Originally reported on Chalkbeat.org.
Next spring, Tennessee’s third-graders will spend at least three and half hours less on end-of-year standardized tests.
That’s among the concrete details provided by the State Department of Education in a lengthy Q&A Thursday about next year’s assessments in Tennessee.
Department leaders also announced they have finalized the state’s contract with Questar, the Minnesota-based company introduced last week as Tennessee’s new test maker after firing its previous vendor in April.
In light of this spring’s tumultuous testing period, which included canceling tests altogether for grades 3-8, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the department is presenting as many details as possible about the timeline and structure of the next year’s tests, with the hopes of “changing the tone around assessment” in Tennessee.
“We want to be responsive to the feedback we hear. … We continue to apologize for last year’s experience. Our goal is to make this positive experience,” she said during a conference call with district officials, news media, and Questar CEO Jamie Candee.
Candee spoke briefly about how Questar plans to build trust in Tennessee and addressed concerns about the short timeline the testing company has to deliver assessments. Fall high school testing is scheduled to start Nov. 28.
“We know the responsibility we have to your educators and students is a very important one,” Candee said. “We are confident (we can) deliver (the assessments) under your timeline.”
Here are some of the highlights released Thursday. The department’s full Q&A on next year’s test is available here.
Students will spend less time taking standardized tests, and testing will be confined to the end of the school year.
End-of-year testing will be reduced by 30 percent, addressing complaints of overtesting from parents and loss of instructional time from teachers.
State officials announced in April that Part I of the math test will be dropped. Now it’s dropping Part I for all four subjects, meaning almost all TCAP testing will occur in late April and early May, unlike last year when students also tested in February and March. During that window, students will take the tests in a series of shorter parts, some as short as 30 minutes, so they can fit into regular classroom periods.
Teachers will have planning materials next week — and they won’t look that different from last year’s.
Teachers have been waiting longer than usual for “blueprints” that summarize what will be on each assessments, so they can plan their school year which begins in early August.
The blueprints will be available next week, said Tammy Shelton, the department’s director of content and resources. The material and standards assessed will be similar to last year’s, she said, though the blueprints will reflect the new structure. Practice test questions will be available in August, and students will be able to take practice tests online beginning in early November.
For the most part, tests will be taken with pencil and paper, but some high schools might choose to test their students online.
After last year’s testing experience, in which the online platform buckled on the first day of testing, department officials are easing into things. High schools may have the option to take the test online this year, but only if Questar’s testing platform demonstrates “early proof of successful online administration” in Tennessee schools during practice runs.