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Shelby County likely to stick with TCAP practice tests, even as Nashville drops them

A Colonial Middle School student takes a practice writing test online in January 2014.
A Colonial Middle School student takes a practice writing test online in January 2014.
T.Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Shelby County Schools wants to extend its contract with Discovery Education Assessments, a company that aims to predict student performance on state tests, even after the state’s second-largest school district recently dumped the program.

Nashville is no longer asking schools to use Discovery’s program, arguing that the software seeks to predict scores on a test that the state has decided does not measure up to new, higher standards. Nashville schools will still be allowed to use Discovery practice tests alongside other assessments.

But Shelby County officials say that Discovery remains an essential tool, at least for the next year, while the state seeks bids from testing companies to replace the annual Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exam, known as TCAP.

Brad Leon, the district’s chief innovation officer, told the Board of Education in July that Discovery Education is still the system’s “best option” to gauge how well students will perform on the TCAP, whose results are used to judge students, teachers, and schools. He recommended that the district continue funding the program for at least one year, at a price tag of $700,000 for nearly 90,000 students in 2nd through 11th grade.

“It accurately informs teachers of student mastery and areas that need to be retaught,” Leon said.

But a local educator said that has not always been the case. For several years, Shelby County students have taken the tests three times during the school year, twice in the fall and one time in the early spring prior to state tests.

“It’s been off for the past three to four years,” said one Shelby County educator, who spoke to Chalkbeat TN on the condition of anonymity to protect his job. “I don’t rely on it.”

Discovery Education guarantees only a 72 to 84 percent accuracy prediction rate and says teachers should not use its results as their only guide to what students’ state test scores will ultimately be.

“Discovery Education assessments have been developed to inform instruction and support learning, and we believe these should be just one of multiple measures that a district uses to evaluate a student’s progression of knowledge and skills,” according to a statement provided to Chalkbeat TN.

In its statement, Discovery Ed also said its program does reflect the Common Core standards, even though TCAP was not designed with the Common Core in mind — a central concern for Metro Nashville administrators.

“(Discovery Education) is not useful in a post-TCAP environment, and we’re not technically a post-TCAP environment, but we’re operating as if we are because we are ready to use PARCC,” said Joseph Bass, a spokesman for Metro Nashville Public Schools, referring to the new Common Core-aligned tests that Tennessee and other states are considering adopting in the future.

Shelby County School Board member Teresa Jones raised similar concerns during last month’s meeting.

“If Discovery Ed is not aligned to the Common Core, then could this be a waste of time,” Jones asked district leaders during a meeting in July.

When the board votes on the issue, which is expected to happen Aug. 26, Jones could be sole dissenting voice against the program.

No other board members have said they plan to vote against the district’s contract for the program, and a few have said they support its proposed contract.

Both Shante Avant and Chris Caldwell, who held on to their school board seats in this month’s election, told Chalkbeat they would support continuing to use the test predictor software.

“Absent a better option, I’m in favor of using it,” Caldwell said. “It would be great to have something that could correlate with the state tests by 100 percent. But as long as it’s consistent, teachers and principals can adjust and plan appropriate intervention.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at (901) 730-4013. On Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier or @chalkbeattn. On Facebook.
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