TNReady Isn't Living Up to Its Name

In a move that should not come as a shock to anybody, the Tennessee Department of Education notified school districts that the results of this year’s TNReady state test will not be available before report cards come out in a couple of weeks. The state’s incompetence in providing a test that is valid and reliable with timely and useful results has grown from disappointing, to frustrating, to infuriating. I am a fan of Dr. McQueen, our state’s Commissioner of Education, and I readily admit that some of the problems with the state’s testing occurred before her watch began. She clearly inherited a mess. With that being said, there will be repercussions from the TNReady test results not being ready, yet again.

Last year was the first year for TNReady testing. Because of the massive computer failure on the first day of testing, the state was forced to send out paper copies of the test, and they announced that the results would not affect students’ report card grades nor would it negatively impact teachers’ evaluations. Only the high schools ended up completing the testing, and the students did not take it seriously. Why would they? School districts across the state provided a variety of incentives for students to try their best. After the results were eventually released, it was clear that the students were just going through the motions.

Fast forward to this school year. TNReady is supposed to count for 10% of the students’ second semester grade and of the teachers’ evaluation scores. I had multiple students ask me before the test if it was really going to count this year. I told them it was going to count, and that the state was confident that they would return the results in time. Unlike last year, the Tennessee Department of Education had not announced anything to the contrary, so the students actually seemed to try. Sadly, the state has has once again let them down. They have also let down all of the teachers who worked so diligently trying to ensure that their students demonstrate growth on this ridiculously long, tedious, and inaccurate measure of content knowledge.

So what happens now? The respective school board for each school district has to decide between delaying report cards until the test results are returned or releasing the report cards without the test results factoring into the students’ overall grades. School boards have been needlessly thrust into a position of choosing between two bad choices. I don’t envy them. Let’s explore each of these scenarios more deeply.

If report cards are delayed, is there any indication when test results will be released? In TNReady’s first year of existence, it took six months for that to happen (of course, that is partly due to it being a new test and performance levels needing to be established). Even when the quick scores are eventually released, it is up to the individual school boards to determine how they will be factored into a student’s grade. Additionally, how long will districts be willing to delay report cards before eventually giving up and releasing them anyway? An extreme amount of variability exists with this choice, which reeks of irony given that it stems from a standardized test.

If report cards are released without TNReady scores factored in, then it reinforces the narrative to the students that the adults who are running the education system are, at best, unreliable and, at worst, don’t know what they’re doing. Next year, those same students who asked if the test will count as part of their grade will have one more reason to cast doubt on teachers when they say that it will. More of them will return to not trying very hard, and the test becomes considerably less reliable. Meanwhile, teachers’ performance bonuses and even their jobs are on the line. Though they wouldn’t assert themselves into the discussion, principals and directors of schools also rely heavily upon the state to administer a test that measures what it says it will measure and to provide timely results that can be acted upon. As long as both of these things remain in question, I must question both the importance of TNReady and the competence of those who insist upon any standardized test as a means of determining whether or not educators are doing their jobs.