Why It’s Important to Refuse the Test

Tennessee’s public school teachers and parents are increasingly aware of how excessive standardized testing has become in our state. Children spend hours upon hours taking standardized tests every year. The high-stakes standardized testing racket in Tennessee deprives students of learning time, shifts teachers’ focus from teaching to testing, and wastes huge sums of money.

There are only eight states that allow you to opt your child out of testing. Tennessee is NOT one of those states. However, there are no state laws in TN that require your child to take any TNReady test, so you and your child can refuse the test.

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How to Refuse the Test

To refuse the test, you’ll need to make your request in writing and explain to your child why they will not be taking the test and to not be pressured into taking the test.

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TNReady Failures: A Timeline

In 2002, President Bush signed “No Child Left Behind” into law. The new legislation expanded the federal role in public education, creating a new emphasis on standardized testing with the requirement of annual assessments and reporting of annual academic progress data. NCLB was a failure.

In 2003, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) entered into a $41.3 million contract with CBT/McGraw Hill for TCAP testing between 2003-2008.

In 2004, the TDOE entered into a $6.5 million contract with Measurement, Inc., for scoring of its TCAP writing assessments between 2004-2008.

In 2007, the National Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an “F” in “truth in advertising” after comparing Tennessee proficiency standards on state assessments to NAEP scores.

In 2007-2008, the era of corporate/business driven education reforms began as Tennessee phased in the American Diploma Project, which led to more stringent high school graduation requirements and more demanding curriculum, as well as a newfound emphasis on accountability and assessment data. This led to “grading” schools on an “A-F” scale. (?)

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit of the 2007-2008 assessment. It revealed that the TDOE used maximum security prison inmates to check counts of test materials and to prepare student responses for scanning. Audit findings also criticized the TDOE for insufficiently monitoring Measurement, Inc. in scoring the TCAP writing assessments. MI hired test answer readers that lacked qualifications and failed to properly conduct read-behinds. (At one point, Measurement, Inc. was caught hiring readers off Craigslist for approximately $11 per hour to score students’ writing assessments.) The lack of TDOE oversight called into question test score reliability. The OIG also criticized TDOE for not having adequate written policies and procedures for internal controls and further reprimanded TDOE for using vendor contracts missing key provisions for adherence to industry standards.

In 2010, Tennessee was awarded a $501.8 million “Race to the Top” federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant came with strings attached, and Tennessee passed its own “First to the Top” legislation to comply with grant requirements. Tennessee created the Achievement School District (to usher in more charter schools), and began linking teacher evaluations and student grading to testing. The new law effectively removed 30 days of instruction time from the school calendar each year to accommodate standardized testing.

In 2011, teacher tenure reform legislation went into effect and linked teacher tenure to testing results.

In 2011, TCAP test results were made public on the TDOE website.

During the 2011-2012 school year, First to the Top went into effect, and high stakes testing became reality. Among other things, TCAP scores began to count for 15% to 25% of 2nd semester grades for Grades 3-8. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-1-617), and the TDOE was required to identify a list of priority, focus, and rewards schools (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-1-602).

The 2012-2013 school year marked the beginnings of a misalignment between the newly mandated state standards and TCAP testing. TDOE was transitioning to Common Core State Standards while TCAP testing was still based mostly on the old SPIs (State Performance Indicators). Despite this misalignment, high stakes were still attached to TCAP scores.

In 2014, plans for high-stakes testing failed. To remedy the misalignment between the curriculum and TCAP test items, post-equating changes were made to tests. The TDOE could not deliver quick scores on time to local school districts, and the delay prevented teachers from turning in their grades on time for report cards before summer break. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman walked back the new state law requiring TCAP scores to be included in grades and granted a statewide waiver was allowing school boards to decide if TCAP scores should be counted in grades. Legislators questioned whether Huffman had the power to waive a requirement they enacted into state law. A subsequent Tennessee Attorney General Opinion stated that the Tennessee Education Commissioner was allowed to issue the test score waivers. Because of the problems with testing, the law changed yet again, and new legislation went into effect allowing local school districts to waive using TCAP scores in student grades if quick scores are not received within 5 instructional days before the end of course. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-1-617(b))

In 2015, as a result of growing disenchantment with high stakes testing, a Tennessee Testing Task Force was appointed. The task force was criticized for being heavy dominated by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), a corporate reform group that has lobbied for school privatization, and for lacking an authentic voice for teachers, parents and students. That same year, Christy Ballard, General Counsel for the TDOE, released a memo in response to a growing grassroots opt-out movement, stating that “parents and/or students may not opt out of state mandated content or instructional programs, including assessments.” The memo also stated, “Parents do have the constitutional right to direct their children’s education, which is why parents in Tennessee and other states have many educational options from which to choose (e.g. private school, home school, public school, etc.). However, once parents select public school for their children’s education, there are many aspects of the content and instructional programs that are mandated by law.”

During the 2014-2015 school year, the TDOE made a surprise change in how it calculated quick scores for student grades. The new cube root methodology was controversial because it created artificially high quick scores for students whose TCAP score would later show a lack of proficiency. Some parents and teachers speculated that the super high new quick scores were created to please parents and deter the growing opt-out movement. McQueen sent out a letter confirming quick scores were for calculation of student grades only and did not necessarily correlate with proficiency.

During this same year, TCAP expanded to include a writing assessment for all Grades 3-11. Previously, the writing assessment was a stand-alone test given in Grades 5, 8, and 11. Districts were also encouraged to add K-2 standardized testing with the SAT10.

The 2015-2016 school year was the first year for online testing, and it was a dismal failure. Measurement Inc.’s MIST testing platform frequently crashed due to a severe network outage. Quick scores were waived from being counted in student grades. The roll out of the new standards aligned with the TNReady test was delayed for a year when the legislature outlawed PARCC testing. As a result, the TDOE signed a $108M contract with Measurement Inc. using AIR as its subcontractor. AIR is affiliated with the Smarter Balanced test, a competitor to Pearson’s PARCC assessment.

On May 16, 2016, Candice McQueen sent out a letter to superintendents announcing the termination of the Measurement, Inc. contract on April 27, 2016. The immediate termination of Measurement, Inc. forced TDOE to spend yet more money on testing and execute an emergency contract with Pearson to score and report 2015-2016 assessments. The state hired a new test vendor, Questar Assessment, Inc., which received a $60M contract for 2 years. In June 2017, Measurement Inc. filed a $25.3M lawsuit against TDOE.

During the 2016-2017 school year, testing finally aligned with the new state standards for the first time, and TCAP was renamed TNReady. Due to prior failures, online testing was abandoned, and the TDOE returned to paper tests. However, there were still problems. Questar incorrectly scored almost 10,000 tests, which affected 70 schools in 33 districts. Quick scores were once again waived from being counted in student grades.

During the 2017-2018 school year, the TDOE attempted online testing again, and it was a complete disaster. Testing was abruptly cancelled midstream due to widespread technical problems. TDOE blamed an outside “deliberate attack” and a dump truck for the outages. Later, TDOE recanted and said that Questar was at fault. An attempt to print paper tests was initiated but soon scrapped, and testing was cancelled for the year.

Meanwhile a new law, Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-1-617, changed the weight of TNReady included in student grades for grades 3-5 from 0% to 25% and in grades 6-8 from 10% to 25% . ??

In June, 2018, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Questar would continue as Tennessee’s 2018-2019 testing vendor to administer and score TNReady, but that the TDOE would  also contract with ETS for test design and development.

In 2019, a paper version of TNReady test was administered without any major incidents. In June 2019, the TDOE signed a two-year contract with a new testing vendor, Pearson, for $40 million, and the state legislature passed a law requiring TNReady be administered as a paper test for the 2019-2020 school year.

During 2020, TNReady was cancelled due to the pandemic, but Pearson delivered the paper TNReady tests that would be stored for use in 2021.

This year, 2020-2021, despite the large number of students attending school virtually, the state has demanded that TNReady will be administered in person. In the midst of a pandemic, while students and teachers are struggling, the state has declared that all high stakes will be attached to TCAP score unless school distrits attain at least an 80% in-person participation rate for testing. A waiver is supposed to be available to districts with less than 80% participation; however, the requirements and application procedure for such waiver has not been released to school districts, and many doubt that Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, who has pushed for the testing, will grant any waivers. If districts do not comply with in-person testing requirement, they risk state-takeover of their schools and being “graded” on a patently unfair A-F grading scale.

During the 2021 special legislative session in February, the legislature rushed through new legislation within 72 hours at Governor Lee’s request without any real input from school districts, educators or parents. The new legislation will require school districts across the state to retain any third grader who does not test as “proficient” in reading, and it’s expected that around 60% of third graders will not be promoted during the 2022-2023 school year, when the new law goes into effect. The Governor used misleading language to pass the new law, because many of  the children who will be held back are actually reading on grade level.