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How Tennessee might drastically change testing, and other potential changes to the state’s schools

Tajuana Cheshier

The Tennessee Department of Education might blow up how some schools think of standardized tests.

That’s just one point in an update on Tennessee’s evolving plan for running the state’s schools. This week, state officials shared their takeaways from nearly six months of discussions with educators, parents and other community members about how Tennessee should measure student and school success.

The feedback was collected to help formulate a plan for the new federal education law that replaces No Child Left Behind. The new law, called the Every Student Succeeds Acts, or ESSA, has the potential to change everything from how students are assessed to how individual schools are funded. If the plan is approved by the U.S. Department of Education, state officials, not federal officials, would call the shots.

At first glance, it doesn’t appear that Tennessee is in for a dramatic overhaul based on the feedback of more than 2,000 Tennesseans representing 132 of the state’s 146 school districts. The general consensus is that the current education system, including testing, school turnaround, and teacher evaluation, should remain the framework for the new plan, according to the state’s report.

Still, the state is considering using the new federal law as an opportunity to make some big changes, especially when it comes to testing. One possibility is letting some districts pilot a new kind of test, called a “competency-based assessment,” where students can show what they know throughout the year in a way that might not even look like a traditional test — for instance, a classroom presentation. It would be a big shift from standardized testing in its current form, where all students answer the same questions on a topic at the same time of the year.

Another potential change would significantly change testing for the state’s high school juniors, who now take state end-of-course tests, in addition to the ACT and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests. The state is considering a pilot in which some districts would substitute the ACT test for math and English end-of-course tests.

Plenty of time remains for the state to scrap these ideas, as well as float new ones before Tennessee submits its final plan to the U.S. Department of Education in March. State officials are writing the plan during the next few months, and the official first draft will be released by the end of 2016.

To see updates on the plan, visit here.

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