Outside groups review TNReady troubles; Haslam says it’s still ‘a good test’

Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen say the state has hired two outside groups to review the troubled TNReady school testing system and will shift some responsibilities to a new testing company while deciding whether to extend Minnesota-based Questar’s contract to give the test next year, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee.

At a joint news conference Monday, they also pledged to abide by laws approved in this year’s legislative session to assure students and teachers suffer no adverse effects from the tests. McQueen outlined her department’s response to dealing with the legislation.

After weeks of being on the defensive, Haslam’s administration sought to take control of the situation and emphasize that testing — done correctly — is critical to improving student achievement across the state.

“I still have full confidence that testing is the right thing to do,” said the Republican governor, finishing the last year of an eight-year term. “I’m frustrated like everybody else that we had issues with the online portion of this. But having said that, do I think the test is a good test? I do.”

Haslam also said that, despite this year’s headaches, Tennessee must forge ahead with computerized testing.

“We’re one of only 10 states that has not already moved [completely] to online testing. And so it’s not just that’s where the world is going; that’s where the world is. And our students have to be prepared,” he said.

The decision to shield students, teachers, and schools from accountability for any negative scores falls in line with emergency legislation passed by state lawmakers last month as reports of TNReady’s technical problems escalated. After weeks of studying the two new laws, McQueen and her team offered their first analysis of what the legislation means:

Teacher evaluations. The state still plans to include student growth scores in evaluations, but each teacher will have “complete control to nullify” that portion if they choose to rely on other measures, McQueen said.

Student grades. Local school boards will decide whether to incorporate TNReady scores into this year’s final grades. Many districts already have begun that process, and most are opting to exclude the results this year.

School ratings. Tennessee’s A-F rating system will not launch this fall as scheduled, although the state still will publish the achievement results that would have gone into them.

Priority schools. As planned, the state will release its “priority list” this fall of the 5 percent of lowest-performing schools, but this year’s test results will not be a factor. Instead, the list will be based on two years of previous scores for high schools and one year for lower-grade schools. “We will not be moving any schools based on that data into the Achievement School District,” McQueen said of the state-run turnaround program that takes over local schools and assigns them to charter operators.

Whether the adjustments put Tennesseee out of compliance with federal law remains to be seen, though. The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act requires that student achievement — as measured by tests like TNReady — be part of each state’s plan for holding struggling schools accountable.

Note: The Department of Education has put some new stuff about TNReady up on its website in conjunction with the press conference, notably including:

-Frequently asked questions (with answers)about using the results of this year’s testing, HERE.

-“Detailed teacher evaluation guidance,” HERE

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