Teachers across Tennessee kept alerting Momma Bears to concerns about the new TNREADY test. They said TNREADY is intentionally confusing for students, way too advanced for each grade level by several years, they said their schools have been and will continue to be disrupted by the testing schedules and lack of adequate technology, the teachers worry that higher numbers of students are predicted to fail it, and they complained that TNREADY requires even more precious class time to prepare for and administer than previous tests.
So, some of our Momma Bears bloggers spent a precious Saturday taking the sample TNREADY tests and trying to get answers. Here is what we observed on the Sample TNREADY computerized tests:
- Difficult to read passages: A tiny 4-inch scroll window to read long passages of text. This requires good mouse skills and eye tracking. (see pic below) Students with knowledge of how to expand the reading pane using the little tab in the middle, and collapse it again to get to the test questions, will fare better. This format isn't like any of the internet sites or reading apps that most children are accustomed to; they will need to be taught how to navigate those tools for the sole purpose of taking this test.
- Tiny window for the test questions: It was barely large enough to show all the answer options, and not large enough to show the “RESET/UNDO” buttons at the bottom of the question unless the student scrolled lower. See the photo below to understand how students are supposed to write an entire essay response in a text box that is about 4" square. Typing, mind you, which elementary students aren't fluent in doing; their hands aren't even large enough to reach all the keys properly. So, they will be hunting and pecking letter keys to write an essay in a box the size of a cell phone screen.
- Distracting numbers on ELA test: Bold paragraph numbers along the left margin of the text passages.
4 Quite distracting
5 if you're trying
6 to read something.
7 Isn't it?
- Wasteful of time and mean: We wasted 5 whole minutes of our lives reading a long, dull passage, but there wasn't even a question about it. That was the little kid test too! Just plain mean to do that to elementary aged children. Will it be that way on the real test? We'll never know since the test questions are top-secret, even if we ask for them. Teachers aren't even allowed to see the tests, and if they do and talk about it, they could lose their jobs.
- Technology issues: The mouse was jumpy and the cord got in the way. This was on a laptop computer that was 1-2 years old.
- Slow internet: This was at a school that was fortunate to have more wireless routers and newer computers than other schools in the district. It took considerable time for each passage and question to load. Schools with lots of students testing are prone to overload the system and have slower test connections. As one principal rightly remarked, “It is wrong to hold teachers accountable for the little spinning wheel while students wait for the test to load.”
- Number lock button: How many students know to unlock the number pad for the math test? It took one mom a few minutes to realize why her numbers weren’t working because her home laptop doesn't have a number keypad lock key like that laptop did. Some students might know this keyboard trick, but kids without this same type of computer in their homes or classrooms are at a disadvantage. Cross your fingers and hope the person before your child didn't push the button down.
- Confusing format: The “Done” button doesn’t mean “done with the question”… it means done with the whole test, and it exits the entire test if you click it. You have to click “NEXT” to stay in the test and go to the next question. How many times did one tech-savvy Momma Bear accidentally exit this 6-question test? Three times. Three frustrating times. Grrrr... Now multiply that times a classroom of kids. We see why teachers are concerned.
- Strange icon buttons at the top of the test: We never really did understand the purpose of the square button with the circle in it. It seemed to make portions of the screen black if you clicked it and then dragged on the arrows on the margins. One teacher told us it was to “isolate” text for students who had trouble focusing. But teachers aren’t allowed to do it for students, so the student, who has trouble focusing, must focus enough to click that icon, drag it himself to the passage, and must then know how to click the tiny little X at the top corner to exit that tool, otherwise, the child won’t be able to see the rest of the question. It sounds like more trouble than it is worth. How many kids will click that button accidentally or on purpose and struggle trying to figure out the test?
- "Highlight" instructions: (see pic below) The question clearly says “highlighted” but do you see any highlighted words in the picture below? Nope, they are underlined. True, the underlined parts turn yellow when you scroll over them, but semantics, people. Our kids deserve correctness on such an important test. Think literally like a child. Even worse, you HAD to scroll over it because in one text, the whole paragraph was underlined but when you scrolled over it, it was really three highlighted sections. How many 3rd-5th graders are going to count for all 5 spots to answer before clicking the "Next" button?
- Couldn't pick the answers we wanted to: This question below was impossible to answer because of the screen size. It wouldn’t let you drag and drop this answer choice to the 2nd slot because it wasn’t on the visible part of the screen. Yes, we could have put it in the 5th slot and then scrolled up and moved it, but then again, we’re tech-savvy and all from years of playing Tetris and packing diaper bags. Could a 9 year-old child figure this out easily?
- What the heck did we do? Ever seen a three-tiered fraction? Well, we somehow made one on the 3rd-5th grade test. Not sure how that happened.
- Multiple Choice Fakes: So, the TDOE claims that TNREADY is way better than the A,B,C,D multiple choice TCAP tests were. But the whole test is filled with the same concept of pick one of 4 choices! (see pic below)
- Questions for younger grades were way too difficult. Seriously, these multi-step word problems were like what we remember seeing on the high school ACT college entrance exams. Except, this was for 3rd-5th grade children!
We question the real reason for this test. Is it to test what children learned in a grade level? Or could it be testing children’s grit, frustration levels, and perseverance? Are they trying to make kids cry? Will the student give up or keep testing? Are these online assessments collecting data points to assess character traits? That’s crazy to consider… but then you read this paper from the Federal Department of Education, and you get a sick feeling in your stomach. These are children, for goodness sake! OUR children. It is not okay to screw with their heads. It is not okay to frustrate them with a test that is too difficult for them. It is not okay to label them as failing due to a stinking test that nobody is allowed to see. Crushing their spirits with mind-numbing, developmentally inappropriate tests and robbing them of the joy of learning is abusive.
Even worse, the cut scores of these tests are set in secret AFTER the tests are administered. The cut scores are set so that a certain percentage of students will be in the bottom failing tier no matter what. No matter what, kids will fail, even if they all magically answer nearly all of the questions correctly. What is that percentage for Tennessee? We're willing to bet there's already a number in some ogliarch's head of how many advanced, proficient, and failing kids there will be on the TNREADY. Don't believe us? Tennessee did it last year with the TCAP writing test when they only allowed 100 students to have "perfect scores" on their tests. TN Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen, is already predicting that scores for TNREADY will fall across the board.
You know which students will be in that bottom failing percentage category? Sadly, it is the poorest, most vulnerable students in the state... the ones that don't have parents who can afford tutors... whose parents don't understand this confusing Common Core math to help their children... students in communities with high crime, high poverty, and instability... students who speak little or no English... students with learning disabilities... students who are hungry because they didn't get breakfast that morning or dinner the night before... Those students will fail, their schools will be labeled as "failing," and will be handed over to charter school vultures to profit from. It is a vicious cycle of failure leading to the pocketbooks of those at the top of the food chain. These tests serve a purpose. Once you understand that, it makes you furious to see how students, teachers, principals, districts, and the media play right into their hands like pawns.
All of this testing madness begs the question…
What are we gonna do about it?
The TDOE says parents can’t do anything. Every child (except their own that are in private schools) must take TNREADY. Districts that allow parents to opt-out/refuse are at risk of losing desperately needed funding from the state. The state sent out this official memo to districts to bully parents. It says parents may homeschool or choose private school if they don’t want their children taking state mandated tests. So, there are your options: homeschool or private school. Is that okay with you? A group of APPOINTED people are saying this, by the way… The TN Board of Education, all appointed by the Governor… The Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen, appointed by Governor Haslam… even the Governor’s family won’t put their kids in public schools. Why is it okay for the rest of us "commoners" then?
Okay, so back to the million dollar question…
WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO ABOUT IT???
You can try refusing/opting-out. You will be told you can’t. Yes, that’s bull-poo-poo. They are your children and the Constitution is on your side. Even so, you'll be told you can't.
You can tell your child not to take the test. This method puts the burden on your child to refuse. Will they obey their parent... or obey their teacher? We don’t like this option, but it is better than nothing. This year, refusing the test shouldn’t hurt student report cards because the TDOE won’t even have the scores back to the districts in time for final report cards (NOTE: the test scores will still hurt teacher evaluation scores). The TNREADY scores are supposed to be sent to districts in October. That’s way into the next school year! How helpful is that to parents and teachers? Not at all.
Okay, so that’s one option. The other, for those of you that have the means, is to withdraw your child to homeschool during the testing windows. If you don’t want to go that extreme, you could schedule annual doctor appointments, dentist checkups, etc to get excused absences. The monstrous problem with that is that the TNREADY testing windows are ghastly long… Nearly 2 whole months of testing! We’re not kidding. Click HERE to see the testing windows for TNREADY set by the TDOE are:
February 8 - March 4 for Part I of TNREADY
April 18 - May 13 for Part II of TNREADY
April 25-May 6 for the Science TCAP (given on paper)
We don’t like that option, either. Missing school isn’t what is best for students. Parents in other states have the right to Opt-Out, but Tennessee does not (It's a long story involving expensive lobbyists paid for by the testing companies and generous campaign contributions to politicians...grrrr!). Other states have massive Opt-Out movements over tests just like the TNREADY. Other states are demanding change in testing by opting-out/refusing the tests. In fact, over half-a-million students opted out of state mandated tests last year in the U.S.A. So you can see that this high-stakes testing problem isn't isolated to Tennessee.
Alas, it looks like our hands are tied, parents. There's nothing we can do. Better just shut up and pretend this isn't happening, right? Sorry, Governor Haslam, today is not your lucky day. Even though our hands are tied, our voices are not. And parents, your voice is your strongest weapon to protect your child. You must use it. You need to call, email, visit, and royally bug the stew out of your elected officials until this mess goes away. Do the pestering politely, of course. But they need to know that voting parents are very concerned about this. Legislative session starts in January. The time to act is now.
Here’s a list of folks to contact:
- school board members for your district
- Superintendent for your district
- Elected House Representative click HERE to find yours
- Elected Senator click HERE to find yours
- Governor Haslam! (gets most of the blame for this because he appointed the people who are making these awful mandates!)
- TN State Board of Education (appointed by the Governor) click click HERE to contact them
We were told that 70 teachers in one district recently took the practice 3rd grade Social Studies test (you have to have a password to access that practice test). These were excellent teachers with over 50 of them being Level 5 teachers (the highest rating a teacher can get). Of these 70 excellent, college-educated teachers, how many of them PASSED the 3rd grade Social Studies practice test?
Take a wild guess.
One single teacher passed the 3rd grade Social Studies practice test out of 70. One! If adults can't pass it, third grade children don’t stand a chance!
If that isn’t a huge red warning flag to you, then you must be squeezing your eyes shut and plugging your ears.
Still in doubt? Go to this link and see the sample TNREADY questions for yourself. Start with the 3rd-5th grade questions for English or Math. Or if you’re really fearless, attempt an older grade level’s test questions. There are only 6 sample questions for each, you have time to do six measly elementary questions, right? You’re smart enough to read this far in our blog, so you can surely answer half-a-dozen elementary standardized test questions...
Go on, try it. We’ll wait right here and hum the Jeopardy theme song while you do it. Take your time...
Brutal, huh? Did the test questions load quickly for you or did you get the spinny time wheel like we did? Were you baffled by the MIST testing layout and multi-step questions? Are you wondering how young children with little or no keyboard training, who have trouble opening a milk carton without spilling milk, are expected to navigate a keyboard and mouse just like a doctoral student? Remember, teachers’ jobs are on the line for this test. Your child’s test scores are a major part of their job evaluation scores. The stakes are high, and your children feel it. Better hope they are tnREADY.
We've heard from many teachers who said students were upset or cried during the practice tests in class. Teachers told us that their SPED students tended to lose hope and give up during the tests, so they just randomly click through the questions to get finished. Teachers confided to us that some of their brightest, most advanced students have tears running down their faces when they try to complete test questions covering material they haven't been taught yet. Students complain of stomachaches and headaches. Students have barfed on tests before. If that happens, don't fret, because there's a handy-dandy testing procedure to follow to save the test.
Parents, we must speak up. You know too much now. You know this is wrong. This testing obsession is harmful to children and wasteful of their time.
Share the sample test questions with your legislators and school board members. Show them this blog. Ask them to just try a few questions, and tell them to remember when they or their own children were 8 years old. Better yet, ask them to proctor a test or try to take the real test.
Okay, Momma Bears, Poppa Bears, GrannieBears, and GrampaBears, here is YOUR homework:
Contact that bright red list of important people we gave you up above in this blog. Make some noise! Be louder than the TNREADY radio advertisements that the Governor’s fake parent group is broadcasting in districts where citizens are speaking against the testing. Be bolder than their fancy billboards, more compassionate than their overpaid lobbyists, and more convincing than their slick colored pamphlets. We can do this!
TNREADY or NOT... HERE WE COME!!!