New format

Tennessee soon will release its first TNReady scores — with a new look

PHOTO: Nic Garcia

Tennessee will release its first standardized test scores of the TNReady era in November, and will use a redesigned reporting format aimed at showing whether each student is on target, state officials said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education is releasing the scores months later than usual under the transition to its new assessment and will only include data for high school students. Tests were canceled last spring for grades 3-8 following TNReady’s failed online debut and subsequent printing delays that led to the test maker’s firing.

While state officials are attempting to rebuild trust in Tennessee’s school accountability system following TNReady’s rocky start, they say the redesigned report will help students, parents and educators better understand strengths, weaknesses and next steps for improvement.

The design is based on four levels of performance — mastered, on track, approaching, and below — that identify end-of-course knowledge and skills as defined by Tennessee’s current academic standards for math, English and U.S. history. Parents and families also will be able to compare a student’s performance with school, district and state averages.

The new report was developed over the course of a year with input from parents and educators across Tennessee. Here’s what it looks like:


This was the first year that Tennessee’s high school students took standardized tests based on the state’s current Common Core standards for math and English, which will be replaced in the fall of 2017 with revised standards approved earlier this year by the State Board of Education.

Casting both sets of standards as a higher bar, state leaders have sought to prepare families and educators to expect lower scores initially under TNReady than on past TCAP assessments. The new report, they say, is a way to better navigate the scores and what they mean.

“It is important for families and educators, as well as school and district leaders, to have an accurate understanding of how their students are growing and learning each year,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a press release. “The information in the new family reports provides parents with another perspective to help them engage in meaningful conversations about their student’s education … and to advocate for increased support and opportunities.”

The state usually releases its test scores during the summer in time for families and educators to use the data before a new school year begins. But this year’s scores were delayed because the scoring process is more extensive under TNReady, which emphasizes critical thinking skills over rote memorization. State leaders say next year’s results for high school families will arrive early next summer.

While full reports for students in grades 3-8 won’t be available this year, schools will receive some information for those students based on raw scores, to which families can request access. The state plans to issue revised family reports next fall for those students in math and English.

Because social studies will be a field test this year in grades 3-8, the subject will not generate score reports next fall. As for science, students in all grades will receive updated reports in 2018-19 under new standards and a new assessment for that subject.

You can see the state’s new parent guide to TNReady here. The state also will launch a new online resource this fall designed to help parents and families of high school students further understand the reports.

Detroit Story Booth

Why one woman thinks special education reform can’t happen in isolation

PHOTO: Colin Maloney
Sharon Kelso, student advocate from Detroit

When Sharon Kelso’s kids and grandkids were still in school, they’d come home and hear the same question from her almost every day: “How was your day in school?” One day, a little over a decade ago, Kelso’s grandson gave a troubling answer. He felt violated when security guards at his school conducted a mass search of students’ personal belongings.

Kelso, a Cass Tech grad, felt compelled to act. Eventually, she became the plaintiff in two cases which outlawed unreasonable mass searches of students in Detroit’s main district.

Fast forward to August, when her three great-nephews lost both their mother and father in the space of a week and Kelso became their guardian. Today, she asks them the same question she has asked two generations of Detroit students: “How was your day in school?”

The answers she receives still deeply inform her advocacy work.

Watch the full video here:

– Colin Maloney

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on, where this post first appeared.