By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The Wilson County Board of Education discussed the replacement of the TNReady student assessment with ACT Achieve testing for the next school year Thursday night at its meeting.

Officially known as the Wilson County Board of Education Assessment Act of 2019, the measure, which will still fall under the federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act, permits local education agencies to administer a locally selected assessment in lieu of the state-designated assessment as long as the locally selected assessment is a nationally recognized assessment approved by the state.

TNReady is the current testing program and is part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, which is given to students from third through eighth grades. It is designed to assess true student understanding, not just basic memorization and test-taking skills.   

According to Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright, the TNReady tests are designed to assess what students know and what can be done to help them succeed.

“The [TNReady] has been plagued by issues that have resulted in assessment results being inconsistent and invalid,” she said.

In the past four years the TNReady tests were given, the program came under fire because of software problems that often slowed the test results or made them unavailable.

Wright said the American College Testing is a nationally recognized high school assessment approved for use by the state.   

“The ACT provides consistent and valid assessment results that measure true student understanding in furtherance of the goal of the,” she said.

“Utilizing the ACT will provide Wilson County Schools with the ability to compare the growth and achievement high school students from year to year. ACT assessment results will provide invaluable information for Wilson County teachers regarding what can be done to help every student succeed.”

While the ACT is given to high school students as a requirement to get into some colleges, a program that branched off the ACT is the ACT Aspire, which offers a system of “aligned summative assessments that can be implemented at a state, district, or school level,” Wright said.

“ACT Aspire provides classrooms, districts and states aggregate growth statistics to measure how much growth occurred in each growth category.”

Wright said ACT Aspire data could be used as an indicator for program effectiveness. 

“ACT Aspire provides a standards-based system of assessments to monitor progress toward college and career readiness for grades three through early high school,” Wright said.

She said both the ACT Aspire and the ACT measure student development of knowledge and skills in English, mathematics, reading, science and writing for third graders through seniors.   

The TNReady test measures knowledge in English-language arts, math, science and social studies.

“The Wilson County Board of Education is committed to maintaining student achievement and growth at the highest level possible,” Wright said. “The ACT Aspire and the ACT will be appropriate and reliable methods of assessment for students. The Wilson County Board of Education shall administer ACT Aspire and the ACT in lieu of the state-designated assessment for students beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. The assessment results shall fulfill the testing accountability requirements under the [TCAP] and the Every Student Succeeds Act.“

There is a cost to the ACT Aspire test, and board member Wayne McNeese asked how the school system would recoup the cost.

“We’re not the only county to do this,” Wright said. “Two years ago, there were seven systems that did this exact same thing. We would ask, if approved, that the cost that would have been expended on TNReady [be used for the ACT Achieve]. That will be part of the request. It’s just not in the resolution itself.”

McNeese asked if the testing is changed, “can we get away from merit-based pay [for teachers]?”

Wright said, “I don’t see that that will be something teachers will look at what they see in their performance pay. It will still measure teacher effectiveness. I think that’s something the board will have to determine that we want to get out from performance pay and what would be the will of the teachers. Those aren’t bonuses.”

Some teachers opted out of the performance pay. Those teachers said they didn’t want the scores to be used against them. More than 400 nullified their scores.

The measure passed unanimously. The resolution will be submitted to the Wilson County Commission’s Education Committee, which will consider it and potentially present it to the full commission.

“[We want] them to acknowledge that this is the right step,” Wright said.

The commission would then present it to the Wilson County legislative delegation, and Wright hopes they would sponsor it as an act in the Tennessee General Assembly for approval. With changes in state leadership, she said she hopes the ACT and ACT Aspire are still viable options for testing.

“I’m hoping there’s still interest in moving this forward as a private act and allowing Wilson County to be able to step out,” Wright said. “Again, we’re not trying to get out of assessments. We’re just looking at something we see as a better model and will give us much-needed information.  Really, [the ACT and ACT Achieve] are parallel to TNReady testing.”