In the last several years, there has been a tremendous push to align Tennessee State Standards with more challenging and rigorous benchmarks, an example being Common Core. Conjointly, the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System is intended to analyze the impact schools and a teacher have on academic progress and is meant to be primarily geared towards measuring student growth, not proficiency, on assessments. The State has also undergone a period of transition on most comprehensive testing as it moved from TCAP to TN Ready assessments.
While it is generally conceded by most that standardized testing should be one way of evaluating benchmarks, metrics and data, including student growth and performance, the recent announcement that many of Hamilton County's schools received low scores on the State evaluations gives reason to pause and review this revelation in its totality.
First of all, as previously mentioned, this should be viewed as a transitional period for State evaluations for several reasons. Many of the more mundane requirements of No Child Left Behind have been slowly revised or shuttered altogether. Funding and resources from Race To the Top, which sought to help with curriculum and standards realignment, have all but withered away. Just mere weeks ago, the State proposed and submitted its draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act to the U.S. Department of Education. The draft, well over 300 pages long, is meant to bring greater conformity with federal rules and regulations as outlined under the most recent re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and represents yet another shifting of models that schools must adapt and adjust to meet.
The TN- Ready phase-in can hardly been phrased as smooth sailing as well. For three-years it has been plagued with difficulties and delays such as the prompt readiness of testing materials; the availability of digitalized testing as some schools lack the computers, software and technological resources in order to implement and provide accommodations and modifications for certain test components; and numerous delays and counter-productive rotation of testing schedules, just highlight a few of these issues. Many measurement and statistical experts might say that a compilation of data is needed to accurately evaluate tests, which in many instances is at least three- years, but due to the unintended hardships experienced by the State, many assessments lack a full complement of statistically verifiable information. Other questions that persist are how are transient and migratory students to be calculated in these measurements, which includes students who may have relocated to another school or were counted as being absentee on a particular day?
Another point of contention is what are the reciprocal effects on teachers? While the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act of 2015 did readjust the percentage State evaluations will count in calculations, at what level if any should these unintended consequences effect positive teacher evaluations which tie into retention and retainment, resources, tenure and bonuses? What are the effects on traditionally undeserved schools and communities, many who have high concentrations of impoverished, minority and special needs students, who must often times balance the most challenging of socioeconomic and living circumstances with student achievement? Not only does labeling schools as low performing and failing further plant seeds of inferiority within them, but the negative connotations associated with the over-reliance on high-stakes testing as the ultimate measurement of student achievement, growth and performance, if not used in their proper context can be detrimental and deceitful as to how a student has achieved desired learning outcomes. Similarly, should the ways that test are crafted, calculated and construed be nominal factors that are to be weighed during periods of evaluation and analyzation?
High-stakes testing are necessary in order to evaluate, analyze and disseminate information and evidence-based data that helps provide educators and active stakeholders with one indicator of student attainment, but they should be used as one distinct variable in overall student performance and achievement. We should be more concerned if we are providing equal educational opportunities, and equal access to resources, instructional materials, and technology. We should be more concerned if we are helping to raise up students self-esteem, self-worth and self-efficacy as we prepare them to be active participants in the democratic society of tomorrow. We should be more concerned about diversity because only fifteen-percent of the State's teachers are persons of color, and the achievement gaps and opportunity gaps are widening. We should be more concerned about exceptional education, and commit ourselves to a Special Needs Children Bill of Rights. We should be more concerned over how the burdens of high-stakes testing has affected our teachers, who have had to scrap valuable teaching time on average of more than 50 hours a year to administer standardized testing, and where in cities like Atlanta in 2014 some resorted to questionable methods in order to garner higher test scores.
Finally, with all the mishaps that have surfaced in the transitional period between TCAP and TN-Ready, that has been anything but ready, we must question the "Validity" of these indicators, due to the fact that they may have failed to take into account all the pertinent and relevant issues cited; that may have been prone to untold scores of measurement and statistical error no matter how long the Bell Curve; and by virtue, through what may equate to flawed mechanisms, may have failed to compile multiple and continuous forms of necessary information and data that gives a real and accurate depiction of student learning outcomes, achievement and performance.