Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What We Learned – and Where We Can Improve – on Testing in Tennessee

The following blog was written by Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Dr. Candice McQueen on June 7th and has been edited for length. I appreciate her candor and her effort to communicate with interested stakeholders. If you would like to read the full version, you can find it on Classroom Chronicles at http://tnclassroomchronicles.org/learned-can-improve-testing-tennessee/ Below is a selfie that I took with Dr. McQueen at a recent Hope Street Group convening.

Today’s blog kicks off a summer series through which I want to share some of my thoughts on assessment. In my conversations with more than 10,000 teachers and parents over the past year and a half, and through the various letters and emails I’ve received, testing has been the issue about which I’ve received the most feedback – and understandably so.
There are very few people who would argue that no statewide check on student knowledge, skills, and standards attainment is the best direction for Tennessee. On the other hand, there are few people who believe the current assessment program in Tennessee is exactly right. Most of us are somewhere in the middle and are looking to continuously improve our testing program while not “throwing out the baby with the bath water.”
I am one of these individuals. I pledge to both create better tests aligned to Tennessee’s rigorous standards while also looking for opportunities to improve test structure, time, delivery, logistics, and scheduling. I ask that you engage with me in this conversation knowing that we are partners in this work.
As I’ve considered where we are and what we can do to move forward productively, I asked three questions. First, what is the goal of a new and improved test? It is meant to better show students’ ability and progress on both the breadth and depth of the content. This year’s test included questions that pointed to students’ ability to problem solve, think critically, write, and read more deeply.
Second, what did we accomplish this year in the midst of delivery challenges? This year, we were unable to fully provide TNReady in the way we expected: online for all third through 11th graders.  But we accomplished a great deal...new and better test questions, navigating challenges related to online testing, learning how to better structure the testing experience, and re-discovering that our best way to continually improve is to listen – to our students, our educators, our parents, and our administrators.
Finally, how will we recover and what will next year look like? Our goals remain the same: ensure we have an assessment that better tests the reality of students’ content knowledge and skills, maximize instructional time, and deliver the tests as thoughtfully as possible as we move more online.
To this end, the department has already announced some changes – including reducing overall testing time. Furthermore, we are committed to phasing in online testing in a smart and reliable fashion that puts students first. Students deserve to be able to show what they know in a way that is as seamless and non-stressful as possible, and then to know how they are doing in their big-picture progress toward college and workforce readiness. Students also deserve the best instruction and rich learning experiences, rather than learning how to game questions on a test. This is what TNReady was always about and this is what we commit to achieving.

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