Educators in Tennessee value assessment as an important tool for improving teaching and learning and identify managing logistics and preserving instructional time as the top assessment challenges, according to a report released today by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

The report, Teaching, Testing, and Time: Educator Voices on Improving Assessment in Tennessee, analyzes Tennessee educator opinions collected over three months by SCORE in collaboration with the Tennessee Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment appointed by Commissioner Candice McQueen. The findings of the SCORE research informed the task force’s recommendations, also released today.

“Educator views on assessment have provided valuable guidance to the task force and to SCORE about how to preserve the benefits of assessment while addressing the burdens,” SCORE President and CEO Jamie Woodson said. “We’ve learned that teachers, principals, and superintendents consider assessment essential to guiding the instruction that is improving student achievement, but they also need more help in reducing the logistical challenges of testing, including the impact on time to teach.”

Key findings from the SCORE report include:

• Teachers, principals, and district leaders say assessment results drive key decisions at the classroom, school, and district levels about instruction, intervention to help students achieve at higher levels, and support for teachers.
• District leaders and principals say the top assessment challenge they face is logistics, such as scheduling and implementing online tests.
• Teachers say their top assessment challenge is lost instructional time.

The Tennessee Assessment Task Force issued 16 recommendations including reducing unnecessary and redundant tests and providing greater support for districts on logistics and scheduling in order to minimize assessment disruptions to teaching time.

TestingTimeImage“The recommendations from the Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment clearly reflect the perspectives of Tennessee educators,” Woodson said. “Teachers need and want high-quality assessments that are aligned with academic standards because they help improve student achievement. The guidance from the assessment task force’s thoughtful and in-depth report can lead to fewer and better tests and smarter assessment practices that deliver the best results for students.”

Educators responded positively in focus groups and interviews to questions about TNReady, the assessment that is replacing the English and math tests of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). “I love to see that finally the state test will be more aligned to the increased standards that we have,” one principal said during a focus group. “It’s been really challenging straddling the fence between TCAP and our standards. So I’m really looking forward to TNReady and so are my teachers.”

The report drew from a survey answered by 13,057 teachers, 286 principals, and 69 superintendents plus 40 focus group discussions with more than 300 educators across Tennessee over the summer. Educators were asked about three types of tests:

• Summative tests, such as TCAP, which come at the end of a course or year and measure progress on content standards. Tennessee law requires annual standardized summative tests for most English, math, science, and social studies courses in grades 3-12.
• Formative tests, such as a teacher-written reading or math quiz, which provide immediate feedback about student progress and the effectiveness of instruction.
• Interim or benchmark tests, which are selected by districts and schools to measure student progress toward mastery of the course standards. While policymakers have a clear picture of assessments mandated at the state level in Tennessee, the SCORE survey was one of the first efforts to gain a deeper understanding of assessment at the district and school level. The survey found that most districts implement two or three such assessments each year, and that 60 percent of these assessments are administered three times per year.

“As Tennessee transitions to a new statewide summative assessment, it is important to consider the need for fewer, better assessments at the state, district, and school levels,” the SCORE report says.

Woodson said SCORE will continue to monitor Tennessee testing practices and plans to include specific recommendations to address the challenges identified by educators in its annual State of Education in Tennessee report that will be released in January. SCORE also will collect more feedback from teachers, principals, and district leaders in 2016.