Tennessee education officials want teachers to make their everyday classroom tests a little more like the new standardized exams, known as TNReady. The rethinking of regular assessments is meant to boost scores on the high-stakes testing at the end of the year.
The statewide results for high school end-of-course exams came out this week, and there is some incremental improvement over the first year of TNReady. Compared to the old test known as TCAP, this is much heavier on writing, even on math sections. For instance, calculators are not allowed or really all that helpful.
Assistant education commissioner Nakia Towns, who oversees education data and research, says her department plans to hold so-called "item writing workshops" to craft questions for next year's TNReady test.
"It teaches our educators how to think about designing a task that measures the standards in the same way that students will see that on the state assessment," Towns says. "They learn how to take that knowledge and that skill to say I'm going to write my own assessments this way. I'm going to think about the kinds of critical skills and knowledge I need to be measuring with students when I create my classroom quiz."
Math teachers will be the focus, Towns says, especially given they have the lowest number of passing grades. Still less than a quarter of students are on track in math. About a third are considered proficient in English and history.
While the deeper problem-solving questions have been a bigger shift in math, the long-form writing for reading comprehension has also been an adjustment. But Education Commissioner Candice McQueen says teachers have spent longer prepping students for the change, and she says it was obvious.
"When I'm out in the field actually visiting our high school classrooms, I'm seeing the depth of writing and the rigor of reading really changing, and certainly that is something we saw on our test results," she says. "I still think we're working toward what the expectations are in math."