High expectations, a statewide assessment to measure student learning, and accountability for serving all students well are foundational to the way Tennessee has approached improving student achievement and outcomes. There is widespread agreement that these three things are good for students because they support success in school, college, and life.

Over the past seven days, SCORE has been advocating for Tennessee to stick to its foundational principles while also making a few adjustments necessitated by the systemwide disruption to education from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are very encouraged that Governor Lee is committed to the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) and has said the state will conduct TNReady assessments in 2020-21. 

As I said in a statement last week, the TCAP summative assessment data help decision-makers at the state, district, and classroom levels determine how to improve and differentiate instruction, provide appropriate remediation and enrichment opportunities, and wisely allocate resources to equitably support students and their learning. The results help families fill in the picture of how well their students are doing academically. In short, giving the assessment is best for students.

New complexities have arisen, however, when it comes to assessment and accountability this school year. Today as part of the COVID-19 Impact Memo series, SCORE is releasing a policy memo with three recommendations for assessment and accountability in 2020-21. We call on the state to:

1. Administer TCAP assessments in the 2020-21 academic year. The window for test administration should be extended to the last day of the school year, and the state should work with district leaders in developing a plan to accommodate logistical challenges posed by remote learning, social distancing, and other pandemic safety measures. What matters about statewide assessment is how the data help teachers, families and students, and schools.

2. Transparently report student learning and all other 2020-21 measures. The state should publish information by school and district on the State Report Card beside new metrics about student opportunity to learn during the pandemic, such as enrollment by type of learning (in-person, hybrid, all remote) and student access to broadband and devices. What matters about transparent reporting is that it gives policymakers, local leaders, and parents information about whether state and local investments in education will go to schools and districts that need the most support.

3. Allow for flexibility on accountability measures this year to reflect the unprecedented nature of the moment. Teachers deserve feedback and information about how they are doing this year. They should receive their student growth and achievement measures, but the 2020-21 data shouldn’t be used in teacher evaluations or grades unless doing so benefits the teacher or student. The state should not use 2020-21 assessment data to issue letter grades for schools or a new Priority List. However, schools should be allowed to exit the Priority List based on 2020-21 assessment results. What matters about accountability flexibility is that it preserves the long-term system that has served students well while making adjustments that are fair and reasonable in these extraordinary circumstances. 

SCORE believes it is vitally important for Tennesseans to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning in order to build the best possible multiyear education recovery plan. That plan must be grounded in high standards for all students, data from aligned statewide summative assessment, temporarily modified accountability, and meaningful transparency.