Sunday, May 15, 2016

In Holy Matrimony

Spring is here, summer is right around the corner, and with it the busiest time of year for weddings. Interesting fact: The average length for an engagement is 14 months before the lucky couple ties the knot. Unfortunately, the divorce rate still hovers around 50 percent.
In the education world, this time of year usually means state testing, but it came early this year--the last week of April--for the schools that actually had a state test to give. Like dozens of other states around the country, Tennessee is experiencing commitment issues to our state’s standardized test.
Since the passage of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Law in 2002 which forced states to adopt a statewide standardized test, Tennessee has wed and dissoluted three different times. Three uniquely different tests in 14 years may not sound too horrible, but much of this change has occurred recently. Since 2014, we have parted ways with TCAP/End of Course and had an annulment with the PARCC Assessment because they’re not from around here and they were in partnerships with other states, which we knew about the entire time. We got so upset at PARCC (It wasn’t them, it was us) that we passed a law stating that we would never allow ourselves to date them again--and that went for PARCC’s twin, Smart Balanced, too.
The Tennessee Legislature, who is largely responsible for creating the current educational pandemonium, and the Tennessee Department of Education are at an interesting and vitally important crossroads. The state’s attachment to TNReady only lasted a year, and few would argue against this separation.

There are many, many more testing fish in the sea. One possible option is to stick with the TNReady test that we spent time and money creating, and find a different vendor for administering it. Educators would know what to expect from the test, and most of this year’s test questions are going to be released over the summer. This option reminds me of arranged marriage. We would kind of know what we are getting into, and it could work out nicely--or not.
Another option is to cut our losses and use the ACT Aspire suite of assessments. On one side, this would mean another drastic change for educators across the state because they would have to learn how to prepare students to pass yet another state test that’s substantially different from the previous one. It will be more expensive to administer than TNReady and possibly more than if the state had stayed with PARCC. The ACT has a horrible track record of predicting future college success, which is rather ironic for a college preparatory exam. On the other side, we would know exactly what we are getting, and there should be no administrative issues like we ran into with TNReady. High school students have taken the ACT for a very long time, and there are other states who use the ACT Aspire suite of assessments for elementary through high school. Also, due to its relative predictability, it’s easier to prepare students to pass it, and the ACT is already part of the school report card that is published every year.
The tricky thing about this decision is that Tennessee has almost no time to make a good one. All of the state’s eggs were in the TNReady basket, and an accountability measure for students must exist for the upcoming school year.

Meanwhile, teachers across the state are nervous because of the unknown and are screaming for consistency. Like it or not (and we don’t), a significant portion of our jobs as educators is to ensure that students are prepared to pass the state test. Teachers’ reputations as professionals and even our livelihoods are at stake. The constantly changing testing landscape diminishes the value of any state test that will come in the future. A different test every year to every other year means that teachers, as well as the state, will have a hard time tracking yearly student progress, thereby preventing any reliable comparisons among schools and districts. I sincerely hope that whatever the state decides to do, it’s a marriage that will last.

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