TnAchieves: Tennessee’s Innovative Support System For TNPromise Students

This post is part of Coffee and Conversation, a monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. The Deputy Director of Engagement and Partnerships for tnAchieves, Graham Thomas, TNPromise mentor Angela Saylor, and TNPromise student Mary Rose Uwimana joined us to discuss how tnAchieves supports TNPromise students in the transition from high school to postsecondary education. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is tnAchieves?
Graham Thomas: TnAchieves is a partner organization to Governor Haslam’s TNPromise program. TNPromise provides any student in the state the opportunity to attend one of our 13 community colleges, our 27 technical colleges, and a handful of universities for two and a half years with mentor support. TnAchieves operates the program in 84 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, we monitor progress, we keep up with the meetings, we run the mentoring program, and we track community service –basically, all the non-financial components come through us.

Why is the mentorship aspect of this program so crucial? Why not just provide the scholarship money alone?
GT: Our target student has always been a low-income, first generation college-goer. We know that eliminating the financial barrier is important, that if no one in your family has gone to college, going to college can be really difficult. We wanted to ensure someone was in their corner.

Also, we are a staff of 15 working with about 60,000 high school students every year and 25,000 college students. We can’t manage the case load in a way to really effectively support students. So our mentors are a game-changer for our students, but it’s also the reason the fifteen of us can wake up and do this work every day.

Who can be a mentor?
GT: The requirements are pretty simple. You have to be 21-years-old. And we run a background check on all our mentors. If you care about education and have one hour a month to invest in your community, you can be a mentor. We put all our mentors through a one-hour training, and we give them a handbook that is really focused on the process. 

Angela, why did you decide to become a tnAchieves mentor?
Angela Saylor: I got so excited about this. My own children went to public school and they were served pretty well. I thought, how can I give back to the system and to students so they have that opportunity? And I think about first generation college students, in developing themselves with education, they transform their community, and they go off to be future leaders.

Mary Rose, tell me about your process deciding to get a postsecondary degree. How has tnAchieves helped you take a step toward your educational goals?
Mary Rose Uwimana: I am going to Nashville State with TNPromise, pursing psychology, but my main goal is to become a pharmaceutical scientist. I had to go through psychology because I didn’t know initially what field I wanted to work in. TNPromise and tnAchieves gave me hope because I was thinking how am I going to pay for my school? Will I need to take a job?

Mary Rose, what would you tell other Tennessee high school students who haven’t decided to pursue education after high school?
MU: Everyone should have hope. The mentors are here to help us. For the high school students, you should respond to your mentor’s messages. If you ask the mentors questions, they will guide you through it. Education is the key to everything. If you have this kind of chance with TNPromise, you have help through every part of the process. You should pursue it.

GT: Mary Rose was one of our summer bridge program participants. We operate it for free at all 13 community colleges. Do you want to tell us about that experience?

MU: It was really great. It helps you test out of some of the support classes. It also shows you how college life is. I never regretted leaving my job because what they were teaching us then, I’m seeing it right now in my classes.

GT: Between 60 and 80 percent of our students in a given year need a remedial class. So they go for three weeks for math and reading. We try to simulate the college process. They take the placement on the last day to see if they can place out. About 91 percent of students improved their test scores or tested out and 94 percent left the program feeling more prepared for college.

Why do you think tnAchieves students are graduating at a rate 50 percent greater than state averages?

GT: It comes back to the supports – the mentor, the meetings [students] go to. Students receive emails from us every week. Once they get into college and we start getting their grades and attendance, it becomes very targeted. It’s a level of support that not many other programs are able to provide. It’s setting the bar for higher education across the country. The money brings them to us, but the supports in place allow for the program to be successful.

Graham Thomas is currently the Deputy Director of Engagement and Partnerships for tnAchieves where he oversees the mentoring program, outreach efforts, and local advisory councils. He began working with knoxAchieves, now tnAchieves seven years ago. Graham graduated from the University of Tennessee. Find him on Twitter at @Graham_Thomas10.

Angela Saylor is a Tennessee native who graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and received her master of education from Belmont University. She works at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. She has been volunteering as a TNPromise mentor through tnAchieves since 2015, and is passionate about the way the program gives students the opportunity to transform their lives.

Mary Rose Fiona Uwimana is a TNPromise student at Nashville State Community College. She is majoring in psychology, and plans to go to Lipscomb University for her bachelor’s degree to become a pharmaceutical scientist.

“Healthy Students Are Better Learners.” Lori Paisley Explains Coordinated School Health

This post is part of Coffee and Conversation, a monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. Lori Paisley, executive director of Coordinated School Health at the Tennessee Department of Education, joined us to talk about her organization and how health and academic achievement are interconnected. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How are health and education related?

Lori Paisley: Research shows that healthy students are better learners. When students are healthy, they attend school more regularly and they focus more in class.

What is coordinated school health?

LP: Coordinated school health is the connection of physical, emotional, and social health through education with eight inter-related components, which improve student health and their capacity to learn through the support of communities, families, and schools working together.

Tennessee has made sizable investments in coordinated school health. Why is that money well-spent?

LP: That funding provides for each school system a coordinator along with basic resources to develop polices, partnerships and initiative that advance student health and improve academic outcomes. That’s where the coordinated aspect come from – it’s all these things to support students to be successful. Everything is coordinated, everything is through a partnership.

Since the inception of school health going statewide in 2007, our coordinators statewide have secured $164 million in grants and resources for school. So the state providing that funding has brought in an additional amount for students and schools.

What kind of outcomes have you seen from that large investment?

LP: Having the coordinator in place – the coordinator is the program, they are the champions of children’s health and staff wellness. They do health screenings, to screen students for any health issues that may be barriers for learning. The follow-up process looks different for each district, but the students are screened for BMI [body mass index], blood pressure, vision, hearing, cardiovascular fitness – which allow us to detect problems the students may be having in school and in life. The district will typically have a follow-up with a health report card, but if there’s something that needs to be followed up with a health provider, schools will reach out. Every two years students should be getting a health screenings.

You know, in Lenoir City, there was a student who through the screening, they found he had a hearing problem. They were able to get him to a healthcare provider, but they also found out that he had been having some behavior issues in the classroom and once the hearing problem was solved and he got the treatment and care he needed, they didn’t see that behavior issue anymore.

Can you tell me about some promising practices you’ve seen in these districts?

LP: I always think of our community partners because St. Thomas [hospital system] in Rutherford County  –  they have this awesome bus that gives students well-child exams. It takes the equipment to the school, and the parents don’t have to take off of work and students don’t have to leave the school.

We collect data on return-to-class rates, and the most recent data shows that 89 percent of the time when students visit a school nurse, they are able to come back to class. But without a school nurse, the front office has to call mom and say come and pick him up. I think in terms of promising strategies, school nurses is a big one.

How can educators encourage health in their classrooms?

LP: It’s important to remember that Tennessee is the only state in the nation that has coordinated school health in every school district. No matter where teachers are in Tennessee, you have a coordinator. So definitely contact your coordinator if you’d like to support this. Also, every school has a healthy school team. Those teams meet to discuss the needs of their school, and they also do the school health index, which is from the CDC and it’s an assessment of these eight component areas for their particular school.

Another way to incorporate health into the classroom is being a good role model. Staying active and being healthy speaks volumes to students and families. Teachers can incorporate health into their classrooms by ensuring students have opportunity for physical activity at the school and in their classrooms and incorporating the health and education standards into their lessons.

SCORE is partnering with NashvilleHealth for a health and education summit at the end of August. Why do you think that event will be important to the conversation in Tennessee?

LP: I’m presenting at that! I’ll be sharing more about coordinated school health. We have a lot to show, we’re a state who has made continual investments in children’s health. This summit is going to be such an exciting time to show what we know in Tennessee and continue to learn new things, so we can continue to expand on what we’ve already done here.

What’s your afternoon pick-me-up?

LP: I usually have a regular cup of coffee, so a white chocolate mocha is definitely an afternoon pick-me-up.

Want to know more about the Better Health, Better Learning summit on Monday, August 28, 2017, in Nashville? See the agenda and then register.

Summer Reading Re-imagined: My Trip To Robertson County’s Read to be Ready Program

“Can I read with you, Rosie?” I ask a young girl hiding her face behind the book shyly.

She lets me sit on the mat next to her, the section of the classroom that’s been designated for partner reading. Before we begin A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems, she shows me the inside book lining’s illustration of a pigeon.

“It’s funny because it’s a circle,” she says, giggling. “It doesn’t look like a real bird.”

I laugh. She’s right, it doesn’t really look like a real bird.

I’m at one of the 200 programs that are grant recipients of Read to be Ready, a program to address Tennessee’s stalled scores in reading and to increase the percentage of Tennessee third-graders reading proficiently to 75%. In 2016, programs saw an increase in fluency, reading confidence, decoding ability, and phonemic awareness, and based on these results, the program expanded with a $30 million investment from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Summer reading camps have grown and new summer reading programs have emerged across the state due to this significant increase in funding. In fact, the program I am visiting grew substantially over the last year, almost tripling in size. Educators Jennifer Cox and Megan Jamison lead that program in Robertson County Schools at Crestview Elementary, and this year they are focused both on reading skills and experiential learning.

“Being able to mix the hands-on learning with writing and reading is purposeful,” explains Program Director Jennifer Cox.

So far, the campers have taken trips to the Nashville Zoo; been visited by musicians, authors, and real, live chickens; and played a variety of instruments ranging from flutes to violins. While this might sound like just fun and games, these activities are broadening student experience and prior knowledge, allowing them to make connections as they read and grow their comprehension.

“I love that exploration is the foundation,” says one of the summer reading instructors, “When kids have a meaningful experience, reading and writing can flow from that.”

Despite the variety of experiences this camp incorporates, the day starts with reading. My tour guide for the day, Read to be Ready camper Ryland, walks me through the daily schedule.

First, there’s interactive read aloud which is followed by daily writing. The writing is student-led and many students relish the time to write creatively. One of the students is working on a Fireboy series; another is experimenting with a graphic novel.

After writing, students separate and rotate through several different activities, ranging from a visit to the school library to the movement room. The movement room, which incorporates movement and reading, happens to Ryland’s favorite.

During the camp day, campers also receive a free book. Over the course of the entire camp, each camper will have 30 new books, the makings of a small library. This investment is to ensure that reading doesn’t stop after the camp day is over. Program Directors work with parents to get them involved in reading with their students and involved with their child’s summer learning in general, with community events like Bubble Day, a morning where all family members are invited for breakfast at the campsite. This year’s Bubble Day was a huge success, and camp leaders hope to continue to use the extra time in the summers to grow their parental engagement.  

And in a sense, that’s the magic of the Read to be Ready camps – they allow educators and students to spend the summer going deeper, instead of regressing. They give educators the ability to reach out to parents, to spend more time in small groups reading with students who need it most, and to go on adventures with their students and broaden their overall knowledge and experience of the world. The Read to be Ready camps transform the summer slide in reading into the summer spark.

Three Teachers Share Advice On How To Make The Fourth of July A Day of Fun And Learning

The Fourth of July is a time for fireworks, gatherings of family and friends, and a reflection of the unique way our country achieved its independence. Naturally, this makes the Fourth a day of not just joy and fun, but one of learning and remembering the American men and women who came before us. To learn more about how to make the holiday both fun and educational, we asked three Tennessee educators for their thoughts on how to celebrate the holiday with happiness and knowledge.

“We celebrate the Fourth of July each summer with cookouts, festive red, white and blue attire, ice cream and fireworks. As this summer marks 241 years since the Declaration of Independence was presented before the Second Continental Congress, let us take a closer look at the original fireworks that exploded on that hot July day in Philadelphia, 1776.

Take a closer look at the document that defined the founding of the United States. The entire document is only 1,337 words, including dates and headings. As you read through the Declaration, pay close attention to the style that Jefferson uses. This was before the days of bolded texts, so many scholars argue that the capitalized words were meant for emphasis when the Declaration was being read out loud to a crowd as many of the populace was uneducated and could not read.”

-Jeff Yawn, US Government, Beech High School, Sumner County

“Younger adolescents may enjoy reading books that reveal the origin of the holiday with their families and friends. These could include It’s Not About You, Mrs. Firecracker by Soraya Diase Coffelt or The Story of America’s Birthday by Patricia Pingry, which summarize the people and events remembered on the Fourth of July. Young learners may also like making a patriotic dessert modeled after the American Flag – a task which can be done with strawberries and blueberries. This would provide an ideal opportunity to determine and discuss the colors of our nation’s flag as a reminder of the patriots who fought for our independence in the American Revolution.

Older students may connect with prominent well-known figures such as Dree Brews and Jerry Rice in their reading of the Declaration of Independence. Prominent athletes and coaches paid tribute to this founding document in a video clip titled, Super Bowl XLV Declaration of Independence. Including members of the army, navy, and students from various school settings, their regard to this historic document not only affirms its value to our nation’s past but also its importance to our current political structures.”

-Erin Glenn, Social Studies, East Lake Academy of Fine Arts, Hamilton County

“Our democracy is dependent upon participation and engagement from citizens. Encouragestudents’ interest in our democracy by introducing them to iCivics, which teaches students how to have an active role in the electoral process. iCivics is best known for simulation games, including running your own campaign or serving as President of the United States. I have used iCivics with my middle school students, and they loved the opportunity to make real-time decisions as President that changed the course of the game. July Fourth is a reason to celebrate the ideas that make our country special.”

-Mary-Owen Holmes, Social Studies, Spring Hill Middle School, Maury County

Coffee and Conversation: Connecting Research, Innovation, and Practice

This post is part of Coffee and Conversation, a monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. The Executive Director of the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA), Erin O’Hara joined us to talk about her organization’s unique role in Tennessee education, upcoming research, and the connection between innovation and research.  The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) develop as an organization?

Erin O’Hara: The Tennessee Education Research Alliance comes out of a previous partnership between the state Department of Education and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. Within Race to the Top, we were doing so many things in Tennessee that weren’t happening in other states – annual teacher evaluation, the Achievement School District, compensation – and we thought it would make sense to do some research on that work.

When Race to the Top started dialing down, we started thinking about how do we could make this a permanent organization. There was a decision between Peabody and the department to invest in this work to make it sustainable.

Your website says “Tennessee Education Research Alliance measures its success not simply by the number of academic papers published, but by the extent to which its work changes the way educators and policymakers think and act.” How do you promote your research so you ensure that happens? What kind of impact has your research had on education stakeholders so far?

EO: We have an advisory council of which SCORE is a member. We have people who have influence on state policy and the ability to reach a whole lot of people we are not able to reach. We get their feedback, and then we ask them about how to message it in ways people can really understand. One of the other things we do is to synthesize research across studies. Which is not something that gets done in the education research in an informal way. 

In terms of impact so far – Jason Grissom did a piece on the school leaders’ licensure assessment. The state was asking if we should increase the cut score. As it turns out, if you increase the cut score, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t predict quality. But if you increase the cut score, you’ll end up with a less diverse workforce. So the state said we’re not going to change the cut score.

The other big example is the work that Gary Henry, Ron Zimmer, and Josh Glazer have done around the Achievement School District. I think that work has informed the state’s work with the district and the future of turnaround work under ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act].

How did TERA select its four areas of focus?

EO: We design our work in concert with the Department of Education. These four areas were issues that were a big deal to the department and were issues that researchers at Vanderbilt were interested in. Right now, literacy, turnaround, professional learning, and labor markets seem like the sweet spots between what the state wants help with and what the researchers are passionate about.

In a recent study on teacher retention in iZone and the ASD, TERA research found that the iZone did a better job of retaining teachers. Why do you think that is?

EO: This isn’t tested so I wouldn’t want to say this is the reason – but there’s a theory in that paper that says the way Shelby County thought about compensation might have had an impact on retaining teachers. It’s been hard for the ASD, who has a number of different operators, to do cross-learning across the district. But, we’re going to keep looking.

What’s the relationship between research and innovation? Do you see a connection conceptually?

EO: Research is often behind the innovation that needs to happen. When you’re in those positions and you’re a policymaker, educator you face major decision every day in policy and practice. You have to figure out what to do next and you have to make those decisions immediately. People would like to be making decisions on high-quality evidence, but it’s not always there.

We’d like to do more to test an innovation. It takes a lot of forethought. It’s not easy for districts and schools to say “do this over here, but not over here,” so you can learn how and if it works. Research can help people innovate. If anyone who reads this blog has an idea they’d like to test – they should get in touch with me, especially if that idea is in TERA’s areas of interest.

But yes, research can come behind and say this did or didn’t work. What’s hard are questions on turnaround because in a lot of ways the work educators are going to do is going to be ahead of the research, but we are trying to deliver thoughts and finding in real time.

What is your morning beverage of choice? Is it always chai?

EO: It’s not always chai! Now, it’s basically any tea. But sometimes it’s fun to have a chai.

As Executive Director of the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA), Erin O’Hara sets the strategic direction for the research partnership and guides the work of creating useful, timely, and high-quality practice focused research to inform Tennessee’s school improvement efforts. Prior to her role at TERA, Erin created and led the division of Data and Research as an Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education and managed the department’s work in accountability, assessment, data quality, and research. Erin has a Master of Public Policy from Peabody College and completed a Bachelor of Government and African/African American Studies at the University of Virginia.

All Across Tennessee, High Schools Seniors Are Taking Their Next Steps To Their Future

Cue the Pomp and Circumstance and break out your graduation robes! From every corner of the state,  high school seniors have been celebrating their successful conclusion of their K-12 education and preparing for what comes next. Many have future plans for college, joining the military, or starting a job, excited and anxious for future plans. To all those students, we at SCORE join your parents and teachers, and wish you well as you move forward. We also thank the countless hours educators have poured into your education. In that spirit, we’d like to share some of the social media that caught our eye from schools, districts, and educators, celebrating Tennessee’s class of 2017.

Congratulations, Tennessee Graduates!

Teach Today. Change Tomorrow: Empowering Current Teachers, Inspiring New Teachers

This post is part of Coffee and Conversation, a monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. Nashville Teachers Carrie Ott and Leticia Skae, and SCORE’s Elizabeth Vincent join us to talk about Teach Today. Change Tomorrow, a campaign to inspire the next generation of Tennessee teachers. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Elizabeth, can you tell a little bit about Teach Today. Change Tomorrow.? How did it start and why did it start?

Elizabeth Vincent: Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. started from a brainstorm to think of a statewide teacher empowerment campaign. The overarching goals of the campaign are to encourage more students, specifically the very best and brightest, to consider the teaching profession to make sure that all future generations of Tennessee kids have access to highly effective teachers. Aside from recruiting more students into the teaching profession, we’re also really interested in empowering Tennessee teachers through social media channels to highlight some of the outstanding work of Tennessee educators.

Leticia and Carrie, you’re both a part of this campaign as teacher ambassadors. Why did you decide to join Teach Today. Change Tomorrow.?

Leticia Skae: I wanted people to know there’s some fantastic stuff happening in teaching and let people know that there is a sustainable life in teaching. It feels like our newest generation is leaving the profession or not even coming in. I wanted to change those things and find some people who know work goes into caring for our kids.

Carrie Ott: I decided to join the campaign because my whole program that I teach is preparing students in high school to become teachers. We are on this movement to prepare quality teachers and get respect back for the teaching profession.

What was the moment that you decided you wanted to be a teacher?

CO: I was asked to come speak at a housing class at a high school and talking with the class – I just loved it. And the teacher said, “You know you can do this, right? You can come and teach.” She explained how I could get the certification and actually the professor at MTSU called her up and had an hour long conversation with her. And I decided I was enrolling, I was in.

LS: I was originally a sociology-anthropology major and wanted to be a professor. A friend of mine said, “Hey, I have an English teacher opening at our school.” I went for my interview. And I wanted to get that experience teaching so when I eventually get to be a professor, I’ll have that experience. It happened right on the spot that day and I started teaching three days later. They needed somebody right away.

So you went into it thinking you were headed on this professor track for sociology – what made you stick with it?

LS: I had these wonderful connections with these students. They’ve graduated college and they send me emails. One of my students was on Facebook and tagged me in a video. He was presenting his poetry in college and he said – “This is for my teacher, Ms. Skae, who taught me how to write.” Stuff like that, where you realized, I made a difference.

When you started as teachers how did experienced teachers help you?

LS: One thing a veteran teacher told me – I was in the copy room, it was the second week of teaching, I was fighting the copy machine and my kids were mad at me.

EV: There’s always a copy machine.

LS: Exactly! I was on the verge of crying and I think my face said it. He says, “I swear to you if you make it through the first year, it only gets easier, I promise.”

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

CO: We just had graduation, so that was huge. Especially since I’ll have them for three years and you feel like they’re part of our family. And seeing them use knowledge when you didn’t even realize they were listening. I love seeing that.

What advice would you give a current high school or college student who is interested in the profession?

CO: Get as much experience before you get into the field. The more exposure better.

LS: If you come to something you don’t know – ask, always ask.

What’s your afternoon pick-me-up?

EV: Black coffee.

LS: I guess I have to say – as an ELA teacher – I love to read.

CO: This is going to sound corny, but I have three daughters. That’s how I unwind when I get home. We unwind, and we have fun.

From left to right: Carrie Ott, Elizabeth Vincent, and Leticia Skae

Carrie Ott is a teacher at Whites Creek High School in Nashville, where she has been building the Education and Training Pathway for the past three years. Originally from Iowa, the importance of education was instilled in her from an early age, and she always had a passion for helping children. Teaching students every day about the teaching profession and helping them on the pathway to becoming educators is what continues to drive her passion.

Leticia Skae is an English language arts teacher in Nashville. She has been a teacher for 11 years. She specializes in in diverse and urban education and earned her master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University. She is currently in MTSU’s Literacy PhD program. She was a finalist in her district for Middle School Teacher of the Year and a Blue Ribbon Teacher. Leticia has served on MNPS’ Transition Team, Mayor Barry’s Teacher Cabinet, TN EDVoice fellowship, and SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellowship. She is an advocate for improving sociocultural perspectives in education and for teacher retention and empowerment.

Elizabeth Vincent, a consultant working with SCORE, just received her Master’s in Public Policy from Vanderbilt University. Before graduate school, Elizabeth taught for three years in Tennessee and obtained her degree in English Literature and Secondary Education from Murray State University. Elizabeth strives to channel her passion for student success and her love for education to ensure that Tennessee students receive the highest quality education. When she is not engaged in school or work, Elizabeth enjoys jogging, reading, watching movies, and cooking (but mostly eating). Follow her on Twitter at @evincent22.


Parents and Teachers Tell Tennessee Students, ‘Don’t Stress, Do Your Best’ On TNReady

What does it feel like to try something new or take on a new challenge? On the front end, there might be excitement or worry. Eventually, however, those new or challenging experiences lead to growth. For many of our state’s students, this year was the first time they took TNReady, the new state test designed to assess a student’s real understanding and give teachers and parents valuable information on their student’s growth.

Like many people who try new things, some Tennessee students felt excitement or worry before the new assessment. Fortunately, many of these students had parents and teachers right there with them, ready with reassurance and encouragement, reminding them that they had the knowledge and skills to meet this new challenge head on. Here are some of these Tennessee parents and teachers who went the extra mile to reassure, reaffirm, and refocus their young scholars.

These Three Teachers Support TNReady – Find out Why

This post is part of Coffee and Conversation, a monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. Our guests are teachers Erica Stephens of Shelby County Schools, Erin Rains of Bradley County Schools, and Heather Hobbs of Kingsport City Schools. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You as a teacher support TNReady. Why?

Erica Stephens: Okay, I’ll start! I think TNReady is an excellent resource for us teachers to understand if our children are on grade level and if there are any areas where we need to improve our instruction.

Erin Rains: Also, I like the ease of reading the score report for parents and that way they can also figure out how they can plug in to help their kids reach their potential. I love the alignment to the college and career readiness standards.

How do you use information from state tests like TNReady to inform your instruction? Can you walk me through what happens on your end as a teacher after students take the TNReady test?

ES: We get together in vertical teams [or by subject area] – we work with all the math instructors across the board – we see what our weaknesses are in and what we need to do to make changes either for our instruction or for how we group our students, then we meet at grade level to be sure that from the first day we start instructing students that we are hitting those areas they didn’t perform well in the previous year.

ER: I like to look specifically at my class summary reports – for instance, I noticed a gap in my instruction as far as students understanding how the main idea of a text is developed. So I can go back and really reiterate that and drive that home. 

Did the lack of data in the 2015-16 school year affect you? If so, how?

Heather Hobbs: Last year was my first year in fifth grade, so I would have really liked having more information on my students. I would have liked to have time to reflect from a state standpoint how I did, so I could monitor and adjust instruction as needed.

ES: Yes, it was challenging not having anything in term of the students. I had to pull other resources that were aligned to our standards to help me see where they were, what I needed to do. But that happens. As teachers, we push forward, preserve, and find other resources.

What information does TNReady give that districts tests or tests that you give in your classroom don’t give you?

HH: Having a standardized assessment that all students are taking and getting that data to compare really allows you to see that big picture we need for equity for all students in Tennessee.

ES: The purpose of the test is that you see if your students understand that standard so they can apply it to any situation. Not just the way you’ve shown them in class.

ER: It helps me see that I’m hitting the target in my instruction – that I’m not teaching in isolation. My students need to be able to be competitive on a state, national, or global level if they so choose and if I’m teaching in my box it’s hard to ensure that it’s happening.

Do you have any words of encouragement for families – parents or students – who might be taking TNReady for the first time starting in April?

ES: Parents should know that this is the first step in the right direction. We want our students to be able to excel. No matter what comes their way, no matter what job they decide to dive into. Change is difficult for everyone – it’s new. But we embrace it and we can go to higher heights.

ER: Also, as an ELA person, I would encourage families to read. The more you read for different purposes and in different texts and contexts, the less something like this becomes a daunting undertaking.

HH: I think, just for the students to know to give their best. And then, for parents to know that their children have been prepared all year and they are able to complete their task.

What is your go-to workday pick-me-up?

HH: Green power smoothies from Panera.

ER: Mine is the boldest cup of coffee that I can find. I kick off my day with AP Psych so I need to be fully caffeinated.

ES: I used to be a coffee drinker, but now honestly my pick-me-up is the kids. It’s their ability to be positive.

Erica Stephens has been educating children for 13 years in the city of Memphis. During this time, she has created an environment conducive for all students to be successful. Erica has held many positions as a testament to her expertise, such as 4th Grade Team Leader, Instructional Leadership Team Member, America Achieves TN Ed Fellow, and SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellow. Follow her on Twitter at @apple4urteach.

Heather Hobbs is a fifth-grade teacher at Andrew Johnson Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee. Heather teaches literacy and social studies. She believes in high expectations, and she strives to help each student fulfill their dreams. Follow her on Twitter at @Live2Learn5.

Erin Rains teaches at Walker Valley High School in the Bradley County school district. She is an alumna of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Arkansas State University. Erin has been teaching for 13 years. Follow her on Twitter at @erains1.

Check out Eight Sample Questions to Get a Feel for TNReady

Pop quiz! When Tennessee students in grades 3-11 begin taking TNReady, they will be greeted with:

A) Multiple-choice questions
B) Essay prompts
C) Open-ended responses
D) Multiple-answer questions
E) All of the above

The answer would be E – all of the above.

TNReady, Tennessee’s state test that better measures student progress, uses a few different types of question formats to give students a variety of ways to show what the know and can do. But for parents and older students who might be used to tests that rely predominantly or entirely on multiple-choice questions, it’s important to know that TNReady is different.

To give parents and students a sense of the types of questions asked on TNReady, I dug through the Tennessee Department of Education’s parent guide to find sample questions to show a few of the questions types on the assessment.

Notice, this question is not designed as a multiple-choice question. For this open-ended question, students will have to come up with their own answer instead of choosing between answer A, B, C, or D. Additionally, TNReady questions will examine a student’s mathematical knowledge both with the assistance of a calculator and without. The first subpart will be without a calculator and the second and third subpart will be with a calculator.

This sample question gives an example of a multiple-answer question. Once again this question raises the difficulty of the question since a student has to select two right answers, instead of just one.

TNReady will have questions that are not multiple-choice (like the first two sample questions in this post), but many questions will still be multiple-choice questions like the science question above and the remaining ELA and social studies questions below.

Besides multiple choice and multiple answer, the TNReady ELA section’s first subpart will feature one writing prompt that asks students to read a text and then respond. There will just be one writing prompt on TNReady and that prompt could test explanatory, opinion/argument, or a narrative mode of writing.

Preparation for TNReady doesn’t require any additional test preparation other than the learning happening in Tennessee classrooms during the course of the school year. And it’s really probable that students have already run into these types of questions on classroom or district assessments. But both my parents and I have always found it helpful to get a quick refresher on both the structure of a test I am about to take before I sit down to take it. Once you have that information and after a year of hard work in the classroom, all that’s left for a student to do is wake up, eat some brain food, drink some water, and then, channel your energy and smarts toward showing what you have learned.