Among the unexpected impacts of shifting work entirely online, whether that is work for school or work for an office, is that it can be much harder to have regular feedback loop. While it might initially feel liberating to place less emphasis on performance assessment, there is also nagging uncertainty. We all want to know, “How am I doing?”
If the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t closed all schools, Tennessee students would have finished up their statewide assessments this month. There is no doubt that shutting down school buildings and canceling the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests were the right things to do. We applaud Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn, and the Tennessee General Assembly for making these hard decisions.
But we also are concerned about the impact these unexpected disruptions will have on our students. Of course, students have missed a lot of classroom learning and many end-of-year activities that mark big milestones in their schooling. And our students in grades 3-11, their families, and their teachers also are losing valuable feedback about what they know and what they can do as measured by the statewide assessment.
The objective measures of a statewide assessment support the feedback that students and parents receive from grades to paint a more complete picture of student learning. Tennesseans instinctively know this important, as shown in SCORE polls where consistently nine out of ten voters say it is important for students to take statewide assessments that measure whether they are meeting academic expectations.
Parents will miss the annual score reports for each tested subject with information about whether their children are meeting grade-level expectations as well as their strengths and areas for improvement. Families won’t have the score report guidance on the next steps that will help their students achieve more in the coming year and stay on track to graduate ready for college and career.
Teachers will miss the feedback from the school-level and educator reports breaking down statewide assessment results for their students. Teachers and school leaders use the wealth of data these reports contain to refine instruction to help students achieve more in the years ahead.
Hamilton County educator Carrie Bishop, an alumna of the Tennessee Educator Fellowship, recently shared some thoughts that drive home the value of assessment for teachers. In 2014-15, she was a teacher at a focus school that was working hard to improve academic growth for minority and economically disadvantaged students.
“Throughout that school year, our faculty had courageous conversations and changed our practices to better serve all students,” Mrs. Bishop said. “When testing was canceled in 2015, we had to wait another year to have data to confirm that our efforts resulted in improved learning for all students.
“It felt like I had changed my form as a runner, and had the race of my life, only to have someone at the finish line say they forgot to start the timer. I wanted the scores in 2015 to have a clear picture of whether the adjustments I had made to my teaching practice effectively improved student learning. As a teacher, I want feedback, both from observations and from the data that state testing provides.”
As we plot how best to help learning recover from the COVID-19 disruptions, we need to stay with the strategy that has brought Tennessee students so far since 2007, when Tennessee received two F’s on the Leaders and Laggards report on education effectiveness in the United States. Setting high academic standards and measuring progress with an aligned state assessment have helped Tennessee students rise from national rankings in the 40s to the national average. We are confident our students can rise to among the best in the nation, and we are certain that statewide assessment will help speed their climb to the top.
We cannot get better without reliable, consistent feedback. As we contemplate how best to advance student outcomes in Tennessee, we should continue to seek, learn from, and value the feedback statewide assessment provides.
David Mansouri is president and CEO of SCORE.