As the start of a new school year approaches, we know you may have questions about assessments, particularly in this time of change. We are pleased to pass along some updates that we received from the Tennessee Department of Education today. Maximizing instructional time and reducing testing is a priority for our state, which we believe is important as well. The changes to assessments in the 2016-17 school year reflect these priorities.
Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessment, will be the primary vendor for the 2016-17 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) and the state is committed to putting forward a better testing experience this year so we are able to measure student learning in a meaningful way.
TCAP has been the state’s testing program since 1988, and it includes state assessments in math, English language arts, social studies, and science. As the state has transitioned to better academic standards in math and English language arts over the past several years, those tests have become more fully aligned to what students are learning. These assessments now include rigorous questions that measure students’ critical thinking, writing, and problem solving skills. As in previous years, students in Tennessee will continue to take TCAP, but it will be shorter this year. This improved test measures how well your child has mastered the skills and content at his or her grade level.
Last year, students across the state had their testing experience interrupted due to difficulties with the previous vendor. This year’s assessment, which has been designed and reviewed in partnership with Tennessee educators, keeps the same goals of focusing on real-world skills, but has greatly improved logistics and reduced testing time. TCAP tests will have a variety of questions ranging from traditional multiple-choice questions to ones that require students to explain their answers, show their work, and compose well-organized essays.
With this assessment, you will receive a detailed parent report, where each subject will be broken down into categories of skills to show where a student is doing well or needs some extra help. Teachers and parents can use this information to provide more focused support or to find opportunities for enrichment, depending on the student’s needs. We are committed to the progress and growth of your child, and TCAP is one way that helps to ensure that every child is on the path to success.
Here are some specific details that have been shared with us by the state:
- Overall, students will spend approximately 30 percent less time taking state tests this year. For the typical third grader, this year’s state assessment will be three and a half hours shorter than last year. For our English language arts assessments, the total overall time has been reduced by about 30 percent for all our students. Our social studies assessment for grades 3-8 is two-thirds shorter than it was last year.
- Students will take the state assessment in one window at the end of the year. In other words, Part I will be eliminated in all subjects. While the state assessment will still include a writing component, it will be given a single administration window at the end of the school year. This ensures teachers have time to cover all of their content and alleviates numerous logistical challenges.
- In addition, the State will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessment for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school End of Course exams if both our schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration.
As we begin the new school year, it is important to remember that the TCAP results from these tests are just one piece of the overall educational puzzle. Both the Tennessee Department of Education and our district are working to ensure that tests provide meaningful information for teachers, student, and parents and that they have an appropriate, balanced role in our schools.
More information about the tests, as well as practice materials, will be available in the coming weeks. We encourage you to visit the State Department of Education’s website at www.tn.gov/education/section/assessment for more information.
We hope you continue to enjoy the rest of your summer and we look forward to welcoming your children back for the first day of school on Friday, August 5.
David L. Snowden, Ph. D.
Director of Schools