Fifth graders give notes on how to fix the ‘many things wrong’ with Tennessee state tests

As the Tennessee Department of Education works to find a new standardized testing vendor for the upcoming school year, a group of fifth-graders at Nolan Elementary are encouraging the state to rethink its approach to standardized testing.

Ever since the rocky roll-out of TNReady began to affect them directly this spring, the students in Lisa Hope’s fifth-grade advanced classroom at Nolan have been taking notes.

“We knew we would have to take that test soon,” student Christopher Romero said. “I thought there were many things wrong with it.”

So Romero and his fifth-grade classmates began working to critically analyze standardized testing — specifically TNReady — and over the semester developed a 14-page report attempting to persuade the state to change it’s mind about the assessment.

The students spent months interviewing teachers and friends. They scoured the internet for facts and statistics about TNReady, researching both sides of the testing argument. The kids ran calculations, made a video, and compiled it all into the report and a slideshow.

As they began working on the project, the online administration of TNReady failed in February, forcing schools to revert to paper and pencil tests like years prior. Printing paper tests caused numerous testing delays for students across the state, and eventually in April, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen canceled the entire second portion of the two-part test for grades 3-8.

Soon after the announcement, the students at Nolan completed the project and mailed it to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, hoping it will influence the state as it contemplates changes in testing for this upcoming year. The students’ report points out that much time and taxpayer money is spent on standardized testing. They say that time can be used better on hands-on learning projects.

“We wanted to help make changes about something we’re passionate about,” Romero said. “And we learned how to unite to persuade someone.”

Next page: Students’ and teachers’ opinions

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