Test fatigue or delivery? Local school officials weigh in on concerns over TNReady testing

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jul 12, 2018 at 11:38 PM

Changes in the TNReady state assessment were expected after frustrating problems marred the last testing season.

After problems bogged down assessments in the spring, including an unauthorized change in the state vendor’s system that caused technical problems with online testing, changes have arrived.

In June, the state announced only high school students will have to take the online version of the TNReady assessment next year.

Students in grades 5 through 11 will have to take the science test online, but the test won’t count toward student grades or teacher evaluations. Students in grades 3 through 8 will take the TNReady test on paper for math, English and social studies. Students in grades 3 and 4 will take their science tests on paper, while students in grades 5 through 8 will now take their science tests online.

Despite these expected changes, a discussion about test fatigue has been renewed among some local education officials.

Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Secondary and Instructional Technology Dr. David Timbs said it’s is a valid concern, but he added that the TNReady assessment mainly serves to gauge the progress of students.

“Regardless of the issues with the testing last year, we value any feedback we can get on student performance, whether it’s from TNReady or ACT testing,” Timbs said.

While Timbs said it is helpful to have as many data points as possible, he believes assessments such as the system’s internal nine-week assessments and ACT scores are some of the most accurate and reliable ways to gauge students’ progress and modify instructional time accordingly.

“I think that’s one thing people don’t understand. TNReady is just one of many data points to determine where students are,” Timbs said.

“We spend a lot of time assessing, there is no doubt about that,” Timbs added. “We do believe that there are other assessments that could give us valuable data but with shorter testing times.”

Both Jerri Beth Nave, director of federal programs for Carter County Schools, and Unicoi County Schools Director John English, said their districts also often find they are able to gauge their districts’ student progress accurately by using their internal tests and the ACT.

In April, English said he would like to see state testing reduced altogether after frustrations with the TNReady assessment.

“There is a sense among districts that there is such thing as test fatigue, and the students fall victim to that,” he said in April.

After technical problems with online testing bogged down students, shorter testing times are the main concern, according to Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Testing Roger Walk.

“Testing is important to help us make decisions on how we instruct, but we want to make sure their time here is used effectively and the data we receive from these tests are valid and reliable,” Walk said in June.

Whether the students are being tested too much or the state tests simply aren’t reliable and efficient, Timbs said local school officials are trying to stay optimistic about changes to the TNReady assessment. As it stands now, Timbs believes it’s the delivery of the test that seems to be the main issue.

“We’re very much — especially at the high school level — of the accord that we would like to see the state department take a more common-sense approach to how many tests we take at the high school level,” Timbs said. “I think what a lot of us are hoping will happen with TNReady is that the state will continue to work with the testing vendors to deliver us a reliable assessment that can be delivered without the issues we’ve experienced in the past. That’s what we’d ask.”

It’s still uncertain who will oversee the test in the 2019-20 school year, after Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced the possibility of a new test vendor in June.

The state will weigh the options between different contract proposals in the fall, which could mean replacing current test provider Questar.

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