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VOL. 133 | NO. 174 | Monday, September 3, 2018

Gov. Haslam Hears Concerns for TNReady Credibility at Collierville Forum

By Bill Dries

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam heard from a group of Memphis and Shelby County educators that the state’s TNReady test has credibility issues with parents and doesn’t provide reliable data quickly enough for teachers to make better use of it in improving student achievement.

Haslam’s session on Thursday, Aug. 30, with a group of 25 educators in the library at Collierville Elementary School was the third in a series across the state following a second series of problems in as many years in the execution of the test – particularly the online portion.

That is where Haslam sought to keep the focus during the two-hour discussion Thursday, saying he and the educators who will make recommendations to him want “practical ideas.”

He also noted that federal education officials require an end-of-course assessment of the state to judge student performance and growth. So, eliminating at least that test isn’t an option, despite a renewed debate among some state legislators since the TNReady problems last spring about whether there is too much testing of students.

Bill Haslam

Haslam, by way of introduction, noted that he is about to exit as governor. “For about another 20 weeks, I’m governor,” he told the group.

A request for proposal – or RFP – to hire what would be the third test vendor to take on the testing aligned with the state standards goes out in the fall. Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has tentatively scheduled a “stress test” of the testing system online for Oct. 1 or during the fall break.

“There is testing that happens in the fall so it’s kind of not on the massive scale it is in the spring,” Haslam said after the Collierville meeting.

“But it’s a great chance to see where we are,” he added. “We will implement some of the changes now. We obviously will leave the next person a ‘here’s our recommendation.’ ”

The new governor and his administration would carry out the roll-out of the new vendor and testing in the spring of 2019.

When the first problems with the test administration surfaced two years ago, some local educators suggested the state shift to the ACT college-entrance exam that includes a suite of results that are more specific than the number grade tied to college admissions.

Lee-Ann Kight, teaching and learning director of Bartlett Schools, renewed the suggestion at the session on Thursday.

“There’s already a great deal of alignment if you look at the ACT resources through the grades to the state standards. ACT has credibility,” she said. “Why are we investing millions of taxpayer dollars along with the time and brain capacity to create this when there is a suite of assessments that has that validity and that has credibility with our community?”

McQueen said the high school ACT is somewhat aligned with TNReady standards but not ACT Aspire – a separate set of testing services that could be used in lower grades.

“We just have to weigh what is it actually doing for us and what is it not doing for us,” McQueen replied. “At this point ACT Aspire does not have alignment to our standards. So we would have to change our standards to create an alignment.”

Kight said, “It would be interesting to see what is the percentage of the alignment – if it is really that much off.

“Even if it’s only 70 percent, I think the amount of immediate buy-in that teachers and the community would have in it – personally being 30 percent off doesn’t bother me, knowing that it can be delivered effectively and be credible.”

The state has already decided elementary and middle school TNReady testing for grades 3-8 will be done with pencil and paper and high school end-of-course testing will be done online, changing what had been an option for online testing in middle school.

Haslam said through three of the sessions he’s heard support for keeping the standards in place and using them for accountability in public education.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback saying, ‘Don’t start all over. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Let’s take what we’ve learned and build on it,’ ” he said.

Teachers and education administrators from most of the seven public school districts in the county said getting test results in October for the following school year is too late to effectively use the data to improve student performance. Some argued August is too late.

The group complained of grammatical errors and other mistakes in tests that had to be reviewed with little advance time.

Brett Heinrich of Collierville Schools said there were missing pages in some of the test materials and last-minute changes.

He was among those who suggested some ability by school systems to change the order in which some subparts are taken. Others suggested shorter questions. Still others suggested more questions.

McQueen defended taking certain parts of the test at certain times because she said it allows the state to get results back sooner to school districts and teachers.

Quicker results are also an argument for making a move at some point in the future back to more online testing.

“The time that we have to take to actually get something delivered in a paper format and scan it and turn it around – it’s just longer than it takes us online,” McQueen said after the meeting. “We can get to a point where it’s turnaround time within a week if we continue to move more and more testing to online and continue the work in a consistent fashion with a vendor who can make that turnaround time happen.”

That will be a specification in the RFP for the new testing vendor contract.

“That turnaround time matters,” she said. “And even if you are on paper, you are going to have to do that at a much faster pace.”

Collierville Elementary principal Tyler Salyer was wary of a gap between schools with a digital device like a laptop or tablet for every student and those schools where there isn’t a “one-to-one” standard for the use of such devices.

He termed it an advantage “to those born with an iPad.”

“You have a lot of kids who have to be coached because they are not familiar with the devices,” he said of test preparation at schools with no “one-to-one” standard that begins with the most basic information on how to take the test.

Some educators suggested a new vendor that will not require a radical change in the online devices currently used. Haslam said he already knows he will recommend continued funding for the technology to the next governor.

“The state put $50 million in technology money four years ago and we added more to the technology formula this year,” he said. “So, we’ve put in additional dollars. My recommendation will be that the state continue to do that and districts then use it wisely.”

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