Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Thursday that Tennessee high school students improved across all subject areas – English, math, science, and U.S. history – on the 2016-17 TNReady end-of-course exams. Thousands of additional students are meeting course expectations compared to last year, and the state reduced the percentage of students scoring at the lowest achievement level across all subject areas.
TNReady is the statewide assessment administered to all students in grades 3-11. It is a more rigorous assessment, compared to past state tests, that is fully aligned to Tennessee’s academic standards, which are based on what students need to know and be able to do each year to ultimately be prepared for college and their careers. In 2015-16, high school students set a new baseline in the first year of TNReady, and as expected, their scores are beginning to increase as teachers and students adjust to higher standards that ensure students are ready for the next step in their academic journey.
“This growth is encouraging, and it shows our students are capable of reaching the high bar we’ve set with our expectations in Tennessee,” Commissioner McQueen said. “It’s also promising to see not only overall improvement, but some bright spots in the performance of historically underserved student groups. The results from TNReady shine a light on what’s working and help us to identify where we need to better support students and teachers – so every student in Tennessee reaches his or her fullest potential.”
Students show growth in all end-of-course subject areas
Overall, scores improved in all subject areas and on nearly every end-of-course exam. Students’ scores on TNReady fall into one of four performance categories: below, approaching, on track, or mastered. Those students who score on track or mastered met or exceeded course expectations.
In English, students take three end-of-course exams in high school: English I, II, and III. Results on each exam improved this year, and across all three tests, 34.3 percent of students performed on track or mastered, a jump from 30.4 percent in 2015-16. Students had the biggest gains in high school English, with more than 11,000 additional students scoring on track or mastered compared to last year.
Across all high school math courses, 21.5 percent of students performed on track or mastered, up slightly from 20.8 percent last year. Altogether, over 4,000 additional students scored on track or mastered on high school math in 2017 compared to 2016.
In high school math, districts choose one of two tracks: algebra I, geometry, and algebra II or integrated math I, II, and III. Integrated math combines algebra and geometry throughout the three courses.
On four of the six math exams, the percentage of students who scored on track or mastered improved, and there were slight dips on two tests: algebra II and integrated math II. Notably, the districts participating in these two tests shifted as some districts continue transitioning to integrated math track.
There are two end-of-course exams offered in science: biology and chemistry. Results on both improved. This year, 51.0 percent of students scored proficient or advanced on the high school science exams – up from 48.9 percent last year. That means about 4,600 more students were at or above course expectations.
The science exam has yet to transition to TNReady and includes the performance levels from the old TCAP: below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced. In 2018-19, Tennessee schools will transition to new, more rigorous Tennessee academic standards in science, and that year, students will take a TNReady exam aligned to those higher standards.
In U.S. history, there was also an uptick in the percentage of students who performed on track or mastered – 30.8 percent in 2017 compared to 29.9 percent in 2016. That means about 2,800 additional students are now meeting course expectations in U.S. history.
Student groups show encouraging growth and highlight areas to improve
This year’s results also show some encouraging performance from Tennessee’s historically underserved student groups. In particular, for end-of-course exams in English, all student groups – students with disabilities, English learners, economically disadvantaged students, and Black/Hispanic/Native American students – improved on TNReady.
In many cases, student groups had fewer students who scored in the lowest performance level, either below or below basic, compared to last year. For example, last year on English I, 33.7 percent of economically disadvantaged students scored as below, but this year that percentage dropped to 20.7 percent. Notably, the percent of student with disabilities scoring at the lowest level of achievement decreased in every individual content area and fell by over 19 percentage points in English I.
And, in a couple of cases, performance gaps narrowed between student groups and all students. On high school science, Black/Hispanic/Native American students outpaced the larger student population, and on high school math, the gap between students with disabilities and all students also narrowed. The progress shown by students with disabilities is particularly encouraging given that there has been an increase in the number of students with disabilities who participate in TNReady over the past two years, since the elimination of the modified TCAP.
Transition to online assessments continues
For the first time this year, high school students in 24 districts took TNReady online. This was the first year of a three-year transition to online assessments, and in 2017-18, all high school students will take TNReady end-of-course exams online. Additionally, districts will have the option for students in grades 5-8 to take TNReady online in 2017-18 before fully transitioning those students to online assessments in 2018-19.
In consultation with national experts, psychometricians with Questar and the department analyzed the results this year to ensure that scores are comparable regardless of whether the student took TNReady online or on paper.
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) released the following statement Thursday from Director of Communications Teresa Wasson on the TNReady assessment results for high school students:
"The TNReady numbers show us that thousands more high school students are on track to graduate prepared to make the most of postsecondary opportunities like going to college on Tennessee Promise or a HOPE scholarship, entering the military, or getting a good-paying job.
"It’s important to know that students have made progress, but TNReady has value beyond measuring what happened last year. We’re seeing academic gains because Tennessee teachers analyzed the results from the first year of TNReady to find opportunities to change lessons for the following school year so more students could develop real understanding of the subject.
"Teachers want to teach, and students want to learn. The latest TNReady results will support them in doing just that in the upcoming school year."
J.C. Bowman, the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, released the following statement:
"Assessment will never be popular. However, we share the optimism today of Commissioner McQueen that “our students are capable of reaching the high bar we’ve set with our expectations in Tennessee.” It demonstrates the tremendous efforts our schools and our educators have been making. We have aligned to higher standards and can see that it is now paying off. It has been a tremendous ambitious academic journey for our state.
"It is especially encouraging to see that Tennessee high school students improved across all subject areas – English, math, science, and U.S. History. Our educators have worked hard for these results, and it proves teacher quality in Tennessee continues to rise up to meet the challenges. These TNReady results will help identify where we need to better support our teachers and students.
"Professional Educators of Tennessee, as a key strategic partner, and in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Education, wants to continue to push for smarter, strategic tests in moderation. The transition to online assessments will assist in that effort. In our opinion, it is better to have fewer assessments of higher quality. However, there is no denying the importance of measuring the progress of children in our schools in order to better help them learn.
"Our hope is that all Tennessee children receive a world class public education, and our students will be competitive with the academic elite in the world. We want to continue to work to reduce the achievement gap among races so that every student in Tennessee reaches his or her full potential. We are pleased with the performance on TNReady from Tennessee’s historically underserved student groups. In particular, for end-of-course exams in English, all student groups – students with disabilities, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students, and black/Hispanic/Native American students – improved on TNReady. We believe that we still have room to improve, but these are very encouraging results. In addition, the progress shown by students with disabilities is particularly encouraging given that there has been an increase in the number of students with disabilities who participate in TNReady over the past two years.
"We often hear from some parents who are concerned about too much testing, as well as from educators who experience pressure to teach to a test. The Tennessee Department of Education has demonstrated a commitment in addressing those concerns to our association. We look forward continuing that dialogue, and moving our state forward for all students, parents and educators."