Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told members of the State Board of Education Tuesday that the state was right to change its method for calculating this year’s preliminary state achievement test scores, but was wrong not to communicate that change earlier to local school district leaders.
McQueen was referring to “quick scores” that teachers in grades 3-8 received in May to include in their students’ end-of-year grades. The higher-than-expected scores led teachers, parents and students to think that students had performed better than they really had.
“This calculation change needed to happen,” McQueen told the board, two weeks after state education officials issued an apology to local district directors for not clarifying earlier what the new scores mean.
The state decided last fall to change their quick score calculation method for grades 3-8 from the interval scaling method to the cube-root method, which the state has used to calculate high school quick scores since 2011. The change was ordered because the interval scaling method would not work with the state’s new standardized test, called TNReady, that is being rolled out next year. It would take too long to calculate before end-of-year report cards go out, McQueen told board members.
The snafu comes at a time when the state is trying to build trust with educators, students and parents amid seismic changes under Tennessee’s Race to the Top initiative, including changes in testing. McQueen has established an assessment task force in an attempt to address those concerns.
Under state law, scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Education Program (TCAP) assessment must be factored in and account for a minimum of 15 percent of final report card grades. Because TCAP scores are not available until late in the summer, the preliminary quick scores were developed to address this need.
In the past, quick scores were released with proficiency levels, which determine everything from whether a student is eligible for special optional school programs to whether a school is eligible for state takeover. This year, quick scores had no relation to proficiency levels and accountability measures. Thus, when many teachers saw high quick scores, they incorrectly assumed that more of their students tested as proficient.
McQueen, who became commissioner in January after the decision to change the calculation method occurred, defended the use of test scores in student grades.
“We hold teachers accountable, right?” she said. “This was to put some pressure on students, so when they take the test, they feel prepared.”
But Samantha Bates, director of member services for Professional Educators of Tennessee, said after the meeting that student accountability is a moot point if the quick scores are inflated.
“It’s not that teachers necessarily like the idea of quick scores or holding students accountable for their test grades,” Bates said. “What upsets them is that a student can fail the test, and see a B on their report card.”
Board member Wendy Tucker, of Nashville, pressed McQueen on allegations that have swirled around the quick score confusion.
“One I hear a lot in this area is that this is some nefarious attempt to charter-ize our schools by making traditional public schools look like they’re failing. Am I right that the quick score calculation is the same across all schools?” Tucker asked, “so that can’t be right.”
McQueen replied that educators in the charter sector are just as frustrated as educators in traditional schools, and that the department is trying to be transparent in addressing allegations of manipulation.
McQueen joked that after a period of feeling like they didn’t have enough information about quick scores, teachers may feel inundated with information. The state has created a webpage about quick scores, in addition to sending several memos.
“We want to make sure people understand what [quick scores] are and what they are not, and what the decisions were this year that caused the miscommunication,” she said.