New Tennessee TNReady scores released Friday show a third of all high school students are on track or have mastered their grade level in English and reading and 20 percent are on track in math.
The new release of the standardized testing scores mirror a national college readiness assessment, an expected outcome of the state moving to tougher grading standards this year as it sets a new benchmark on student achievement.
The numbers are almost parallel to ACT college readiness scores released in August, which showed 34 percent of Tennessee public school students met ACT’s college readiness benchmark in reading and 27 percent of Tennessee students met that mark in math.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has for weeks warned that the state's TNReady scores will read lower than any other year because the state wanted to mirror national grading standards. She also warned the numbers can't be compared to the test data from previous years.
"For the first time, we are able to provide educators, families, and students with better information about where students truly are on their path to college and careers,” McQueen said in a news release. “Tennessee’s students are growing into problem solvers and critical thinkers, and they are rising to meet the higher standards that are based on what our colleges and employers expect."
Year-end high school test scores in history also read lower than previous year tests, while science was graded under the previous benchmark. The state hopes to release district TNReady numbers within the next month, although no date has been set.
The new TNReady test was administered for the first time last school year in high school. Grades 3-8 tests were canceled in the spring after the state's test vendor couldn't deliver paper tests on time to districts, the final issue in a string of mishaps last year.
The move to tougher grading standards is in part due to the state's standardized test not accurately matching the ACT assessment, she said. The state has been called out by national organizations for its accuracy in reporting scores.
The grading standards were increased to align closer to the ACT, and the goal was to be honest in how proficient students are in their understanding of subjects, McQueen said. Student proficiency on the ACT test is lower than what has been reported in past years on the state's standardized tests.
“These results are an opportunity, and we want our teachers, families, and students to know we will all grow from here,” McQueen said. “In past transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term—and students performed better on national assessments, including by making our state the fastest improving in the country."
The presentation of scores caps a tumultuous past year for McQueen and the Tennessee Department of Education.
On Feb. 8, the first day of testing, McQueen made the call to halt the online portion of the TNReady test due to issues statewide. The state's testing company later said it couldn't meet the necessary demands of students taking the test.
The education department opted to switch to paper tests. However, the problems only snowballed as Measurement Inc., the vendor, missed repeated deadlines to provide millions of paper versions to the state’s 146 school districts.
In April the state canceled Measurement Inc.'s contract. Pearson Education was then contracted to grade high school tests and Questar Assessment was announced in July as the state's new vendor, to the tune of a two year, $30 million contract.
Substantial changes have been announced for the 2016-17 school year's TNReady test, including shorter testing times.
Reach Jason Gonzales at 615-259-8047 and on Twitter @ByJasonGonzales.