That was Quick

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The Tennessee Department of Education is out with an apology for miscommunication that caused confusion regarding this year’s standardized testing “quick scores.”

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has the story, and this quote from a letter sent to Directors of schools from Assistant Commissioner Nakia Towns:

“Our goal is to communicate early and often regarding the calculation and release of student assessment data. Unfortunately, it appears the office of assessment logistics did not communicate decisions made in fall 2014 regarding the release and format of quick scores for the 2014-15 school year in a timely manner. . . . We regret this oversight, and we will continue to improve our processes such that we uphold our commitment to transparency, accuracy, and timeliness with regard to data returns, even as we experience changes in personnel.”

As Tatter notes, this is the second year in a row that release of quick scores has been a problem for the Department of Education.

Read her full story and see the complete text of the letter sent to Directors.

It remains to be seen whether the “commitment to transparency” referenced in the letter from Towns will mean that parents and teachers can see the test questions and answers after next year’s TNReady test is administered.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Quick and Confusing

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Over at Bluff City Ed, Jon Alfuth digs into the questions surrounding this year’s release of TCAP quick scores and their correlation to student performance on the TCAP.

This year, the way quick scores were calculated in relation to raw scores was shifted so that grades 3-8 (TCAP) scores matched the EOC scores students see in high school.

One key question is why make this change in the last year of TCAP? Next year, Tennessee students will see TNReady — so, making the calculation change now doesn’t seem to serve much purpose.

Alfuth does a nice job of explaining what’s going on and why it matters. Here are some key highlights:

Lack of Communication

They (TN DOE) didn’t make it clear to teachers, parents or students that they were changing the policy, resulting in a lot of confusion and frustration over the past few days as everyone grapples with these new quick scores.

An Explanation?

From the second memo, they note that they changed to raw scores because of concerns about getting final quick scores out on time during the transition to a new test, stating that if they did it based on proficiency, it would take until the middle of the summer to make them happen.

I’d buy that…except that the Department of Education has always been able to get the quick scores out on time before. And last I checked, we weren’t transition to TNReady this year – the transition occurs next year. So why mess with the cut scores this year? Is this just a trial run, an experiment? It feels like we’re either not getting the whole story, or that if we are there is some serious faulty logic behind this decision that someone is just trying to explain away.

It’s worth noting that last year, the quick scores weren’t available on time and most districts received a waiver from including TCAP scores in student grades. I note this to say that concern about getting quick scores out on time has some merit given recent history.

To me, though, this raises the question: Why are TCAP scores factored into a student’s grades? Ostensibly, this is so 1) students take the tests seriously and 2) how a teacher assesses a student matches up with the desired proficiency levels on the appropriate standards.

Of course, quick scores are only available for tested subjects, leaving one to wonder if other subjects are less important or valuable to a student’s overall academic well-being. Or, if there’s another way to assess student learning beyond a bubble-in test or even a test with some constructed response, such as TNReady.

I’d suggest a project-based learning approach as a means of assessing what student’s have actually learned across disciplines. Shifting to project-based learning with some grade-span testing would allow for the accountability necessary to ensure children are meeting state standards while also giving students (and their teachers) a real opportunity to demonstrate the learning that has occurred over an academic year.

Trust

The Department has also opened itself to some additional criticism that it is “massaging” the scores – that is, trying to make parents happy by bringing grades up in the last year under the old testing regime. We can’t say for certain that this is the motivating factor behind this step, but in taking this step without more transparency the Department of Education has opened itself up to this charge. And there will definitely be some people who accuse the state of doing this very thing, especially given the reasons that they cited in their memo. I personally don’t ascribe any sinister motives to the state, but you have to admit that it looks a little fishy.

In fact, TC Weber is raising some important questions about the process. He notes:

If people don’t believe in the fidelity of the system, it becomes too easy to attribute outside factors to the results. In other words, they start to feel that data is being manipulated to augment an agenda that they are not privy to and not included in. I’m not saying results are being manipulated or not being manipulated when it comes to our student evaluation system, but I am saying that there seems be a growing belief that they are, and without some kind of change, that perception will only grow. I’ve always maintained that perception is nine-tenths of reality.

As both Alfuth and Weber note, the central problem is lack of communication and transparency. As we shift to a new testing regime with uncertain results, establishing confidence in the system and those administering it is critical. After last year’s late score debacle and this year’s quick score confusion, establishing that trust will be difficult. Open communication and a transparent process can go a long way to improving perception and building support.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Who will lead MNPS?

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With the initial round of applications coming to a close, some 50 people are expected to be candidates for the job of Director of MNPS.

But, according to a story in the Nashville Scene, those candidates don’t include many “heavy hitters.”

“There aren’t any heavy hitters — by that I mean people with real experience in large urban districts, and that’s what we’re still working on,” says Bill Attea, founder of Chicago-based superintendent search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

Instead, people are applying to upgrade from small or mid-sized school districts such as Bridgeport, Conn., Eugene, Ore., and Tallahassee, Fla. — places where Nashville would double or triple the size of their current student body. Candidates who do hail from the large cities Nashville strives to compete with may come from a district’s headquarters, but not necessarily as superintendents.

Andrea Zelinski does include a list of all 34 individuals who have completed applications thus far. Among them, current MNPS Chief Academic Officer Jay Steele. Another local candidate is Office of Innovation Executive Director Alan Coverstone, a former School Board Member.

Here’s our interview with Steele from 2013.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Adequate and Equitable

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That’s what the Shelby County Schools are seeking from the state — adequate and equitable school funding. As the state currently provides neither, the Shelby County School Board voted Tuesday to hire legal counsel to pursue such funding, an action which may ultimately result in filing a lawsuit against the state, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Recently, Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed suggested that Shelby County should join the 7 other Tennessee districts already suing the state over inadequate school funding.

According to the report, Board members referenced the 2007 funding formula update known as BEP 2.0 and noted that if it were fully and properly funded, Shelby County would receive $103 million in additional funding next year.

Rather than push for full funding of BEP 2.0, Governor Haslam has appointed his own task force asked to redistribute the pie rather than increase its size.

Other than chastising districts for asking for the full and equitable funding they deserve, the General Assembly did little this past session to address the BEP situation.

Three previous lawsuits against the state seeking improved school funding have all been successful and all resulted in significant cash infusions to local school districts.

More on the BEP:

Money Talks

Why is TN 40th?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Oops. Annenberg May Apply to Magnets

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As we have noted, the Annenberg Standards have been adopted by the MNPS Board of Education. These standards were adopted to hold charter schools accountable. The Governance Committee met last night, for the first time since January, to discuss the standards that were already adopted by the full board. Well, it looks like these standards may also apply to magnet schools.

And the standards also apply to other schools, Gentry said. Specifically, the standards speak to exclusionary practices that might apply to the district’s magnets.

“There are reasons why we have that differentiation. There is a reason why we have wait lists and there are reasons why students bust their butt to become a part of those things,” Gentry said. “You strip all those things away and what does that mean? … We need to clean up our language, because the first thing that comes out of our mouths is charter schools, but that’s not what we voted on. These are for all schools.”

The issue of magnet schools comes up a lot when discussing choice. Proponents of choice believe families deciding to go to a magnet school are already exercising choice. Behind the scenes, choice advocates point out that some local opponents of choice send their children to magnet schools. Choice advocates believe this is clearly a double standard.

Magnet schools have exclusionary enrollment barriers for students, which is exactly what some people believe charters should not have. Again, some people believe it’s a double standard that magnet schools can have barriers for students to enroll, but the recently passed standards do not allow charter schools to do the same.

(Note: I don’t know of any charter school with exclusionary enrollment criteria.)

If these standards do change how magnet schools work, I would expect a vote to change the adopted standards.

Mary Pierce, a school board member who voted against the standards, posted to Facebook about the passage and discussion of these standards. She believes these standards were passed too quickly without enough information.

Adoption of the Annenberg Standards: Let’s be clear on the timeline.

April 3: The state teachers’ union, TEA, kicked off an email campaign with statements of support for the Annenberg Standards for Charter Schools. *It took 30 days to get just under 100 unique emails senders.

April 14: “Those in the know,” that a resolution was coming, gave public comments asking the board to adopt the Annenberg standards. That same night, Anna Shepherd gave notice that she would bring a resolution to adopt the Annenberg standards to our next meeting, Thursday, April 30.

The language of the resolution– that states the standards are for ALL schools– was not given to the board until the morning of April 30 and was not posted to the online agenda until that afternoon. Public comments are not given at the 2nd board meeting of the month, so parents from magnets or charters were never given an opportunity to speak and barely opportunity to read prior to our vote. It passed 5-3. I was one of the 3, “no” votes.

In the April 30 meeting, I asked Ms. Shepherd if she envisioned opportunity to walk through the standards that might be contrary to state law or require significant changes to our schools in Policy Governance and she said yes. Hearing of this opportunity, concerned parents emailed and asked for common sense when applying these standards and for a voice by affected school leaders–we received over 100 emails in 30 hours.

However, at our policy governance meeting yesterday, committee chair, Amy Frogge, would not allow discussion on concerns over specific standards, and instead said the standards were adopted by the board and would now become policy–pending legal analysis.

Ironically, the first standard in the Annenberg is collaboration–not seeing that apply here and wondering where our commitment to communications and community engagement is?

The school board has asked Metro Legal attorney Corey Harkey to review the standards and to report back on June 15. Magnet school PTSOs and PACs have already started to email their members about this latest development. I will update you once Metro Legal comes back with their analysis.


 

PET Releases Testing Survey

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Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) released a survey this week on teacher attitudes toward standardized testing.

Here’s the release and a link to a detailed report:

In April of 2015, Professional Educators of Tennessee surveyed Tennessee educators regarding their opinion of standardized testing in the state of Tennessee. The survey was distributed via email to all members and on social media, as well as being made available to all educators on the Professional Educators of Tennessee website.

208 educators completed the survey, with 134 being classroom teachers. Eighty-five percent of educators stated that standardized testing takes up “too much” of classroom instructional time. And, as the state moves to online testing, there appear to be numerous glitches in the testing procedure.

Based on the survey results, PET recommends:

Based on these survey results, standardized testing in Tennessee proves to be a major driving force in classroom instruction. This survey indicates that virtually every school has broadband internet, yet 89% indicated there were issues with the online testing provided.   These issues can and will negatively impact tests results. Professional Educators of Tennessee proposes that all testing continue to be done on paper/pencil OR that testing sessions interrupted by technical difficulties be coded in a special way and either discarded or given again, with different test items, OR that schools endure the tests with possible difficulties with technology and be held harmless until the percentage of tests taken without technical interference or interruption reaches a threshold of 95% or higher.  Also, before a teacher’s TVAAS scores are linked to students’ testing performance, these online testing malfunctions (computers/websites freezing, connectivity issues) must be addressed.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

When 4=2

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In preparation for next year’s TNReady exams, it seems the Department of Education is already using some new math. While the General Assembly appropriated a $100 million increase in teacher compensation, an amount equivalent to a 4% raise, the Department is recommending that the State Board of Education adjust the state’s minimum salary schedule by only 2%.

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen revealed the proposed recommendation in an email to Directors of Schools:

Directors,

Tennessee law requires the commissioner of education to present annually to the State Board of Education a state minimum salary schedule for the upcoming school year. Historically, the board has adopted the schedule at its regular July meeting after the conclusion of the legislative session and the adoption of the state budget. This year, in response to district communication and feedback, the board will consider the issue at a specially called meeting set for June 9.

The FY 16 state budget includes more than $100 million in improvements for teacher salaries and represents a four percent improvement to the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP). Because the BEP is a funding plan and not a spending plan, the $100 million represents a pool of resources from which each district will utilize its portion to meet its unique needs. The structural change in the state salary schedule in July 2013 recognized this inherent flexibility in the BEP by lessening the rigid and strict emphasis on years of experience and degrees and providing more opportunity for districts to design compensation plans based on a number of factors. At the same time, while recognizing the value, appeal and need for maximum flexibility, the state board has stressed the desire to improve teacher compensation, particularly minimum salaries, and Gov. Haslam has outlined his goal for Tennessee to be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation.

Considering this background information as well as feedback from districts and in an effort to provide districts with as much information as possible as early as possible, we want to inform you today that the department will propose increasing the base salary identified in the state minimum salary schedule from $30,876 to $31,500. This represents a two percent adjustment and will impact the other six cells on the state schedule accordingly. For example, the current minimum for a Bachelor’s Degree and 6-10 years of experience is the BASE SALARY + $3,190 or $34,066 (BASE of $30,876 + $3,190). The proposed minimum for the 2014-15 school year for this same cell will be $34,690, which represents the new recommended BASE SALARY of $31,500 + $3,190.

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

The current state salary schedule can be viewed here for a determination as to how your particular district may be impacted.

Two years ago, the state adopted a new salary schedule at the recommendation of then-Commissioner Kevin Huffman. This schedule gutted the previous 20 step schedule that rewarded teachers for their years of experience and acknowledged the work of earning advanced degrees. Historically, when the General Assembly appropriated funds for a raise, the Commissioner of Education recommended the state minimum salary schedule be adjusted by the percentage represented by the appropriation. So, if the General Assembly increased BEP salary appropriations by 2%, the State Board would raise the state minimum salary schedule by 2%.

This adjustment did not necessarily mean a 2% raise on teacher’s total compensation, because many local districts supplemented teacher salaries beyond the state required minimum. The 2% increase, then, was on the state portion of salaries. Some districts would add funds in some years to ensure their teachers got a full 2%, for example. And in other cases, they’d only get the increase on the state portion. Still, under the old pay scale, teacher salary increases roughly tracked the appropriation by the General Assembly.

Here’s a breakdown of average teacher salary increases compared with BEP increases in years prior to the new salary schedule:

FY                     BEP Salary Increase                     Actual Avg. Pay Increase

2011                  1.6%                                                 1.4%

2012                 2.0%                                                2.0%

2013                2.5%                                                 2.2%

These numbers indicate a trend of average teacher pay increases tracking the state’s BEP increase. In FY 2014, however, immediately after the state adopted a new pay scale designed to build in flexibility and promote merit pay, the General Assembly appropriated funds for a 1.5% salary increase and average teacher pay increased 0.5% — teachers saw 1/3 of the raise, on average, that was intended by the General Assembly.

Why did this happen?

First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. These add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP. And, under the old pay scale, the local district was responsible for meeting the obligation of the pay raise for these teachers on their own. The BEP funds sent to the district only covered the BEP generated teachers. And then, only at 70% of the salary. Now, the district was free to use BEP salary funds to cover compensation expenses previously picked up by local funds.

Instead of addressing the underlying problem and either 1) increasing the base salary used to calculate BEP teacher salary funds or 2) increasing the state match from 70% to 75% or 3) doing both, the state decided to add local “flexibility.”

To be clear, increasing the base salary for BEP funds to the state average would cost $500 million and increasing the state BEP salary match would cost $150 million — neither is a cheap option.

But because every single system operates at a funding level beyond the BEP generated dollar amount, it seems clear that an improvement to the BEP is needed. Changing the BEP allocation to more accurately reflect the number of teachers systems need to operate would improve the financial position of districts, allowing them to direct salary increase monies to salaries.

An additional challenge can be found in Response to Intervention and Instruction — RTI2. While the state mandates that districts provide this enrichment service to students, the state provides no funds for RTI2’s implementation. Done well, RTI2 can have positive impacts on students and on the overall educational environment in a school. Because there is no state funding dedicated to RTI2, however, districts are using their new BEP funds for salary to hire specialists focused on this program.

Here’s the deal: 19 Tennessee school districts pay teachers at levels that mean they’ll have to raise teacher pay if the State Board makes the recommended 2% adjustment. To be clear, the minimum salary a first year teacher can make anywhere in Tennessee is currently $30,876. That will increase to $31,500 if the Board adopts McQueen’s recommendation. Because the 2% only applies to the base number and the other steps increase by a flat amount, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years of experience will go from a mandated minimum of $37,461 to $38,085.  That’s only 1.67%.

And let’s look at that again: The minimum mandated salary for a teacher in Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years experience will now be $38,085.

That’s unacceptable.

Instead, policymakers should:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

The policy reality is those districts at or near the state minimum are the poorest and least able to stretch beyond state funds. Following the proposed recommendation may well serve to exacerbate an already inequitable funding situation.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Just South of Nashville

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TC Weber offers his take on what’s happening in Williamson County.

Essentially, he’s concerned that parent groups are coming under political fire when they enter the education policy debate. Here are some highlights:

The fine:

The Registry of Election Finance voted to fine Williamson Strong a total of 5K for failure to register as a PAC and failure to file campaign expenditures. That’s right – an organization that doesn’t have a treasurer nor a fundraising mechanism was fined for not declaring themselves a PAC. Either they are the worst PAC ever or there is something a little skewered here.

The Bottom Line:

This past week, I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to people in Williamson County about these events. What emerges is a convoluted picture that seems to have as much to do with past politics as it does with the current issues. Much of it also seems to be tied to personalities as much as policies. That should not be a surprise to anyone who has been involved with politics. It would take King Solomon to weed through all that has transpired and assign accountability. That’s a task well above my pay grade and not really the point I’m looking to make.

What is important here is to recognize and possibly prevent the use of personal issues to circumvent the democratic process. Parents should absolutely have the right to band together and champion issues they deem important. They should have the right to educate the public without fear of retribution. I obviously don’t endorse slander, but politicians should understand that reaping the benefits of certain entities also means suffering the disadvantages. To argue that there are not outside forces seeking to influence our democratic society through their financial injection, on both sides of the aisle, is either naïve or willfully ignorant.

Parents should not have to go through a cryptic bureaucracy to get involved in policy making that directly affects their children, unless they are actively raising money and financially supporting candidates at a reasonable threshold.

TC’s entire post offers lots of detail about what happened, when it happened, and what it could mean for other grassroots groups. It’s worth a read.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Should Shelby County Schools Sue the State?

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Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed says YES!

Here’s the basic reason why:

Education funding has been creeping up slowly, but its not enough. We’re at a critical juncture in urban districts like Shelby County, and the only realistic way we are going to find the funds to adequately support our schools is from the state. Local taxes are tapped out and the district has cut to the bone. And at the same time, the state has indicated very little willingness to adequately fund BEP 2.0.

More on BEP Funding:

Why is He So Angry?

Money Talks

Hungry for BEP Reform

Of Poverty and Teacher Pay

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

Candice Clarifies

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Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen issued an email to teachers today clarifying an email she sent Monday regarding Tennessee standards and the upcoming TNReady tests.

It seems there was some confusion about what standards to teach in the 2015-16 academic year and what Tennessee standards may look like going forward.

Below is today’s email followed by the one sent Monday:

Teachers,

I’m writing to clarify information I shared on Monday about the standards review and development process. We have received several questions about which standards teachers should use during the 2015-16 school year. We want to make sure that your questions are answered quickly, so you can move into summer with clear expectations for the upcoming school year.

Tennessee teachers should continue to use the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not the previous SPI’s. The current state standards are available on our website.

TNReady, the state’s new and improved TCAP test in English language arts and math, will assess the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not SPI’s.

As we shared on Monday, the standards review and development process that Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education established last fall will continue. Teams of educators will work to review public input and will then recommend new sets of math and English language arts standards to the State Board of Education to be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year. TNReady will evolve as our math and English language arts standards do, ensuring that our state assessment will continue to match what is being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

Please feel free to reach out with additional questions or clarifications. We look forward to sharing more information about TNReady and the standards review and development process in the coming weeks.

Best,
Candice

_________________________________________________________________
From: Commissioner.McQueen@tn.gov
Date: Monday, May 11, 2015 3:20 PM
To: Tennessee teachers
Subject: Update on Standards Review Process

Teachers,

The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted to support our administration’s efforts to ensure that Tennessee students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or the workforce.

The vote complements the academic standards review and development process established by Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education last October, and it will maintain the participation of Tennessee educators and parents in the process.

At the conclusion of the review process, Tennessee’s new academic standards, which will include public input and are established by Tennessee educators, will replace the existing set of standards in English language arts and math. These standards will be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year.

In addition to the teams of educators established by the State Board of Education that will review the existing standards, the adopted legislation also provides for a 10-member standards recommendation committee appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House. This committee will review the recommendations of our educator groups and will then make a final recommendation to the State Board of Education for consideration and approval.

In addition, the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts will also inform and help guide the state’s new assessment, TNReady. TNReady begins during the 2015-16 school year, and it will be aligned to the state’s existing academic standards in math and English language arts. TNReady will then evolve as the standards do, ensuring that our state assessment matches what is actually being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

As I travel around the state listening to teachers, I continue to hear teachers’ confidence in Tennessee’s higher standards and the positive impact they are having on students. I also continue to hear your desire for stability and alignment, so teachers and school leaders can make informed decisions about what works best for your students. We hope this process encourages you to continue on the path that you boldly started – great teaching to high expectations every day – as we all continue to work together to improve the standards during the review process.

We are proud that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement, and your work this year to ensure that Tennessee stays on a path of high academic standards to help continue that success has been critical. Thank you to those that commented on the math and English language arts standards on the review website, www.tn.gov/standardsreview.

I am confident that the process that the General Assembly has now adopted will only enhance our efforts to improve outcomes for all of our students.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you as the standards review and development process continues this summer. Thank you again for all you do in support of Tennessee families and students.

Best,
Candice

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport