Get ready for lower test scores for Tennessee’s younger students, state officials said Friday.
Preliminary results show that scores fell this year after the state introduced a new standardized test. Only about a third of students in grades 3-8 scored on or above grade level in English language arts, while a slightly higher percentage passed in math.
The decreases, which mirrored last year’s results for high schoolers, were expected after students took a new test that state officials say is harder and aligned to more rigorous academic standards.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen emphasized that the state’s TNReady assessment offers a more accurate picture of student performance that is consistent with national testing.
“We want our families and our students to know they should not be discouraged. We are not going backwards,” McQueen told the State Board of Education during a morning conference call.
“Like last year with our (high school) tests, this is a reset moment for grades 3-8,” she said.
The data reviewed on Friday is preliminary and the full scores won’t be released until the fall. But the results, discussed as the State Board set the thresholds for what constitutes passing scores at each grade level, offer an early glimpse at how younger students did.
The new proficiency cutoffs mark a milestone in Tennessee’s journey to be more honest and transparent about student performance. In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a blistering rebuke of Tennessee for saying that most of its students were performing well, even as results from National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, showed otherwise.
Ever since, Tennessee has been raising its academic standards and moving to a test that state officials say is more rigorous, harder to game, and aligned to the tougher benchmarks. The graphic below shows how Tennessee had closed the gap between state and national comparisons as of 2015, before moving to TNReady.
There were bumps along the way. The state has had to set testing thresholds for TNReady twice because only high schoolers got to take TNReady during its inaugural year. McQueen canceled the 2016 test for grades 3-8 and fired the testmaker due to technical and logistical problems as most districts tried to move to online testing.
State Board Chairman F. Fielding Rolston called the new scoring benchmarks, known as cut scores, “a significant step forward.”
“This is really the result of 10 years of hard work to get the standards where they need to be,” he said. “We’ve increased expectations. We’ve approved standards. Now we’re setting cut scores.”
The cut scores are based on expectations determined in July by a panel of Tennessee educators, plus subsequent analysis of their recommendations by state experts.
You can find the newly approved cut scores for grades 3-8 here.
A new look
When the state provides full score reports to parents, students and teachers this fall, they will look different than in previous years. Scores will fall into four performance levels: mastered, on track, approaching grade level, and below grade level. Under the state’s previous TCAP test, scores were described as advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic.
It’s all part of a redesigned score report unveiled last year by the State Department of Education. Officials say the new design will help students, parents and educators understand better what scores say about their students’ college readiness, and offer tips to help students improve.
Statewide scores for high schoolers were already released in July. District-level results for those students, in their second year of TNReady testing, will be released next week.