Cognitive demand represents the depth of thought students are expected to engage with when completing a task. These
analyses found that on average, less than 60 percent of the content found on state assessments was aligned with the expectations set in states’ grade-level standards.30 Additionally, these analyses found that 15 percent of items in math assessments
and 26 percent of items in English language arts and reading assessments were misaligned due to different levels of cognitive demand. In other words, academic standards often required higher-level thinking skills and a conceptual understanding
of content, while state tests overemphasized memorization and procedural skills.31 Research has found that this misalignment
often leads to a narrowing of instruction to tested topics and reduced instruction on rarely tested skills such as writing, oral
communication, extended problem-solving, and research and investigation.32
While this research is instructive, it is also important to understand assessment issues that specifically pertain to Tennessee’s
assessment system. Since the implementation of standardized assessments in Tennessee, state assessments have been criticized for:
Lack of alignment between academic standards and standardized assessments both in terms of content covered on
standardized assessments and the level of cognitive demand of testing items.
An exclusive reliance on multiple-choice items, limiting students exposure to extended-response items.
Lack of alignment between the major components of the accountability system, including standards and assessments.33
The TCAP Achievement tests and End of Course exams Tennessee implemented after transitioning to the Tennessee Diploma
Project standards continued to rely exclusively on multiple-choice items. While Tennessee has made large strides in improving the rigor and quality of its academic standards, the current TCAP Achievement tests and End of Course exams were not
written to assess these standards. This misalignment sends mixed signals to teachers and students about what is expected to