Two years after standardized tests were canceled nationwide due to the pandemic, plans for Tennessee assessments this spring appear to mark a return to somewhat normal.
The state’s window for spring standardized tests is April 18-May 10. Memphis-Shelby County Schools plans to wrap up testing on May 6, according to the district’s assessment calendar.
Who is getting tested, and how should they prepare? Here are answers to these and other frequently asked questions. If you have more questions you want answered, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When does testing begin for my child?
This year, individual schools in MSCS, Tennessee’s largest district, have the authority to create their own testing schedule within the state’s 3½-week window. Last year, middle and high school students sat for the tests during the same three-day period. Check your child’s school website to find exact testing dates.
Advanced Placement testing, which is not run by the state, will overlap partly with the state testing window. AP tests will take place May 2-20 at MSCS for students who participate in AP classes or opt to take the tests. Check the AP testing calendar to find out when each test is being administered.
Who and what are being assessed?
The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, often referred to as TCAP, includes TNReady assessments in math, English language arts, social studies, and science. There are also alternative assessments — MSAA and TCAP-Alt — to accommodate students with disabilities.
TCAP tests are designed to gauge “true student understanding” of state standards, the Department of Education says, rather than basic memorization or test-taking skills.
In Tennessee, students in grades three through eight are required to take the TCAP. High school students take end-of-course assessments, or EOCs, when they complete each of the following courses: English I or II; Algebra I or II, Geometry, U.S. History, and Biology.
The state also offers an optional second-grade test that assesses English and math skills. All MSCS second-graders will participate.
How will EOC results affect my child’s grade?
According to state law, the results of end-of-course tests count for a minimum of 15% of a student’s grade in high school courses requiring the exams, if the results are released to the school in time.
In a statement, MSCS officials said end-of-course scores will count for 15% of a student’s grade if they’re received at least five instructional days before the end of the school year, scheduled for May 27 this year. State officials expect to return preliminary scores to districts by May 20 and final reports by June 20.
TCAP scores may also be used to determine eligibility for admission to the district’s optional schools. Acceptable tests for the 2022-23 school year include TCAP Achievement English Language Arts and TCAP Mathematics assessments; end-of-course exams; as well as Illuminate FastBridge aReading and aMath assessments, i-Ready Diagnostic Reading and Math assessments, according to the district. At the high school level, students may also use ACT, PSAT and SAT scores.
Are the tests on paper or on computers?
Students in grades three through eight will take their TCAPs on paper this year, while high school students will take their end-of-course exams on the computer for the first time since 2019.
Last summer, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced the state’s plan to return gradually to computer-based testing — six years after a massive technical failure marred Tennessee’s online testing debut. Then-Education Commissioner Candice McQueen fired Measurement Inc. after its online platform failed on the first day of testing. Three years later, the company’s successor, Questar, was sidelined after days of technical glitches undermined public trust in the reliability of 2018 test results.
Testing vendor Pearson will administer the tests under a 2019 contract with the Department of Education.
Do students attending online school have to take the test in person?
Yes — mostly for security reasons, but also for technical reasons.
On-site testing allows administrators and test proctors to ensure students are doing the work themselves. It also alleviates concerns about internet bandwidth at home that could put some students at a disadvantage if tests were given online.
Can I have my child opt out of testing?
No. Despite a growing opt-out movement across the nation, Tennessee law requires student participation in state assessments.
How should I prepare my child for testing?
Memphis-Shelby County Schools offers families five tips:
- Get a good night’s rest, set an alarm, and urge your child not to study too late.
- Ensure your child has a healthy breakfast.
- Have a positive attitude about testing and motivate your child to do their best.
- Encourage your student to review material methodically over several days rather than cramming.
- Celebrate after testing to reward their hard work and effort.
What did last year’s test scores show?
The first batch of test scores during the pandemic showed declines across all subjects and grades, with the sharpest drops among students who have historically trailed their peers and spent more time learning online.
Overall, just about 3 in 10 Tennessee students were on track or had reached mastery in all subjects by the end of the 2020-21 school year.
No tests were administered in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic first erupted, so the most recent comparisons are to 2019. Math scores were the hardest hit from 2019 to 2021. Only 1 in 4 students met grade-level expectations in math in 2021, compared with more than 1 in 3 before the pandemic. The steepest declines tended to come from students of color, students from low-income families, and English language learners.
When will I see my child’s scores?
Parents will likely be able to access scores by June in the Tennessee Department of Education Family Portal at familyreport.tnedu.gov/login.
Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at email@example.com. Marta W. Aldrich is a senior correspondent who covers the statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.