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VOL. 39 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 11, 2015

Task force: Eliminate tests for kindergarten, 1st grade

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Annual standardized exams should be eliminated for Tennessee kindergarteners and first-graders amid teacher concerns that students are being tested too much, according to a state task force.

The recommendation was among 16 released on Tuesday by the task force Education Commissioner Candice McQueen formed in March. The group also recommended eliminating certain tests for eighth- and 10th-graders.

The report follows a recent survey of nearly 37,000 teachers that showed 60 percent say they spend too much time helping students prepare for statewide exams, and seven out of 10 believe their students spend too much time taking exams.

Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the state's largest teachers' union, criticized what he called high-stakes testing that many teachers have long said factor too heavily into their evaluations.

"If a school can be closed, or a principal be fired, or a teacher's career be damaged b ecause of the standardized tests, then that warps everything that we end up doing in education," said Wrye, who is with the Tennessee Education Association.

While the task force didn't elaborate on the impact of eliminating the selected standardized tests, the report noted that some districts are utilizing and requiring a variety of additional benchmarks throughout the year to measure student progress that may not be used for instructional decision making, or might be similar to current state assessments.

"Assessments help educators measure student learning, but we must ensure that the assessments we invest our time and resources in are providing meaningful and actionable information to teachers, parents, and students to actually help improve student achievement," McQueen said.

The task force report comes as the state prepares to give new tests in math and English to students in grades three through 11 in the spring.

The new assessment, called TNReady, is part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, which includes achievement tests and end-of-course exams for science, social students, math and English.

Officials say the new test is designed to measure students' understanding of the material, not just memorization and test-taking skills. They say it will better measure students' progress and make sure they are on track to succeed after graduation.

Among other recommendations in the report, the task force said test items from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program should be released to students, parents and educators in order to provide better information and more transparency on student understanding and performance.

Wrye applauded that recommendation because he said the teachers' union supported several legislative bills last year that sought to provide more transparency in regards to student testing.

"We send home quizzes and tests all the time with parents, so the parents can see what the students were asked, and what the answers were," he said. "We're really excited that the state department is ... thinking about testing transparency too."

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