Our Students are Continuing to Grow

By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

Today was a big moment for our state as we released the first set of district- and school-level results for our new TNReady End of Course exams. This release gets us one step closer in our work to provide families and educators with better information about students’ progress. It also gets us one step closer to better preparing our students to be ready to be successful when they graduate from high school.

TNReady provides all of us with more accurate information about where students truly are on their path toward college and career readiness so we can better support them on that journey. It has questions that look for critical thinking, asks students to solve problems without using a calculator, includes more writing, and has questions where a student supplies the answer without having multiple choices to pick from. It also looks for a deeper mastery of the content to ensure that students are truly learning what their educators are teaching them in the classroom. These are the skills that our colleges and employers say they look for in our graduates, so the information we get from TNReady helps us learn whether students are truly ready for Tennessee’s expectations.

Even more importantly, now we are sharing this information with you in ways that are easier to understand. With help and input from families across the state, we now have redesigned score reports, an updated and revamped report card website, and additional online tools to help you determine your next steps. We also have four new achievement levels to describe the scores—mastered, on-track, approaching, and below—which we believe make it more clear where a student is at.

31325610876_8f34c151a1_zWith these results, Tennessee high school students have set a new baseline for future growth based on new, educator-developed expectations that will better ensure all students are on track to graduate prepared for postsecondary and the workforce. This means achievement results cannot be compared apples-to-apples with previous TCAP scores—this is an entirely new starting point. Additionally, we fully expect that students’ scores will improve in future years as they grow to meet these higher expectations, and that is what we’ve seen in the past during similar transitions.

While overall the percentage of students who are performing at or above grade level is lower than we have seen on our TCAP tests in the past, this actually matches what other assessments tell us. For example, students’ performance on TNReady reflects the readiness they showed on the ACT. This year on the EOC English exams, just over 30 percent of students scored either on track or mastered; in 2016, 38 percent of Tennessee public school students met ACT’s college readiness benchmark in reading. Our belief is as we better prepare students to meet the critical thinking, problem solving, and rigorous content expectations on TNReady, students will also perform better on their college entrance exams.

KylePrinceWhile this year we are only able to provide scores for students who took End of Course exams, in the future we will be sharing this feedback with families and teachers of students in grades 3-8. And while results were delayed because of the extended scoring process led by Tennessee educators, we anticipate results for the 2016-17 year will be back on a much quicker timeframe, especially for students who take EOCs. Students’ End of Course exams did not factor into their final grades for 2015-16 because the results are back too late, but we also know some families may be concerned about the future impact of these scores. That is why we’ve already been taking steps in partnership with our State Board of Education to reduce the weighting of EOCs in students’ final grades and phase that in more slowly over time.

There is another key point from the release today: our kids are not learning any less. In fact, our data shows us that our students are growing just as much as they have been.

In Tennessee, we determine growth by looking at students’ relative performance to other students, not their absolute achievement level. This means that for 2015-16, students were expected to perform about as well on TNReady as their peers who had similar TCAP scores the year before. Because all EOC students made the transition to a new assessment at the same time, this leveled the playing field. And the results show us that the distribution of growth scores, which in Tennessee we rank 1-5, has generally remained stable over the last three years, with many still earning 5s—the highest level of growth—and the majority earning 3-5s, which means they grew as, or better than, expected. Here is an example of that distribution from our algebra I End of Course assessment.

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We also saw some bright spots in this first year:

  • Several districts had nearly or more than 50% of their students scoring on track or mastered on either their English or math EOCs, including Bradford Special School District, Kingsport City, Maryville City, Collierville City, and Oak Ridge City.
  • Other small districts also showed encouraging achievement, like Richard City and Henry County.
  • Sevier County was the only district that had tremendous improvement in its percentile rank for both math and English, showing that they are making great progress based on our new standards.
  • And districts of all sizes showed excellent performance on their growth scores, including Dyer County, Lincoln County, Oak Ridge City, Unicoi County, Sevier County, and Montgomery County. For some districts, their growth data also included the SAT-10 assessment for grades K-2.

Overall, we believe these results present a reset moment and an opportunity to grow from here—and we know we will. Our teachers and principals are helping to make each of our classrooms a place where students can grow into the problem solvers and critical thinkers we need for the future, and we are looking forward to seeing all of our students rise to meet their expectations.

See more about what families and students should know about TNReady results on our website here.

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