Toward a New Model of Testing in Tennessee?

Shelby County teacher Ezra Howard has an informative post on the current testing model in Tennessee and a proposal for how to improve it over at Bluff City Ed. His comments come on the same day Nashville’s WPLN posted an interview with TEA President Gera Summerford in which she raises questions about the state’s current testing model.

Here are some noteworthy excerpts from Howard’s piece:

Standardized Testing Doesn’t Aide Instruction

Within all the rancor against testing, we often forget that there are two important reasons for assessments in education: (1) to gauge student’s learning and their level of ability, and (2) to guide instruction and inform future teaching. Current high stakes testing succeeds at the first intention but fails at the second. TCAP, PARCC, and other forms of standardized testing are given too late and too infrequently to effectively guide instructional practices. They are useless to educators other than to facilitate teaching to the test at the school level and direct carrot-and-stick measures at the district, state, and federal level.

Toward a Portfolio Model

It’s time we move toward more student-centered and differentiated assessments. Where assessments are tailored to some degree by learning plans that are informed by but not limited to language needs and IEPS. I personally don’t think Pearson or any other testing corporation is up to the task or, even if they are, ought to be trusted with such responsibility. Therefore, I believe education should move toward a portfolio model of assessment. Achievement in the portfolio model is defined by rubrics, individualized to the student and their needs, and completed throughout the year by the student with the aide of the teacher. A contracted company, at best, may be necessary to monitor the completion and scoring of these portfolios against the rubric.

Empower Teachers

While there is some room for compromise between a standardized model and an individualized model, I ultimately think the power of assessment needs to be put back in the hands of the teachers. Yes, consistency in assessments is necessary. But that is the point of academic standards. As I’ve illustrated, a one-size-fits-all assessment is blatantly biased and inappropriate for the myriad of students with special needs. Educators should strive to meet our students at their level, not only with instruction but with assessments as well. Our current system of standardized assessment, whether it’s with TCAP and the proposed PARCC, is failing to do this. For these reasons, yearly-standardized tests need to be set aside and give room for a new comprehensive system of assessment.

Read all of Howard’s thought-provoking post here.

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TEA Takes on Huffman Over TCAP Delay

The Tennessee Department of Education advised school district directors yesterday that TCAP “quick scores” would not be available this year in time to factor them in to final grades for students in grades 3-8. This left districts with a choice: delay the issuing of report cards until the scores are available “sometime this month” OR seek a waiver from state law mandating that TCAP scores count toward a student’s final grade.

Some districts issued statements explaining what the delay means for students.

And now, TEA is out with a statement on the matter.  From the TEA press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education informed directors of schools that TCAP scores will not be available before the end of the school year, as is typically the case for calculation of students’ final grades. The state’s decision to delay the release of the scores has serious implications for students, families, teachers and administrators statewide.

“This delay is unacceptable and further illustrates the many consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and teachers,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students.”

“Test-related anxiety and distrust are already high among students, parents and educators in our state because of Commissioner Huffman’s insistence on placing more and more weight on these tests,” Summerford continued. “The state cites a change in assessments this school year as the reason for the delay. Why are districts just now being informed about something that the department has known about for months?”

“If TCAP was used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure, our schools would not be in the absurd position of deciding whether to send students home without report cards or send home grades that may change once the state chooses to release the scores,” the TEA president said.

“Teachers face a tremendous challenge in providing the best education for all students, particularly when forced to spend so much time focused on standardized tests. The mishandling of this entire situation should be enough to cause legislators and communities to reevaluate, and correct, the ‘reform’ path the commissioner is leading our students down,” Summerford concluded.

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