueprints for the TNReady 3-8 and End of Course tests, as well as the blueprints for the optional second-grade assessment. These are designed to offer an overview of the structure of the test and help you plan your instruction. You can view the updated blueprints here.

Thank you for your patience as we’ve worked with our new assessment vendor to ensure these blueprints are helpful and provide an accurate reflection of the tests your students will take. We’ll continue to update our assessment website (here) with additional guidance and resources; additionally, you can find practice materials in EdTools, and your local testing coordinator can help you access those resources, if needed.

While blueprints and practice resources offer helpful guidance, the best preparation for student success is high-quality instruction every day. Our assessments are fully aligned to our current academic standards, which you can view here.

 

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


 

 

More on 2016-17 Testing in Tennessee

From an email sent by Commissioner McQueen to teachers:

Today we finalized our contract with Questar as our primary vendor to develop and administer state assessments this school year. As we move forward with a new assessment vendor, we’re also streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year. You can find more detailed information in our updated FAQ (here).

We’ll continue to share more information soon and look forward to sharing assessment blueprints by the end of July

  • •We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year. Assessments that require extended written responses, like the writing portion of ELA tests and the writing portion of the U.S. history test, will be completed at the beginning of the testing window to allow the vendor time to expedite the scoring process.
    •We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200-210 minutes shorter than last year. As an example, for a typical third grader, the 2016-17 TCAP end of year assessments will be shorter by 210 minutes compared to last year. In high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes. For a typical eleventh grader, this would mean the 2016-17 TCAP End of Course assessments will be shorter in total by 225 minutes compared to last year. Please see the complete testing times chart here for further information.
    •We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
    •In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place in the operational testing window near the end of the year. This one-year reprieve provides time to develop an assessment for the 2017-18 school year aligned to the state’s Tennessee-specific social studies standards. However, the operational U.S. history End of Course exam for high school students will continue as planned for the 2016-17 school year.
    •Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window. The ELA field test will include one subpart featuring a writing prompt; the U.S. history field test will also include one subpart featuring a writing prompt. One-third to one-half of students will need to participate in this field test, and the group of students selected to participate will rotate each year.

The goal of TCAP hasn’t changed—we’re providing students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking, problem solving, and writing skills to ensure they’re progressing on the path to success after high school. However, we’re taking a smarter logistical approach with a qualified, proven assessment vendor.

Most importantly, we’re committed to listening to you and partnering with you to create meaningful assessments. Our partnership with teachers is a critical component of our assessment program. We eliminated Part I, moved to a phase-in approach for online testing, and reimagined the writing prompts and scoring timetable largely based on feedback from teachers, and I look forward to continuing these important conversations. We’ll also continue to involve Tennessee educators in many aspects of the assessment process, including item review, bias and sensitivity review, rangefinding, and standard setting. Additionally, beginning this year, we will also work with Tennessee educators to write new test items; the first workshop will be in October—stay tuned for more information.

 

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


 

Testing Time Reduced for 2016-17

The Tennessee Department of Education announced yesterday it is reducing the amount of time students will spend testing in the upcoming school year. The release comes shortly after the announcement of a new testing vendor.

Here’s the full release:

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced significant changes to state assessments today that respond to feedback from educators, parents, and students—including eliminating Part I in all subjects, restructuring the test to better fit within the school day and year, and reducing overall testing time. The changes come as the department finalizes its contract with Questar, the primary vendor for the 2016-17 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).

“We have learned a tremendous amount from our testing experience this past year, and we want to make the right adjustments to create a positive, balanced culture around testing in Tennessee’s classrooms,” McQueen said. “These adjustments will give educators a greater ability to maximize rich, well-rounded instruction for all our students. We are still working toward the same goal of providing aligned, rigorous assessments to measure what our students know and can do, but now we have a smarter logistical approach and a strong partnership with Questar to achieve this goal.”

Overall, testing time has been reduced by nearly a third. The exact reductions vary by grade. In grades 3-8, students will have tests that are a total of 200-210 minutes shorter. As an example, for a typical third grader, the 2016-17 TCAP assessments will be shorter by three and a half hours compared to last year. In high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes. For a typical eleventh grader, this would mean the 2016-17 TCAP End of Course assessments will be shorter in total by 225 minutes—or three hours and 45 minutes—compared to last year.

One assessment window at the end of the school year

TCAP has been the state’s testing program since 1988, and it includes state assessments in math, English language arts, social studies, and science. As the state has transitioned to higher academic standards in math and English language arts over the past several years, those tests have become better aligned to what educators are teaching. The assessments now include rigorous questions that measure students’ writing, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

The 2016-17 TCAP will be given in one assessment window at the end of the school year, and the tests for the four subjects have been divided into shorter subparts. This change is in response to feedback from district and school administrators, who expressed some difficulty with fitting the longer sections into the regular school day. The new timing is outlined on the department’s website. These reductions and adjustments reflect Commissioner McQueen’s desire to reduce testing and streamline administration while still providing students with ample opportunity to do their best work. The specific changes to each subject area are included in the department’s fact sheet.

In addition, the 2016-17 social studies test in grades 3-8 will be a field test. Field tests are not reportable and do not factor into students’ grades or educators’ evaluations, and they will provide the department with information to develop an assessment for the 2017-18 school year. There will also be a separate field test for the English and U.S. history writing prompts. One-third to one-half of students will participate in the field test each year on a rotating basis. Based on educator feedback, the department is administering these writing field tests at a separate time to address concerns about students’ stamina to complete two writing prompts during the main testing window.

Tennessee teachers already have significant input in the test development process as they review and approve every TCAP question, including those that will be on the 2016-17 assessment. Starting this fall, Tennessee teachers will also be engaged in developing and writing questions for future TCAP administrations.

Contract finalized with new vendor

As part of today’s announcements, Commissioner McQueen shared that the department has fully executed a two-year contract with Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessments, to administer the 2016-17 TCAP. Questar has experience developing a statewide test on a similar expedited timeframe as well as with administering it at a scale even larger than Tennessee’s.

Last week, the department announced it intended to award the contract to Questar. As part of that announcement, Commissioner McQueen also announced that the department would phase in online testing over the next three years, with a paper option always available for the youngest students. In the 2016-17 school year, all testing in grades 3-8 will be done on paper. High schools will have the option to test online if they and Questar show early readiness for online administration, but districts can choose paper for their high school students if they prefer.

As part of its contract with Questar, the department has made a number of improvements to testing timelines, including working with the vendor to expedite the overall scoring process so the assessment can be administered in one window and ultimately, results can be delivered to schools and families more quickly.

Resources for schools, educators, and families

Following the execution of the contract, the department immediately began to finalize resources to familiarize students, parents, and teachers with the 2016-17 TCAP.

The assessments are designed so that the best test preparation is strong teaching and learning every day. Questions on the 2016-17 test will be similar to those students saw last year. To help students become familiar with the test format in advance, this fall students and teachers will have access to sample test questions. Practice tests will also be available in EdTools, an online platform for educators and district leaders, in August.

The department is also finalizing test blueprints, which map out exactly what standards will be covered on the test, and expects to release these by the end of July. In addition, the department is also working on guides for families and educators, which will be shared with district leaders and on the department website within the month.

To help address questions about today’s announcements and next year’s test, the department has prepared a Q&A document that can be accessed here and will be updated as more details become available.

 

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


 

Questar’s Challenge

After missing a self-imposed deadline to select a new testing vendor, the Tennessee Department of Education finally announced Questar as the choice to design and implement TNReady for the 2016-17 school year and beyond.

Questar is tasked with picking up the pieces of the mess left by Measurement Inc’s testing failures last year. There’s plenty of information about the struggle leading up to last year’s debacle, and it’s information Questar may want to study closely.

Questar does have a record of coming in to fix a previous vendor’s mistakes. Most notably, in New York. Interestingly, Questar used questions designed and developed by Pearson (the previous vendor) in the first year of new tests in New York.

This arrangement is not uncommon and in fact, is similar to Measurement Inc’s contract with AIR to provide questions from Utah’s test for TNReady.

However, such an arrangement is not without problems.

Politico reported on challenges last year when Questar took over New York’s testing. Specifically:

An error found in the fifth- through eighth-grade English exam, and one that the state education department already has advised will be in the math exams, hasn’t helped the situation.

The tests directed students to plan their written answers to exam questions on “Planning Pages,” however no planning pages were included in the test booklets, according to a report from the Buffalo News.

Pearson immediately released a statement saying the design error was not its fault and Questar said the tests were still valid and blamed the transition for the error.

It’s the type of blame game that may sound familiar to those who watched this year’s TNReady fiasco.

A blog post from a parent blog in New York describes how the error unfolded. Schools were notified well into the test administration:

The message was sent at 9:09 AM from SED and I saw [it] at 9:30 …when most students are done and have turned in their books…. Even if an administrator is on their email all day (which they aren’t) it is too late to walk around on tests that started at 8:00 to interrupt testing rooms to correct the mistake.

And while Questar gets high marks for its transparency efforts, some see a bit lacking in that department as well:

It is true that the amount of operational test material and the number of items disclosed is more than was given out in each of the prior three years of Pearson’s core-aligned testing. And since 2012, this is the earliest this has happened. [Note: When CTB/McGraw-Hill was the test publisher during the NCLB years, the complete test was accessible to the public on SED’s web site within weeks of its administration, along with answer keys. Item analysis data followed shortly thereafter.]
Upon review of the just-released spring 2016 testing output, however, certain useful data have not been made available. SED has been moved to offer us a translucent view of the exams, but it still is not being entirely transparent.

The bottom line: Questar is walking into quite a mess in Tennessee. It’s something they are surely aware of and something they have experience handling.

Going forward, the question will be how does Questar work with TNDOE to bring transparency and efficacy to a process that lacked both in 2015-16?

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


 

 

 

Neveready

Will Tennessee ever have a TNReady test?

The answer to that question got even fuzzier today as a Department of Education “deadline” to name a new test maker came and went with no announcement.

From Chalkbeat:

Tennessee has missed its own deadline to hire the testing company that will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off this spring.

The state canceled the North Carolina test maker’s contract in April, weeks after the launch of the company’s online testing platform went so badly that the tests were halted entirely. In May, officials awarded an emergency contract to testing conglomerate Pearson to grade some tests that did work — and said they would choose another company to handle the state’s testing program by the end of June.

The missed deadline comes just days after another scathing report revealing the details of emails leading up to the TNReady first day failure.

Apparently, when TNDOE sets a “deadline” it’s totally optional.

What does this mean?

The tight timeline also means that students and teachers likely will enter the school year without a sense of what their end-of-year tests will look like. Last year, some students began taking practice tests in October; it’s hard to imagine that happening this year.

Perhaps TNReady is really just about developing the life skill of adapting to chaos.

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


 

 

Ready for 5th Grade?

As this year’s TNReady testing transition faced problems and ultimately, was not completed, 5th-grade students at a Chattanooga school were preparing a report to improve testing in Tennessee.

The report was 14 pages and was mailed to Governor Bill Haslam in an attempt to influence the state’s decisions on testing going forward.

This project, by the way, is exactly the type of project-based learning that can and should be used more often to demonstrate student understanding of what they’ve learned.

Said one student of the project:

“We wanted to help make changes about something we’re passionate about,” Romero said. “And we learned how to unite to persuade someone.”

As a report on project-based assessment in one Kentucky district indicated:

The entire curriculum at this school has been redesigned around interdisciplinary projects, which take several weeks to complete. The English and social studies seventh-grade PBATs were group projects that took place in the fall.

One by one, the students stand and give a 20-minute solo presentation with a PowerPoint or video. Separately, they’ve handed in 15-page research papers. They’re giving these presentations to panels of judges made up of teachers from other grades or the high school, officials from a neighboring district, education students from the University of Kentucky, and fellow students.

Moving toward a hybrid model of standardized tests and project-based assessments could be a way to improve Tennessee’s testing system.

Commissioner McQueen is conducting a summer listening tour about testing, and that’s a great opportunity to share alternative strategies.

For now, the students at Nolan Elementary are demonstrating they are ready for a transition to a student-centered assessment strategy.

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

 

Candice is Listening

Or, she will be. The Commissioner of Education is going on a statewide tour to talk about testing in light of new flexibility offered to the states under the federal ESSA law, which replaced No Child Left Behind.

From the DOE’s press release:

Commissioner Candice McQueen and senior department leaders are launching a statewide listening tour to gather input from educators, key advocates, parents, students, and the public to determine how to implement specific components of the nation’s new federal education law: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The feedback will inform a Tennessee-specific ESSA plan that will guide the department’s work over the coming years and help the state capitalize on the new law’s empowerment of local leadership. These conversations will also build off feedback the commissioner has received on her Classroom Chronicles tour, during which she has met with more than 10,000 Tennessee teachers to learn how policies impact the classroom.

 

“We need to continue to elevate educators’ ideas to strengthen our education system, and the new federal law provides an opportunity to do that,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “We look forward to hearing from a variety of educators – from classroom teachers to directors of schools – as well as advocates, parents, and students as we craft a plan for Tennessee to transition to ESSA.”

The release notes that some policy changes might be in order:

Over the summer and fall, department leadership will draft a plan for transitioning to ESSA based on stakeholder and public feedback. Stakeholders and the general public will have another opportunity to provide input on the draft plan later this fall. In spring 2017, the department will work with stakeholder groups, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly as needed to recommend changes to state law and policy, as well as develop further guidance for school districts.

 

In addition to the various feedback loops and meetings across the state, the department will also be guided by its strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which was developed with input from thousands of stakeholders over the course of several months to establish a clear vision for the future of Tennessee’s schools. It also has established a solid foundation in preparing to transition to ESSA.

Interestingly, the strategic plan referenced includes this under the category of Accountability:

Pilot first grade and career and technical education portfolio models in 2016, and continue to develop additional portfolio options for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects

Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them

Perhaps one improvement that will be suggested is that in addition to developing portfolio models for teacher evaluation (they already exist for related-arts teachers), the state should also provide funding to districts to support their implementation. Few districts use the state’s approved portfolio model for non-tested related arts teachers, likely because the cost of doing so is not covered by the state. Assessment includes both additional staff time and compensation for those performing the portfolio assessments.

The second item of note is: Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them.

This statement assumes that current methods of evaluating student growth (TVAAS) are valid and reliable. To put it simply, they’re not. Additionally, the most common method of assessing student growth is through standardized testing. This raises the possibility that additional tests will be provided for subjects not currently tested. After this year’s TNReady failure, it seems to me we should be exploring other options.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that this summer’s listening tour will lead to a new dialogue about Tennessee’s direction in education in light of ESSA. States like Hawaii are already taking student test scores out of the teacher evaluation process and moving toward new measures of evaluation.

Out of the chaos of TNReady, there is opportunity. Educators, parents, and students should attend these summer meetings and share their views on a new path forward for our state’s schools.

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

 

 

TNReady: Time for a Trade?

TC Weber thinks the TNDOE needs to trade in TNReady and the rest of the current testing regime for a new model:

The Tennessee Department of Education has faced a similar dilemma for the last few years. Every spring, without fail, there is some issue with the tests and they have to send them to the garage to be fixed. I think it’s safe to say that this year the equivalent of the transmission falling out. Parents, teachers, and even legislators have been telling the TNDOE that things are getting to the point that it’s getting cost prohibitive to fix and that we really need to start exploring a new policy. But unfortunately, the message doesn’t seem to be getting to the TNDOE. They just keep reaching for the checkbook, making a temporary fix, and then praying nothing else goes wrong.

It’s a good read and TC proposes some solid solutions, like using some of the new flexibility granted by ESSA to move toward a truly new model of testing.

Read it all here.

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

 

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