State offers assessment support to local districts following months of closures

The Tennessee Department of Education recently announced a new initiative letting local school systems test students to gauge their progress next school year following months of school closures.

Many students have missed valuable instructional time since schools closed across the state in March during the novel coronavirus pandemic, canceling spring state exams. Through the state’s Best for All strategic plan, the department hopes to “identify student progress early and receive actionable data for the upcoming year. ”

The state will provide three, free optional tools to districts later this year, allowing them to accurately gauge students’ academic progress.

The Start-of-the-Year Checkpoint will offer a set of optional assessments developed from the TNReady exam available for grades 3-8 and an end of course exam in math and English language arts. The Online Formative Assessment Platform and Item Bank will provide a central location for all testing materials, allowing educators to create their own tests using Tennessee standards-aligned questions.

The department will also offer mock interim assessments, which will mirror the current Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program summative assessments, as well as provide accurate scaled scores and performance bands that will estimate each student’s performance.

Washington County Schools Director Bill Flanary said the initiative will be a good way to measure progress after missing out on state testing. Like other districts, his system shut its doors in late March at the recommendation of Gov. Bill Lee shortly after high school students took their ACT exams.

“By the time school opens in August, our students will have been out of class over 4 1/2 months. It stands to reason that we need to implement a thorough assessment to determine where we are academically,” he said. “We'll definitely be looking at the first (option), a Start of the Year Checkpoint that aligns itself with the required TCAP assessments already in place across the state. The second tool, an online formative assessment, is under internal evaluation right now. We already do a good job of formative assessment in Washington County and may or may not need to use this tool.”

Flanary said the district will also consider using the department’s mock assessment.

“We know that a percentage of any test score is the familiarity students have with the testing format, so this option is very attractive,” he said.

Johnson City Schools spokeswoman Debra Bentley said the state initiative will be “another set of relevant tools that will support our ability to determine where each child comes ready to learn.”

“Our educators are currently choosing assessments that will provide an understanding of students' academic experiences while at home, in addition to a focus on mastery-based standards. Gathering and documenting knowledge and skills for each student in August will provide results that teachers can use to take action,” she said in an emailed statement to the Press.

“Our administrators are meeting next week to discuss beginning-of-year assessments for learning,” she added. “The state tools will be part of the discussion, in addition to what our teachers are currently reviewing for implementation.”

More details on these resources and other COVID-19-related education resources can be found at www.tn.gov/education.