Woodson: Statewide Assessment Improvements Must Begin With What Is Best For Students

There is no question that this year’s TNReady testing was marked by challenges for many students, teachers, and school leaders. Because much of the statewide discussion about these problems has centered on the impact on adults, it is time to refocus attention on the most important question: “What is best for Tennessee students?”

From that perspective, statewide assessment has significant value:

  1. Statewide assessment is just one measure of student success, but its unique strengths include objectivity; results that can be compared across students, schools, and the state; and an annual learning growth measure for every student in grades 3-11.
  2. Statewide assessment tells teachers and parents whether a student is meeting the learning expectations for a grade and subject and is gaining the real-world skills – reading, writing, analysis, and problem-solving – demanded for postsecondary learning and work.
  3. As professionals, teachers seek to continually improve their instruction, relying on data from a statewide assessment aligned to the state’s academic standards to understand the impact of their instruction on student learning. These data are integral to the multi-measure annual evaluations that teachers report are helping to improve their teaching and positively impacting student .
  4. Statewide assessment helps educators determine the support students need to learn at their highest levels such as interventions for struggling students and new opportunities, like accelerated classwork, for high-achieving students.
  5. Statewide assessment helps all Tennesseans understand the gaps in learning and achievement for different groups of students and helps focus support for historically underserved students.
  6. Statewide assessment results help parents, policymakers, and taxpayers hold our public education system accountable for serving all students

In short, statewide assessment results inform the decisions teachers, policymakers, and parents make to help prepare all Tennessee students to graduate ready for success.

Although millions of TNReady test sessions were successfully completed this spring, the widespread technical difficulties were undeniably disruptive and frustrating. Our students and educators deserve better.

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has recognized the need for improved TNReady administration, and the plan released today offers positive first steps. With perfection as the aspiration, the assessment must be administered well for all students in every school, every year. To succeed, TNReady must:

1. Continue Tennessee’s academic progress by giving students and teachers a statewide assessment with high-quality content and best-in-the-nation administration. TNReady test items offer a high-quality measurement of student learning that tracks with results from the Nation’s Report Card and ACT while giving teachers specific, actionable, and timely data to improve instruction. We now must ensure seamless administration of TNReady.

2. Provide actionable results every year so the state’s school accountability system can be used to ensure all students are receiving a quality education and ensure any schools that are not making progress receive the right intervention.

3. Give teachers data they can use to refine their instruction and help all students learn at their highest levels. A sustained, strong commitment to incorporating student assessment data into annual teacher evaluations also is important because of the positive impact on teaching and learning.

4. Stabilize and expand online testing so students have a fair chance to show what they know and can do. Online testing delivers faster data to educators and helps students be ready to meet post-graduation expectations for doing their work on a computer.

It will take all the above – and likely more – to rebuild confidence in Tennessee’s state assessment. TNReady cannot succeed if it is not trusted, and it will not be trusted until it is administered reliably. As Tennesseans, we should work together to make all necessary changes to deliver a statewide assessment that is worthy of our students and teachers and works next year and every year.

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Jamie Woodson

Jamie Woodson sets the strategic vision for SCORE as Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and leads SCORE’s executive team and the organization’s efforts to build and strengthen partnerships with leaders in Tennessee and across the nation. She has been a leading figure in spearheading Tennessee’s efforts to better prepare students for postsecondary education and the workforce. Prior to joining SCORE, she served for more than 12 years in the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House and Senate. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and later as Senate Speaker Pro Tempore, Jamie was a key leader in efforts to identify and support effective teaching, overhaul Tennessee’s K-12 education funding formula, raise academic standards for Tennessee students, turn around low-performing schools, and expand high-quality public charter schools in Tennessee. In addition, she was a key leader in Tennessee’s work to transform public higher education by aligning Tennessee’s postsecondary system and the state’s economic goals through changes in academic, fiscal, and administrative policies. As a citizen legislator, she also served as general counsel for an East Tennessee manufacturing firm. Jamie attended public schools in Tennessee and received a Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was selected as “Torchbearer,” which is the highest honor an undergraduate may receive from the university.

The SCORE Sheet is the online conversation on public education reform in Tennessee and is hosted by SCORE. The blog mirrors SCORE’s collaborative nature and features contributors from Tennessee and across the country including students, parents, teachers, policymakers, community groups, and members of SCORE’s team. Regardless of perspective, contributors share a common goal: that every child graduates from high school prepared for college or the workforce.

Posts on The SCORE Sheet are the opinions of the individual contributors and are not necessarily reflective of the opinions and positions of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).