CAPE Takes Flight

A new public education advocacy group plans to be out in force tonight at the MNPS School Board meeting. The group, calling itself the Coalition Advocating for Public Education, or CAPE, is comprised of teachers and says it seeks to elevate teacher voice at all levels of the policy-making process.

Here’s the press release about tonight’s action:
Nine teachers will be using their teacher voices to speak before the Metro Nashville Public Schools board of education on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Their topic will be the impact of high-stakes testing on their classrooms.
The teachers are a part of a campaign recently launched by the Middle Tennessee Coalition Advocating for Public Education (CAPE).
“When you tell teachers to ‘use their teacher voice’, it means to speak loudly and clearly, with the kind of authority that brings immediate order to a chaotic classroom,” said Amanda Kail, an English as a second language teacher at Margaret Allen Middle Prep and one of the founders of CAPE. “As teachers, we deal with the consequences of chaos brought into our profession by the so-called reform movement.  Many people are talking about the best way to fix schools, but our policy-makers need to remember that we are the experts in education, and it is time to voice that expertise for our profession, our students, and our communities.”
The coalition was started by a handful of public school teachers and regional organizations who advocate for public schools, teachers, and students. CAPE is planning to recruit more teachers to speak at the school board meetings every month.  They are also planning other events, such as a panel exploring the impact of “Zero Tolerance Discipline” on November 17.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Not Yet TNReady?

As students and teachers prepare for this year’s standardized tests, there is more anxiety than usual due to the switch to the new TNReady testing regime. This according to a story in the Tennessean by Jason Gonzalez.

Teachers ask for “grace”

In his story, Gonzalez notes:

While teachers and students work through first-year struggles, teachers said the state will need to be understanding. At the Governor’s Teacher Cabinet meeting Thursday in Nashville, 18 educators from throughout the state told Gov. Bill Haslam and McQueen there needs to be “grace” over this year’s test.

The state has warned this year’s test scores will likely dip as it switches to a new baseline measure. TCAP scores can’t be easily compared to TNReady scores.

Despite the fact that the scores “can’t be easily compared,” the state will still use them in teacher evaluations. At the same time, the state is allowing districts to waive the requirement that the scores count toward student grades, as the TCAP and End of Course tests have in the past.

In this era of accountability, it seems odd that students would be relieved of accountability while teachers will still be held accountable.

While that may be one source of anxiety, another is that by using TNReady in the state’s TVAAS formula, the state is introducing a highly suspect means of evaluating teachers. It is, in fact, a statistically invalid approach.

As noted back in March citing an article from the Journal of Educational Measurement:

These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured. 


That means that the shift to TNReady will change the way TVAAS estimates teacher effect. How? No one knows. We can’t know. We can’t know because the test hasn’t been administered and so we don’t have any results. Without results, we can’t compare TNReady to TCAP. And, even once we have this year’s results, we can’t fairly establish a pattern — because we will only have one year of data. What if this year’s results are an anomaly? With three or more years of results, we MAY be able to make some estimates as to how TCAP compares to TNReady and then possibly correlate those findings into teacher effect estimates. But, we could just end up compounding error rates.

Nevertheless, the state will count the TNReady results on this year’s teacher evaluations using a flawed TVAAS formula. And the percentage these results will count will grow in subsequent years, even if the confidence we have in the estimate does not. Meanwhile, students are given a reprieve…some “grace” if you will.

I’d say that’s likely to induce some anxiety.

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

Aspiring Toward Mediocrity

That’s what Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham had to say in terms of Tennessee’s education goals right after praising the state’s recent NAEP results.

Her remarks came at the beginning of a hearing her committee conducted on school choice earlier this week. They can be found just past the two minute mark in this video. 

What’s frustrating is that she then proceeded to spend hours conducting a hearing that was nothing short of a celebration of all the supposed benefits of school voucher schemes.

Here’s a quick summary of some key arguments against vouchers.

The bottom line is they are expensive, can be susceptible to fraud, reduce accountability, and most importantly do not improve student academic outcomes.

While Gresham continues to put forward school vouchers as a solution to at least get Tennessee to mediocrity, the state’s BEP Review Committee is busy telling legislators that all the funding woes of the past have been miraculously cleared up.

After hours of hearings, we are still no closer to a path to that mediocrity to which Gresham hopes our state can achieve. At least we now have a clear understanding of her expectations.

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


What’s Missing is What Matters

The 2015 incarnation of the BEP Review Committee has concluded its business and issued a report. What’s interesting is that this year’s report is missing something: Hundreds of millions of dollars of recommended improvements that the committee usually makes as a suggestion to the legislature in terms of how to improve funding for the state’s schools.

Instead, the recommendations include finishing out the work on fully-funding teacher insurance — paying for a full twelve months, some vague language about improving teacher salaries, and about $10 million for technology improvements. The total cost of these recommendations is $40 million.

Compare that to last year’s report, which recommended a number of improvements with a cost in excess of $500 million.

The report from last year noted recommendations that included:

Eliminate Cost Differential Factor (CDF)  $(71,182,000)

Fund ELL Teachers 1:20  — COST: $28,709,000

Fund ELL Translators 1:200  COST: $2,866,000

CBER at 100%  $(2,639,000)

Instructional Component at funded at 75% by State  COST: $153,448,000

Insurance at 50%  COST: $26,110,000

BEP 2.0 Fully Implemented  COST: $133,910,000

Other Committee Requests

BEP Salary at $45,447  COST: $266,165,000

BEP Salary at $50,447  COST: $532,324,000

BEP Salary at Southeastern average $50,359  COST: $527,646,000

BEP Salary at State average (FY14) $50,116    COST: $514,703,000

The Committee last year also recommended:

Change funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500  $57,518,000

Change funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250  $39,409,000

Change funding ratio for secondary counselors from 1:350 to 1:250  $18,079,000

Change funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250  $57,497,000

Change Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard  $11,739,000

Change 7-12 funding ratios, including CTE, by 3 students  $87,928,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions)  $17,670,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries)  $25,576,000

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  $12,194,000

Change funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200  $4,150,000

Increase Funding for teacher materials and supplies by $100  $6,336,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA)  $5,268,000

12 Months Insurance  $64,411,000

The 2013 Report made similar recommendations:

Component Change State Cost 12 months’ insurance $60,376,000

Increase funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500 $52,799,000

Increase funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250 $35,733,000

Increase funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250 $52,909,000

Fully implement BEP 2.0 $146,223,000

Raise Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard $7,216,000

Reduce 7-12 ratios, including CTE, by 3 students $81,333,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions) $14,333,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries) $22,062,000

Reduce funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500 $9,438,000

Reduce funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200 $1,756,000

Increase funding for teacher materials and supplies by $100 $3,655,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA) $2,960,000

Capital Outlay Restored (done in FY14) – Total state cost of all recommendations $490,793,00

So, in 2013, the BEP Review Committee made recommendations costing nearly $500 million. That was there view on what would be an adequately funded BEP. Then, in 2014, the committee suggested improvements in excess of $500 million.

Now, in 2015, with the state facing lawsuits for inadequately funding its schools, the committee says everything is better and that with just $40 million in improvements, the BEP will be adequate.

It’s worth noting that the state continues to fund teacher salaries at well below actual rates. Adjusting the formula to provide local districts with teacher funding based on actual average salaries would cost more than $500 million. Even getting that number to just $45,000 per teacher would be $266 million.

The committee also has (historically) recognized that local schools need additional assistance in terms of school psychologists, nurses, professional development, counselors, and mentoring of teachers.

Suddenly, this year, the committee has decided these items are not priorities. They don’t even merit a mention in the BEP report, which at just 47 pages is among the shortest reports issued, and fully 1/3 the size of last year’s document.

Maybe if they don’t write down the needs of districts, those needs will go away. Or, maybe the attorneys for the school districts suing won’t find the earlier reports which consistently paint a clear picture of inadequately funded schools while also pointing the way to the steps necessary to improve the BEP formula.

Whatever the case, this year’s report comes up short. Legislators need only  look to the very recent past to find the evidence our state’s schools deserve more than what current funding levels provide.

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


Phil Williams, Testing, and MNPS

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams sent this tweet today teasing his story on alleged testing irregularities in MNPS:

Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams)
Coming up on @NC5 at 6, #NC5investIgates: Have some Metro high schools been #FakingTheGrade?

Here’s the full response from MNPS:

Tonight, November 2, 2015, investigative reporter Phil Williams of News Channel 5 plans to air a story containing accusations about end-of-course exams in Metro Schools. Below is our full and detailed response to Phil, as well as a record of our communication with him during his reporting.

DOWNLOAD a PDF copy of this statement.

Beginning late in the week of October 19 and continuing throughout the week of October 26, there have been regular email and telephone conversations – often daily – to address your questions related to accusations that some Metro high schools are using various methods to avoid administering state-mandated End-of-Course (EOC) exams to certain students in order to inflate their performance data. As stated numerous times throughout these conversations, we take these accusations extremely seriously. We asked for evidence of specific wrong-doing in your possession so that the instances in question can be thoroughly investigated and to allow us to fully respond to your story.

Below is a comprehensive response to the questions you have posed thus far related to the “general EOC concerns” story you say is scheduled to air this evening, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. This response includes questions and requests of us, along with a summary of how we have fulfilled them. Further responses may follow related to other specific concerns you plan to address in future stories.

General Statement on EOC Exams

Students are required to take all state-mandated EOC exams at the end of the second semester of a course regardless of when or how they complete the course. To determine if there is evidence of a wide-spread trend with students not completing the required EOCs, over the last week our Research and Evaluation department has been carefully reviewing transcript and EOC exam files for the most recent cohort of MNPS graduates.

Records reviewed to date indicate that there is no evidence of systematic avoidance of EOC exams. We have found a relatively small number of students who received a regular high school diploma in the spring of 2015 and who took EOC courses in our schools but do not appear to have ever attempted the EOC exam. The department went through several years of files in order to track students’ course and test history. Our investigation is focused on the courses for which the Tennessee Department of Education establishes accountability targets, called Annual Measureable Objectives (AMOs), which requires each high school to have a 95% participation rate on EOC exams.

With a 2015 graduating class of 4,221 students, they should have collectively taken 16,884 exams with AMOs over the course of their high school careers. Of those 16,884 exams, the district lacks a test record for only 231 or 1.37%. These cases appear to be spread out and not unusually high for any particular school. All high schools fall within the 1-2% range. Given an average daily attendance rate of 93%, there will be students that never make up an EOC. There may also be some who took the EOC at another time outside of MNPS or whose student ID was incorrectly coded on an EOC answer sheet and who do not match our course enrollment files.

The 231 missed EOC exams are broken down as follows: There were 44 students missing an Algebra I EOC test record and 10 students marked absent. An answer sheet is supposed to be turned in for every student enrolled in the course, and those that do not test or make up the test should be coded as absent. It is likely that many, if not most, of those students missing an EOC document were absent during testing and an answer sheet marked “absent” was not submitted. There were 32 missing an Algebra II EOC and 32 more marked absent. For English II, 26 had no test record and 16 were shown as absent. There were 35 missing for English III and 36 absent.

If NewsChannel 5 is in possession of documentation that contradicts the district’s findings of its own internal review described above, Metro Schools requests to be given access to the documentation immediately to allow us to thoroughly investigate the claims. Likewise, if former or current MNPS employees are in possession of documentation that indicates a systematic attempt to inflate performance data for individual schools, those individuals are urged to bring their concerns forward to district leadership so that they can be properly investigated. We have no record of an open complaint of this nature.

Use of Credit Recovery in High Schools

Metro Nashville Public Schools has made personalized learning the focus of our instructional practice. Our goal is to prepare every student for success in college and career, which personalized learning allows us to do. Personalized learning involves teachers meeting students where they are, regularly monitoring their progress, and moving students forward only when they’re able to demonstrate mastery of the content. This includes intervening as early as possible when a student’s performance indicates he or she is failing to master the content of a course.

As part of this approach, credit recovery is offered to high school students who fail a semester of a course. If a student fails a course in the fall to the degree that grade-averaging the two semesters is unlikely to result in the student passing the course as a whole, the student is given the option to take the fall course through credit recovery before proceeding to the spring course. For example, a student who fails “Algebra I Fall” will be given the option to retake the fall course of Algebra I during the spring semester. The student will then take “Algebra I Spring” during the summer semester or subsequent fall semester. All attempts are made to place the student in “Algebra 1 Spring” during the following summer or fall. If there is a scheduling conflict, the student may have to wait to the following spring to take the spring course.

It is in the best interest of the student to take this approach because if he or she has not mastered the content of a fall course, he or she will be ill-prepared to succeed in the spring course, which builds on the content knowledge from the fall. The decision to enter into credit recovery is made by the student and his or her parent/guardian in consultation with the teacher and the student’s counselor.

If a student takes a spring course during the summer or fall semester, he or she will take the EOC at that time. Meaning a student who fails Algebra I this fall may take the Algebra I EOC in July or December of 2016, depending on when he or she completes both courses.

The opinion that this approach to instruction in intended solely to inflate EOC scores is misguided. This is a standard practice used by school districts in our state. The fact that the state’s testing calendar allows for EOCs to be taken in the spring and summer is evidence that this practice is supported by the state. The state does not use EOCs to measure the academic performance of a specific grade level. Unlike grades K through 8, high school courses are offered to students based on their individual academic level. For example, an advanced student may take Algebra I in eighth grade instead of ninth grade, in which case the EOC score is calculated into the middle school’s math data, rather than the high school the student goes on to attend. Similarly, students who take AP classes do not take EOC exams for those subjects, therefore their academic performance is not included in the high school’s overall EOC data. EOC data is intended to reflect the high school’s ability to successfully teach the state standards in main subject areas, regardless of when the student takes the course during his or her time in high school. There is a clear disincentive for high schools to unnecessarily delay a student’s promotion among courses since the state calculates a high school’s graduation rate based on “on-time” graduates, defined as students who graduate within four years and one summer of starting high school. Because all students are required to earn four math credits and four English credits, when they are delayed from completing one of those required credits it risks requiring the student to take more than four years to graduate.

Most importantly, our focus is on helping students succeed. Ultimately, our goal is to prepare every student for college and career. If a student requires extra time to successfully master the content of a course, we believe the student should be allowed that time. Forcing students to progress in course schedules when they are not prepared to understand or master the content would equate to setting our students up for failure.    

Use of Content Recovery in High Schools

In addition to “credit recovery,” which is a student re-taking a failed semester of a course, Metro Schools also offers “content recovery” courses to support students who are struggling with the foundational skills needed to succeed in an EOC course.

For example, the district offers “Algebra I A,” a content recovery course to support students enrolled in Algebra I. The Algebra I A course may cover basic math skills, such as fractions, based on what underlining knowledge is needed for a student to understand the Algebra lessons. Similar classes are offered for English courses, and are listed as “English I CAR,” with “CAR” standing for Content Area Reading.

It is district practice for students to be enrolled in content recovery courses either simultaneously or prior to taking an EOC course. A content recovery course cannot be taken in place of an EOC course. Although students do earn credits for content recovery courses, the credits do not qualify for the math or English credits required for graduation. Additionally, enrollment in a content recovery course does not negate a student’s requirement to take the EOC exam at the end of the second semester of the EOC course.

Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School

  • You claim:
    • Pearl-Cohn has removed students from EOC exam classes and placed them in independent study courses as a means of avoiding their scores from affecting the school’s overall EOC score. You intimate in an email to Principal Sonia Stewart that direction for this practice is coming from supervision in the district office.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining the district’s practice of remediation with students who are failing EOC classes. Further detail and explanation is provided above in the statements on credit recovery and content recovery.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015

Stratford STEM Magnet School

  • You claim:
    • Students being “physically pulled” from EOC exam rooms or barred from entering EOC exam rooms.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining Stratford’s EOC participation rate is consistently 95% or above for the last two years. The data is as follows:
      • Algebra I – 100% in 2014 and 97% in 2015
      • Algebra II – 95% in 2014 and 96% in 2015
      • English II – 98% in 2014 and 98% in 2015
      • English III – 96% in 2014 and 95% in 2015
    • We further explained that given the AMOs of 95% participation and average daily attendance of 93%, there is no incentive for principals to withhold students from EOC exams, lest they risk failing to meet the AMO.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.

Hunters Lane High School

  • You claim:
    • Hunters Lane has removed students from EOC exam classes and placed them in elective courses as a means of avoiding their scores from affecting the school’s overall EOC score.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining the district’s practice of remediation with students who are failing EOC classes. Further detail and explanation is provided in the above statements on credit recovery and content recovery.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Oct. 30, 2015.
  • On Oct. 29, you asked for:
    • Insight into the situation of a specific Hunters Lane student who was allegedly removed from EOC courses she was passing.
  • Our response:
    • We are still investigating the details of this student, including a close look at the student’s data. However, there are extenuating circumstances surrounding this particular student, which are part of her private record and may not be discussed with you without a written waiver from the parent/guardian.

Maplewood High School

  • You claim:
    • Without knowing the specific mechanism being used, that students are being either pulled from EOC classes or prevented from taking EOC exams.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining the district’s practice of remediation with students who are failing EOC classes. Further detail and explanation is provided in the above statements on credit recovery and content recovery.
  • You claim:
    • A source reported to you seeing an email from Jay Steele giving direction in this practice.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 that no such email is known to exist, but that it could have been confused with an email sent by Aimee Wyatt on Feb. 11, 2014, to high school principals giving guidance on how to use credit recovery for course remediation. You were provided a copy of this email.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Oct. 30, 2015.


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