Tennessee officials: New test will better measure progress

TEA says teachers concerned about a "lack of appropriate technology for students to complete the assessment online."

Lucas L. Johnson II, The Associated Press | 8/21/2015, 11:37 a.m. | Updated on 8/21/2015, 5:24 a.m.
TEA says teachers concerned about a "lack of appropriate technology for students to complete the assessment online."
TNReady, a new test in math and English, is designed to "assess true student understanding," not just memorization and test-taking skills.

NASHVILLE — State education officials said Thursday that new assessments in math and English for students in grades three through 11 will provide a better measurement of their progress and make sure they're on track to succeed after graduation.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and members of her staff met with reporters to discuss TNReady, which is part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.

TCAP includes achievement tests and end-of-course exams for science, social students, math and English.

Officials said the new test in math and English is designed to "assess true student understanding," not just memorization and test-taking skills.

McQueen noted that 64 percent of first-time Tennessee freshmen have to take remedial coursework at community colleges.

"We know that more of our students need to be ready," she said. "TNReady ... is about readiness to ensure that we don't have a gap in what students are leaving with with their high school diploma, and what they're then entering into once they leave K-12."

Changes to the new test include using "real-life situations" to assess math concepts, and integrating reading and writing skills. For instance, on the English portion, students will be asked to support their answers with "evidence from something they read," and the test will also include both fiction and nonfiction texts.

Another key change, officials said, will be to provide parents with more information about the performance of their child. Parents will see students' strengths, areas of improvement, and suggestions on how to go about those improvements.

Parents also will have an opportunity to talk to a student's teacher, principal, or school district representative.

"As a result of TNReady, teachers, students, parents are going to get much better information about what else needs to be done to make sure those students are ready for the steps after high school," said Teresa Wasson, spokeswoman for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

"It's going to measure real-world skills, problem solving, critical thinking."

The new test will also be given online, which officials believe will further help prepare students for life in the real world.

However, Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, told The Associated Press in an email later Thursday that teachers are concerned about a "lack of appropriate technology for students to complete the assessment online."

Barbara Gray, TEA president

Barbara Gray, TEA president

"Many school districts across the state, especially in our rural areas, have poor Internet connections and too few computers to efficiently administer the assessment," she said.

Aside from that, Gray said the new assessment overall should be beneficial.

"It is encouraging that students will now be taking an assessment that goes beyond the fill-in-the-bubble format and requires students to actually show their work, just like their teachers require of them in the classroom every day."