At Professional Educators of Tennessee we view assessment of students much like a school picture. It may not be an accurate depiction, but it is what the student looks like on that day. Our position has always been that the fewer tests administered to students would equal less disruptions for students and teachers. We have worked with the Tennessee Department of Education toward this objective. We feel like progress has been made and will continue to work with them and the next governor toward this sensible objective.
The 2018 TNReady student assessment results showed mixed results, but state leaders saw encouraging areas of progress, and we celebrate that success. The majority of the 650,000 students who took the assessment this year did so on paper, but about 300,000 students took the test online. Students improved most in early grades reading, and narrowed achievement gaps. In addition, the results show a need for deeper, more sustained work to support improvement. The release of the results of the latest statewide assessment, while flawed, do provide a data point for educators to consider. We encourage them to look at the results, take the result seriously and consider the steps they need to take to help all students and schools succeed.
In general, we must always be careful in determining teacher performance based strictly on the test scores of students to whom the teacher is assigned during a school year. The risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance based on test scores is too high for it to be the major indicator of teacher performance, especially when you look at issues such as student demographic characteristics. A number of states, including Michigan, have since taken steps to lessen the impact test scores have on teacher evaluations, repeatedly mentioning factors outside an educator’s control which can influence a student’s academic performance. The interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.
Moving forward, it is worth noting that Dr. Bill Sanders, the creator of value added assessment, warned of the misuse of TVAAS for individual teacher data because of its volatility. We would certainly remind policymakers of this detail. In fact, classroom observations by trained personnel, along with teacher and principal input, would likely produce far more consistent and reliable data for assessing the quality of teaching than scores on an annual assessment. Assessment outcomes cannot be viewed as a reliable or significant indicator of Tennessee student proficiency until we have consecutive years of stable test delivery in which students and educators are confident.
We look forward to continuing the dialogue with policymakers and working with all stakeholders toward creating a better framework for both educator evaluation and student assessment in Tennessee. We have proven as a state that we are willing to be innovative and now we have the opportunity to get it right. We are committed to working with stakeholders to improve implementation of state assessment so that parents, educators, and policymakers can continue to know how our students are faring each year. As we build on our success, and we need to move forward together.
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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.