The Intersection

On the Road to Success with Higher Standards and an Aligned Assessment in Tennessee

October 23, 2014

“Will this test be multiple-choice?” I heard a student ask as I passed out an assessment to the class. “No. Why do you want a multiple-choice test?” I responded. “Because multiple choice tests are easier,” he said.

I thought about the student’s response, and it was more than merely wanting a simpler test. He knew that in our math class, high level thinking on assessments was an expectation. On assessments, students in my classes were asked to create tables, equations, and graphs that modeled real, relevant situations. They may have been invited to select from responses, but an explanation eminently followed. They would get the opportunity to construct answers on their own. Students knew that they would justify their thinking and critique the reasoning of others. They knew that they would get a chance to problem solve, analyze, reason, and write. My student’s definition of easy was simply bubbling in the right answer and remain in the easy comfort zone of a low-level, multiple-choice test.

In recent years, I have been so proud of my state for so many reasons: Tennessee educators have been leaders in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) consortium; and involved in the development of assessments aligned with Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards. Over the last three years, Tennessee achieved great heights in implementing higher standards by training thousands of teachers in peer-led professional development about the standards. We increased our standards. We raised expectations. We were committed to preparing students for college and career, and we were convinced that higher standards and aligned assessments were the roads to that success.

As an eighth-grade math teacher, I have lived in two worlds for the last two years. All year I would teach my students the deep math concepts that came with learning Tennessee’s Academic Standards, not to mention the math practice standards that gave them the opportunity to apply modeling, reasoning, and problem solving. Yet, at the end of the year they were required to take a high stakes assessment that was not aligned with the standards and practices that they had been engaged in all year. Earlier this year Tennessee legislators delayed the implementation of aligned assessments for another year.

This has been frustrating to say the least, yet now I am hopeful. In August, Tennessee education leaders issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a new statewide assessment that would be aligned to Tennessee’s Academic Standards, have the ability to be given online, and include open-ended questions. By December we will know which company came out on top during the RFP process. Tennessee’s journey to successfully preparing all of our students for college and career has veered off the road just a bit. This legislative session, it is my hope that we will get back on track and that all stakeholders will support whichever test wins the RFP process.

Staying on the course with high-level standards and an aligned assessment are the supports that our students need on this road to high achievement in college and career.

Ms. Woodard’s blog was modified for The Intersection. The original article was posted in The Tennessean.

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