Virtual Equality?

As the school year began, I wrote about how students at some MNPS high schools were forced into online classes due to a teacher shortage. This impacted students primarily at Antioch, Whites Creek, and Cane Ridge High Schools. According to my sources, it’s still going on to some degree. That is, actual teachers haven’t been found to fill many of the positions that were empty at the beginning of the year. So, the students are taking courses from Edgenuity.

Here’s what I noted about Edgenuity at the time:

Here’s a review of materials developed by Edgenuity for grades 9-12 ELA done by the Louisiana Department of Education. Here’s the short version: Edgenuity received a Tier III (the lowest) rating for the quality of the materials it provided to students for grades 9-12 ELA.

Here’s what Louisiana had to say about Edgenuity’s 6-8 math materials. Also an overall Tier III rating, but mixed reviews depending on grade level and specific learning objective.

Now, there’s a court case about whether virtual classes provide a “substantially equal” educational opportunity for students.

Education law professor Derek Black notes:

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has taken up a fascinating issue regarding students’ access to teachers.  The problem could only arise in the brave new world of computers.  In short,  a student at a Tennessee high school had fallen behind in algebra and end-of-grade assessments were looming.  The school pulled the student  out of the class and placed the student in a computer based credit recovery program.  Apparently, this occurred with several other students.  The student claims that the school did this to help increase its standardized test scores.

The disputed issue in the case seems to be a narrower one: do students have the right to access a teacher?  The plaintiff says yes.  The school’s attorney says no.

And here’s Black’s analysis of the legal issue at hand:

The Supreme Court in  Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, 851 SW2d 139 (1993), held that students have a constitutional right to “substantially equal educational opportunities.”  The underlying facts in the case involved disparities in teacher salaries across the state.  Consistent with the overwhelming social science consensus, the court indicated that “teachers, obviously, are the most important component of any education plan or system.”  Because salary disparities resulted in students having unequal access to teachers, the Court ordered the state on more than one occasion to remedy is system of funding teacher salaries across the state.

So while state statutes may not create any specific property interest in access to a teacher, the state constitution creates a right to equal educational opportunities, which teachers are the most important part of.

And that’s why the situation at these schools is so interesting. The students at Antioch, Cane Ridge, and Whites Creek didn’t sign up for or choose virtual education. They were not offered the same or similar educational opportunity as students at other MNPS high schools — that is, students at most MNPS schools were assigned to an actual teacher who appeared in-person every day to provide instruction. These students were denied that opportunity and assigned to a program of questionable quality.

Why did this happen? One factor (though certainly not the only one) is teacher salaries. Teacher pay in MNPS is simply not competitive relative to the cost of living. It’s definitely not competitive relative to similar districts around the country.

The teacher salary issue is an important one, because it is the issue that drove the Small Schools court decision. In fairness, teachers at Antioch, Cane Ridge, and Whites Creek earn the same salaries as any other Nashville teachers. However, Nashville’s inability to adequately staff schools creates substantially unequal educational opportunity across the district. In fact, the district cited lack of adequate state resources as one reason it joined Shelby County in suing over BEP (Basic Education Program) funds.

It’s difficult to argue that students who signed up for and planned to attend traditional classes and then were forced into online learning were provided educational opportunities that are “substantially equal” to their peers at schools where this did not happen.

How this will be addressed remains to be seen.

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


 

Can you believe this guy?

Remember when the state hired a testing vendor to deliver a new online test and from day one, it was a total disaster? Remember how that vendor kept getting second chances and kept missing deadlines? Remember how we paid a bunch of money to have the tests graded by a different vendor? Then we moved on to Questar and forgot all about Measurement, Inc?

Well, Measurement, Inc. hasn’t forgotten about us. Like an unfortunate Craigslist encounter, the company just won’t go away.

Now, they are asking the state for $25 million for “services rendered” for a test that didn’t even happen.

Nope, I’m not kidding. Chalkbeat has the story:

Henry Scherich says Tennessee owes Measurement Inc. $25.3 million for services associated with TNReady, the state’s new standardized test for its public schools. That’s nearly a quarter of the company’s five-year, $108 million contract with the state, which Tennessee officials canceled after technical problems roiled the test’s 2016 rollout.

Given Scherich’s track record, this doesn’t seem surprising. Remember when he took full responsibility for all the testing problems? Oh, right, he didn’t. Instead:

“You just can’t take the test off line and put it on a printing press,” President Henry Sherich said by phone Friday. “We’re not failing to deliver. We are delivering as fast as possible.”

Sherich revealed his company is only working with one printer as other printers they work with are booked. This after a delay in delivering Phase I of the tests in March.

Sherich didn’t offer an apology or express concern for the students, parents, and teachers who have suffered as a result of this delay.

After all of this, the state may still end up on the hook for $25 million for a test that didn’t happen. That’s on top of the millions we’re spending for a test from which parents have yet to see results.

Can you believe this guy?

 

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


 

 

More TNReady Fallout

As the state continues to experience challenges with TNReady implementation, districts are speaking out. In October, the Williamson County school board adopted resolutions asking for changes to how the state will assign letter grades to schools and asking that TNReady scores not be included in report cards for students in grades 3-5.

This week, Knox County adopted three resolutions relevant to the current testing troubles.

All three were sponsored by Board Member Amber Rountree.

One addresses the proposed letter grading of individual schools and asks:

The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges the Senate to amend legislation SB 535 in the upcoming session by assigning a school level designation that aligns with the district designation, rather than assigning a letter grade to each school; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges Governor Haslam, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly to consider a moratorium in using any school or district designation based on data obtained via the TNReady assessment which was administered in School Year 2016-17.

Another relates to the use of TNReady data for student grades and teacher evaluation:

The Knox County Board of Education opposes the use of TCAP data for any percentage of teacher evaluations and student grades for School Year 2017-2018 and urges the General Assembly and the State Board of Education to provide a one-year waiver, as was previously provided for School Year 2015-2016.

And then there’s one similar to Williamson’s request to exclude TNReady data from report cards for students in grades 3-5:

WHEREAS, the Knox County Board of Education submits student scores on the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program’s grades 3-5 achievement test scores should not comprise a percentage of the student’s final grade for the spring semester in the areas of mathematics, reading/language arts, science and social studies.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION AS FOLLOWS: The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges the Tennessee General Assembly amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-1-617 to remove the requirement of using any portion of the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program scores as a percentage of the students in grades 3-5 spring semester grade

 

No word yet on a response to these two districts speaking out on the proper use of TNReady data.

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


 

A Theory

While Governor Haslam thinks everything is just fine with TNReady, a Coffee County student offers a theory for why the results have been less than great in initial rounds of testing.

Coffee County High School student George Gannon offers this insight:

Flash-back to the first year of TNReady- 2016. The company that created the tests could not actually handle the online traffic of thousands of people taking their exam at once. It eventually crashed the server  and caused the third grade through eighth grade tests to be switched to paper. But then they couldn’t get those tests out fast enough, so the test ended up not being administered at all. This was a statewide problem that was so laughably bad, that even the state government looked at the “moron-athon” of a testing experience they had just paid $108 million dollars for and  said “Wow. This is a train wreck.”; this eventually led to the termination of their contract with Measurement Inc. (the testing company). What was happening on the high school end though?

We took the test. We took it that first year under the impression that our scores would be weighted with our final average. Well, that did not happen. Personally, I didn’t even get my scores back until the next year. Maybe it was just a first-year rollout problem? No. Even after switching testing companies, it was the same deal last year. I just got my scores back and as far as I’m aware, they’re not weighted into my final grade. Humorously enough, there is even evidence  recently of tests being scored completely wrong.

What I think happened last year, though, is that we all knew something would mess up. We knew from how the year prior went that the scores would be delayed. Therefore, I think what happened statewide with the carpet bomb of bad test scores was not a lack of knowledge, but instead a lack of concern and determination. Take these thoughts for examples of what was going through our heads:

“Who cares if I fail this test? It’s not like it’s gonna’ be a grade. It wasn’t last year!”

“There is no incentive to scoring well. Just passing is all right, because in the event they actually grade these, I’ll still pass.”

Also, students who took the tests were automatically exempt from their semester exams, so many of them probably thought, “I just have to take it; I don’t have to do well.”

So, in case you are wondering if all the TNReady mishaps have an impact on students, the student perspective says YES.

And here’s the deal. The impact on students impacts the test results — those results are used to (partially) evaluate teachers and to assign schools as Reward or Priority schools. The A-F grading scale for schools will be based on these results. The state’s inability to oversee an effectively administered test and/or get the results back in a timely fashion is disrupting learning and skewing results.

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


 

Supposedly

Recently, Chalkbeat asked readers to pose questions about TNReady given the latest round of trouble for the state’s standardized test. One particular question asked about the validity of the scoring given that “scorers are hired off Craigslist.”

Here’s what the Tennessee Department of Education had to say:

“Questar does not use Craigslist. Several years ago, another assessment company supposedly posted advertisements on Craigslist, but Questar does not. We provide opportunities for our educators to be involved in developing our test, and we also encourage Tennessee teachers to apply to hand-score TNReady.

So, good news: scorers for the new vendor are not hired off of Craigslist. But, disturbing that the TDOE used the hedge “supposedly.” Back in 2015, I wrote about Measurement, Inc.’s ads on Craigslist:

Certainly, quality scorers for TNReady can be found for $10.70-$11.20 an hour via ads posted on Craigslist. I’m sure parents in the state are happy to know this may be the pool of scorers determining their child’s test score. And teachers, whose evaluations are based on growth estimates from these tests, are also sure to be encouraged by the validity of results obtained in this fashion.

My post even included a copy of the ad being used by Measurement, Inc. Then, in 2016, WSMV ran a story on scorers being hired via Craigslist ads.

Another response from the TDOE also caught my attention. This one dealt with the validity of comparisons between the old TCAP test and the new TNReady. The TDOE suggests this is like a group of runners changing from running 5Ks to running a 10K.

Runner and blogger TC Weber has a good response.

Then, when the issue of students not taking the tests seriously due to the perennial problems with returning data, the TDOE engages in more blame shifting:

“We believe that if districts and schools set the tone that performing your best on TNReady is important, then students will take the test seriously, regardless of whether TNReady factors into their grade. We should be able to expect our students will try and do their best at any academic exercise, whether or not it is graded. This is a value that is established through local communication from educators and leaders, and it will always be key to our test administration.

So, the fact that testing data has been returned late or that the quick score calculation method has changed has nothing to do with how students understand the test. If only those pesky school districts and their troublesome teachers would get on board and reinforce the right “values,” everything would be fine.

Here’s a hint, TDOE: Take some damn responsibility. TNReady has been a dumpster fire. Before that, you couldn’t get TCAP scores back in a reliable fashion. When districts told the TDOE that TNReady’s online administration wasn’t going to go well in 2016, the TDOE ignored them. Now, some students are wary of the test and whether or not it has any impact on their grades or any relevance to their learning. The TDOE simply responds by telling districts that if they just stopped asking so many questions and started drilling in the right messages, all would be well.

The disconnect is real.

As I noted in an earlier piece, accountability is a one way street when it comes to TDOE. This message is worth repeating:

How many warning signs will be ignored? How important is the test that it must be administered at all costs and the mistakes must be excused away because “accountability” demands it?

How can you hold students and teachers and schools accountable when no one is holding the Department of Education accountable? How long will legislators tolerate a testing regime that creates nightmares for our students and headaches for our teachers while yielding little in terms of educational value?

Apparently, according to Governor Haslam, everything is fine.

Still, the legislature meets again starting in January. And, there’s a Governor’s race on next year as well. Perhaps the combination of those events will lead to an environment that produces real answers.

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


 

This is Fine

Amid the latest round of TNReady troubles that included both miscalculated student scores and errors in how those scores were used in some teacher evaluations, the House of Representatives held hearings last week to search for answers.

On the same day of the committee hearings, Governor Bill Haslam let everyone know that things were going well.

Chalkbeat reports:

Earlier in the day, Gov. Bill Haslam called the controversy overblown because this year’s errors were discovered as part of the state’s process for vetting scores.

“I think the one thing that’s gotten lost in all this discussion is the process worked,” Haslam told reporters. “It was during the embargo period before any of the results were sent out to students and their families that this was caught.”

Here’s the deal: If this were the only problem with TNReady so far, Governor Haslam would be right. This would be no big deal. But, you know, it’s not the only problem. At all.

Let’s start from the beginning. Which was supposed to be 2016. Except it didn’t happen. And then it kept not happening. For full disclosure, I have a child who was in 4th grade at the time of what was to be the inaugural year of TNReady. The frustration of watching her prepare for a week of testing only to be told it would happen later and then later and then maybe never was infuriating. That adults at decision-making levels think it is just fine to treat students that way is telling. It also says something that when some adults try to stand up for their students, they are smacked down by our Commissioner of Education.

As for the aforementioned Commissioner of Education, some may remember the blame shifting and finger pointing engaged in by Commissioner McQueen and then-TNReady vendor Measurement, Inc. That same attitude was on display again this year when key deadlines were missed for the return of “quick scores” to school districts.

Which brings us to the perennial issue of delivering accurate score reports to districts. This year was the fourth year in a row there have been problems delivering these results to school districts. Each year, we hear excuses and promises about how it will be better next year. Then, it isn’t.

Oh, and what if you’re a parent like me and you’re so frustrated you just want to opt your child out of testing. Well, according to Commissioner McQueen and the Governor who supports her, that’s not an option. Sadly, many districts have fallen in line with this way of thinking.

Here’s the thing: McQueen’s reasoning is missing something. Yes, she lacks credibility generally. But, specifically, she’s ignoring some key evidence. As I noted previously:

All along, the state has argued a district’s federal funds could be in jeopardy due to refusal to administer the test or a district’s inability to test at least 95% of its students.

As such, the argument goes, districts should fight back against opt-outs and test refusals by adopting policies that penalize students for taking these actions.

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

So, you have a system that is far from perfect and based on this system (TNReady), you penalize teachers (through their evaluations) and schools (through an A-F school grading system). Oh yeah, and you generate “growth” scores and announce “reward” schools based on what can best be described as a problematic (so far) measuring stick with no true comparability to the previous measuring stick.

Anyway, Bill Haslam is probably right. This is fine.

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


 

A Resolution

With legislative hearings into the latest round of TNReady troubles happening this week, education advocacy group CAPE is circulating a petition asking for a pause in the use of TNReady scores to penalize teachers and students. The move comes just after two other groups made a similar call last week.

Here’s the resolution:

Whereas TN Ready testing in 2017 resulted in large numbers of scoring errors rendering all results suspect,

Whereas TN Ready testing failed in 2016, causing confusion and disappointment among students, teachers, families and administrators, and resulting in no data for the academic year for most students and teachers.

Whereas the State of Tennessee made the decision to change testing instruments from TCAP to TN Ready,  a defensible shift that nonetheless complicates judgments about student achievement and growth and teacher accountability in the short term,

Whereas TVAAS is an unstable measure of student growth especially when fewer than three complete years of data is available,

and

Whereas the American Statistical Association (April 8, 2014) and the American Educational Research Association (November 11, 2015) have issued cautions regarding the scientific and technical limitations of the use of value-added assessment for purposes of accountability

Therefore, be it resolved, that we the undersigned call on the TN State Legislature and TN Department of Education to suspend use of testing data for consequential decision-making until after the 2019-2020 school year.

We further call for a three year collaborative study —involving the TN legislature, the TN Department of Education, teachers and their professional organizations, school boards and district administrators, and parents of public school students — to determine the most productive and constructive path forward to ensure real and reasonable accountability for educational outcomes in the service of the best possible education for Tennessee’s children.

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


 

A Message for Tennessee Teachers

Knox County School Board Vice-Chair Amber Rountree recently sent out this message addressed to all Tennessee teachers. The letter comes as the state both celebrates some TNReady scores and grapples with the latest round of TNReady troubles. It’s an interesting contrast to the letter sent to educators who are having their evaluation scores adjusted due to TVAAS errors this year.

Here’s the Rountree letter:

Dear Tennessee Teachers:

While the commissioner was celebrating at a handful of schools on Friday, I was volunteering at a Knox County elementary school. My first stop was a 2nd grade classroom to help during the English/Language Arts block. The teacher gave me the perfect center rotation — reading Otis with small groups and facilitating a writing activity based on the text! I wish I could bottle the giggles and discussion we had about learning a new meaning for “skirt.”

Then I moved onto 4th grade, where the students were engaged in writing thank you notes to several donors who made a field trip possible earlier in the week. The smile a student gave when she got to show me her note and her beautiful cursive could have lit up the entire room!

Next I visited 3rd grade, and helped work with a small group on constructing a response based on the story they had been studying about penguins. They were able to remember key facts from the text and transform what they learned in their own words.

Finally, I wrapped up my visit by talking with the principal about her to desire to apply for a Read to Be Ready grant for her school for the upcoming summer. She spoke about using her lunch hour to have a book club with her students at the nearby park.

I have been honored to work as an educator in Knox County, to serve on the Board of Education, and to currently continue my education as a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee. You might say I have the inside track on the amazing things happening in our schools, but most aren’t lucky enough to have this experience and are relegated to reading about it in the local paper.

Perhaps the TDOE missed the irony in the reporting of TNReady errors immediately prior to unfurling banners celebrating schools who have improved based on said assessment. There is no reason to celebrate an assessment that lacks validity because the data from TNReady is incomparable to TCAP.

Here’s what we should celebrate: the SRO who received a thank you note from a student, the chorus teacher finding a place for every student in the musical, the child who wouldn’t pick up a book last year and can’t put one down this year, the innovative library with a student run coffee shop, the teacher using an outdoor classroom to teach science, and you. You are in each of these stories and I am grateful.

I hope no matter what label the Department of Ed applied to your school, you are proud of the work you do daily to help grow your students. 

 

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


 

Moratorium?

Echoing a call made earlier this week by teachers in Shelby County, a group of House Democrats including gubernatorial candidate and Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh, said yesterday the state should place a three year moratorium on using TNReady scores in student grades and teacher evaluations.

The move comes amid the latest round of troubles for the state’s standardized test, known as TNReady.

Jason Gonzales of the Tennessean reports:

The call for a three-year stay on accountability comes after another round of TNReady issues, the state’s standardized assessment. This is the second year in a row that Tennessee House Democrats have called for such a moratorium.

“Right now, as it stands, Tennessee isn’t proficient in getting students assessed,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “We encourage you (the Tennessee Department of Education) to put your pride aside … and give TNReady three years to be perfected.”

The group did not call for scrapping the test, and in fact, under their proposal, the test would still be administered. However, by not including the results in student grades or teacher evaluations, problems such as the missed deadlines that impacted report cards at the end of last school year and the missing students that are now impacting teacher TVAAS scores, could be avoided.

Additionally, taking three years to build a reliable base of data would help add to the validity of any accountability measure based on those scores going forward.

It’s not clear if there’s more momentum for a moratorium this year. What is clear is that the House will hold hearings on the latest TNReady problems next week. Those hearings may well indicate what the future holds for Tennessee’s troubled testing system.

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


 

 

PTA on TNReady

The Tennessee PTA issued the following statement on the latest TNReady troubles:

Tennessee PTA encourages the Tennessee Department of Education to mandate more stringent procedures to avoid problems with TNReady outcomes and testing. Teachers, parents and students have the right to timely accurate information on academic performance in order to make informed decisions and provide student support.

 

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