Touting TNReady

TV ad promotes Tennessee’s new TNReady test

PHOTO: Expect More, Achieve More
Cathy Whitehead, Tennessee's 2015-16 Teacher of the Year, is a third-grade teacher from Chester County.

TNReady has made its debut in Tennessee classrooms. Now an advertisement touting the purpose of the state’s new assessment is about to make its debut on television.

The 30-second ad, featuring Tennessee teacher of the year Cathy Whitehead, assures viewers that the state’s students are “ready for TNReady” and urges students, parents and teachers to embrace the test.

The ad is scheduled for airings later this month, just as the state’s window for the second part of TNReady testing begins on April 25.

The promotion was produced and paid for by Expect More, Achieve More, a coalition of more than 100 business, community and education organizations supporting high K-12 academic standards in Tennessee. The group was organized in 2012 under the leadership of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a research and advocacy group founded by former U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

SCORE spokeswoman Teresa Wasson said no state funds were used to produce the ad.

“We thought it was important to hear from a teacher who represents all Tennessee teachers, who have worked really hard to make sure students are prepared,” Wasson said Tuesday.

In the ad, which also can be viewed on YouTube, Whitehead offers narration over video footage showing her third-grade students at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.

“This year, we’re moving to a new test called TN Ready, to help teachers and parents know exactly what our kids are learning and the areas that need more attention to help your child succeed,” she says.

TNReady has been beset with problems in its first year, beginning with a network outage on Feb. 8 that derailed the switch to online testing. The subsequent switch back to paper-based tests was plagued by delivery delays as the testing vendor struggled to print and distribute a large number of tests in a short period of time. Some parents and teachers — already concerned about the amount of testing in schools — have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to the assessment. A small number of parents have said they plan for their children to opt out of Part II testing.

The Tennessee Department of Education has rolled back some of the accountability measures associated with the test while emphasizing that TNReady is critical to its system of accountability for students, educators, schools and districts.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.