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Local and state officials weigh in on 2017 Nation’s Report Card and testing

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 11, 2018 at 11:33 PM

The Tennessee Department of Education says Tennessee’s progress has remained steady on the 2017 Nation’s Report Card, mirroring the national results.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which serves as a benchmark for states to determine students’ academic progress, is given every two years to students in grades 4-8 in both reading and math.

In 2013, Tennessee became the fastest-improving state in the country, and educators say those scores have been largely stable through the 2015 and 2017 assessments. In 2017, Tennessee students showed no statistically significant changes in either fourth and eighth-grade reading or eighth-grade math, but Tennessee was one of 10 states that witnessed a drop in fourth-grade math.

“These scores show that the investment we’ve made in our teachers and students is paying off, and because of their hard work in the classroom, Tennessee remains in the very top tier of all states in overall growth,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a press release. “We have raised the bar for K-12 education, and I am proud of how our teachers and students have stepped up to the challenge.”

But the results have varied among local school districts.

“The last time these results were released, Tennessee had grown a lot in fourth grade math, and I think that’s the area we didn’t see a lot of growth in this time,” said Jerri Beth Nave, director of federal programs for Carter County Schools. “But overall, the NAEP results show our state is moving in the right direction.”

Since the NAEP standards now align with the TNReady assessments given to Tennessee’s students, educators will be able to use their annual TNReady assessments to further gauge specific strengths and weaknesses, according to state education officials.

But after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced plans Monday to reduce and amend the requirements of the relatively new TNReady assessment — which state Rep. Matthew Hill tried to eliminate before meeting opposition from state education officials in February — Nave said gauging students’ progress through testing could prove difficult.

“Anytime you change tests, results generally drop,” Nave said.

For those about to graduate high school, Nave said some districts point to their students’ ACT scores to gauge overall progress and performance.

“One of the positive things we’ve seen in recent years is our ACT scores continue to rise. That’s a positive thing that local districts are seeing more and more,” Nave said.

This sentiment was echoed by Unicoi County Schools Director John English, who said his district often uses other tests to track students’ areas of weakness and strength more effectively.

But, in general, English said he thinks too much time is spent on testing rather than instruction.

“There is a sense among districts that there is such thing as test fatigue, and the students fall victim to that,” he said. “I am glad people are taking a look at reducing some of the tests and test times because many of our teachers feel like they test as much as they teach, and we need more instruction than testing time.”

Washington County and Johnson City Schools officials seemed to have similar ideas on the matter.

“The Nation's Report Card is not nearly so important to us than Washington County's report card,” Washington County Schools Assistant Director William Flanary wrote in an emailed statement to the Press.

“Since NAEP does not produce results for an individual student or school, we receive only the state’s aggregate NAEP information,” Johnson City Schools spokeswoman Debra Bentley added.

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