Memphis, Tenn. — In school, everything and everyone is on the clock -from the time school starts and ends, to all the tests in between.
“In reality, we`re racing…we`re not racing to the top, we`re racing to the edge of a cliff, and dropping our kids off there, unprepared.”
Dwana Cranford is an 11th grade English teacher at a high school in rural, West Tennessee.
“We`re spending more time teaching them how to take a test than we are teaching the subject matter,” said Cranford.
She reached out to WREG after the latest failures with TN Ready.
“Our districts are spending money on preparing us and preparing the kids for this test, and then the test doesn`t work!”
For the third year in a row, there was trouble with the state’s standardized tests.
This time the maker, blamed a hack.
LeeAnn Shelton is a Library Media Specialist at the same school as Cranford.
“It was very frustrating with students trying to get on, could not get on.”
Shelton also works on the school’s technology committee, which directly oversees testing.
“It just became an out of control situation,” explained Shelton regarding some students testing and others not being able to begin.
Shelton has been in education for 22 years.
Cranford has been teaching for 15 years.
She says TN Ready, with its multiple select and increased writing, is much different from previous tests, and even the ACT.
“It is entirely too long, the formatting is set up to be tricky and confusing.”
Cranford says she had struggling students discuss dropping out, and high performing students who went to extremes to deal with the pressure.
“Started taking prescription drugs like Adderall, buying them off the street so they could focus on the test .”
Cranford decided to take a closer look at just how much time students were actually testing.
“We spend a whole entire day, on just the English Language Arts test.”
Compare that, she said to the ACT, which they’d just given a month prior.
“The ACT which tests four subject areas started at eight-ish and was over at 11:30.”
If you take a closer look, on paper, the actual test times for TN Ready are longer than some college entrance exams.
Looking over the data Cranford explained, “English was 230 minutes. And the ACT, is just 175 minutes long.”
In real time, that’s 3 hours and 50 minutes for the English portion of TN Ready versus two hours and 55 minutes for the entire ACT.
“Geometry 145 minutes, biology 75 minutes, chemistry 75 minutes, US history 140 minutes,” continued Cranford as she explained the testing times for TN Ready End of Course (EOC) Exams for high school students.
WREG did the math.
By the time a high schooler gets finished, he or she would have tested over three weeks for 590 minutes, that’s almost 10 hours.
That’s longer than it takes for tests for graduate school, law school even med school.
“To put it into perspective, if you are going to law school, the admissions test to become a lawyer is just 210 minutes,” said Cranford.
Middle schoolers aren’t far behind with a total of more than nine hours of testing.
“And the thing that really made me reach out to you was looking back at the third grade.”
The English Language Arts portion alone runs three hours and 36 minutes for third graders.
Cranford said, “That`s ridiculous.”
The total testing time for third graders is more than seven hours.
“If I was a parent of a third grader I would, and I saw these times, I think I would be gathering up a group of parents and contacting Nashville.”
This is sort of what’s happening in Cranford and Shelton’s community.
After seeing increased violence and a recent homicide in their small town, Cranford says it forced them to truly examine their role in children’s lives.
“Where do they go for 10 months out of the year, five days a week, eight hours a day, they’re with us.”
That time she says is valuable.
“We`re helping raise them. We need to be build relationships with them, have time to learn each one of them and how they work and how they learn.”
And should be spent, says Cranford, providing a quality education that excites and engages students, hopefully providing an alternative to what’s outside.
“If we`re going to compete with the street, they have to like school, even a little. We can`t compete as long as we`re testing them incessantly just repeatedly, back to back, over and over again.”
The Tennessee Department of Education says it’s already made a number of changes regarding TN Ready and testing times. For example, a spokesperson says they’ve already reduced some testing times by 30% compared to years past. Plus, some of the tests have been divided into smaller sections. Also, next year, there will be additional cuts to the ELA tests for third and fourth graders and they’re eliminating the Chemistry and English III TN Ready exams for high school.
“We are continuing to gather feedback from our Assessment Task Force on other ways we can streamline testing – recognizing that the state assessment, in addition to being federally required, provides all of us with helpful information about how all Tennessee students are doing using the same yard stick,” said Tennessee Department of Education spokesperson Sara Gast in an emailed statement.
Update on TN Ready Challenges
Investigations inside and outside the Education Department remain ongoing, according to the DoE. It also recently announced it will use a new vendor for test development and design. Gast says they will determine how to best move forward with Questar after the current reviews are complete.
Full Statement from TN DoE Spokesperson
“There are several ongoing investigations into the problems this year, including some led by the department and some that are being led by outside agencies. Those remain in process.
There are several components of assessment, including test development, design, delivery, and reporting. We announced last week that we will use a new vendor (ETS) for test development and design for all our four content areas for the coming year (ETS currently develops and designs science and social studies and will now take on math and English language arts). Questar is currently our primary assessment vendor for delivery and reporting of the test. We will determine how to best move forward as we learn more from the ongoing reviews that are in process. This change to ETS for test design will help to ensure that the layout of the test, the instructions, the questions themselves, and other design elements are well done across all content areas, which will address many of the concerns we’ve heard. It also focuses Questar’s management on a narrower scope of work.
We continue to talk with our teachers and district leaders about how we can improve, and while we announced some initial ways last week, we will continue to identify and announce other ways we can do so over the coming weeks. Further, we have made a number of changes in recent years to reduce testing, including reducing time by about 30%, moving to one test window at the end of the school year, breaking the test into smaller sections that can fit more seamlessly into the school day, and cutting the science and social studies test in half for students in third and fourth grade. This coming year, we will also make additional cuts to the English language arts test in third and fourth grades and we are eliminating two high school TNReady exams: chemistry and English III.
We are continuing to gather feedback from our Assessment Task Force on other ways we can streamline testing – recognizing that the state assessment, in addition to being federally required, provides all of us with helpful information about how all Tennessee students are doing using the same yard stick.
I would also want to note for you that in the past week, two national organizations have noted Tennessee is at the top of the list as a state who has earned an “A” and No. 1 status for the work we have done to have high academic expectations and an aligned assessment with TNReady. In large part because of TNReady, we are providing more honest feedback to families about their child’s performance, and our students are learning and growing to meet these high expectations. (See more here.) TNReady is a test that looks for students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills and is fully aligned to what our teachers are teaching. Now we need to focus on ensuring that administration of the test is seamless.”