Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen made her sentiments perfectly clear during the June meeting of her testing task force on Tuesday. “We’re in a transition phase,” she told attendees at least five times during the five-hour meeting in Nashville.
She was referring both to the new federal education law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, and to upheaval that has swept the state’s testing program since she first convened the task force last fall in response to growing criticism of the role of testing across Tennessee. Widespread problems with the state’s vaunted new exam, TNReady, prompted Tennessee to cancel the test for most students, end its contract with test creator Measurement Inc., and open a search for a new test maker.
That search is supposed to conclude by July 1, less than three weeks away. But state education officials did not provide updates during Tuesday’s meeting of the 21-member task force, which includes educators, state leaders and elected officials.
Instead, the meeting focused on how the state will reshape its accountability system in light of ESSA, which gives states new freedom to change what their tests and teacher evaluations look like and encourages states to look at metrics beyond test scores to evaluate school quality. The Department of Education announced a tour last month to collect feedback on how it should use those new freedoms.
McQueen reported that superintendents already have spoken up during the listening tour to say that they need stability and consistency in the next iteration of Tennessee’s accountability system — something that has been lacking during the state’s standards and testing transitions.
The task force looked at other metrics that could be incorporated into the accountability system. Members also reviewed models from other states, including California, which surveys social-emotional skills and school culture as part of its accountability system; and New Jersey, which reports the percentage of students enrolled in arts courses on its school report cards.
Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Towns was quick to remind task force members that the future of Tennessee’s accountability system remains open.
“These are just examples,” she stressed. “We’re not advocating for or against them.”