Would You Eat This Pie?

After last week’s TNReady failure, the Tennessee General Assembly took some action to mitigate the impact the test would have on students and teachers.

I wrote at the time that the legislature’s action was a good step, but not quite enough:

  1. The law does say that districts and schools will not receive an “A-F” score based on the results of this year’s test. It also says schools can’t be placed on the state’s priority list based on the scores. That’s good news.

  2. The law gives districts the option of not counting this year’s scores in student grades. Some districts had already said they wouldn’t count the test due to the likelihood the scores would arrive late. Now, all districts can take this action if they choose.

  3. The law says any score generated for teachers based on this year’s test cannot be used in employment/compensation decisions.

Here’s what the law didn’t say: There will be NO TVAAS scores for teachers this year based on this data.

In other words, this year’s TNReady test WILL factor into a teacher’s evaluation.

The Department of Education took some steps to clarify what that means for teachers and offered a handy pie chart to explain the evaluation process:

First, this chart makes clear that this year’s TNReady scores WILL factor into a teacher’s overall evaluation.

Second, this chart is crazy. A teacher’s growth score is factored on tests from three different years and three types of tests.

15% of the growth score comes from the old TCAP (the test given in 2014-15, b/c the 2015-16 test had some problems). Then, 10% comes from last year’s TNReady, which was given on paper and pencil. Last year was the first year of a full administration of TNReady, and there were a few problems with the data calculation. A final 10% comes from this year’s TNReady, given online.

So, you have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.

There is no way this creates any kind of valid score related to teacher performance. At all.

In fact, transitioning to a new type of test creates validity issues. The way to address that is to gather three or more years of data and then build on that.

Here’s what I noted from statisticians who study the use of value-added to assess teacher performance:

Researchers studying the validity of value-added measures asked whether value-added gave different results depending on the type of question asked. Particularly relevant now because Tennessee is shifting to a new test with different types of questions.

Here’s what Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) had to say in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. 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.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

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.

And they concluded:

Our results provide a clear example that caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects because there is the potential for teacher performance to depend on the skills that are measured by the achievement tests.

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

I’ve written before about the shift to TNReady and any comparisons to prior tests being like comparing apples and oranges.

Here’s what the TN Department of Education’s pie chart does: It compares an apple to nothing to an orange to a banana.

Year 1: Apple (which counts 15%)

Year 2: Nothing, test was so messed up it was cancelled

Year 3: Orange – first year of TNReady (on pencil and paper)

Year 4: Banana – Online TNReady is a mess, students experience login, submission problems across the state.

From these four events, the state is suggesting that somehow, a valid score representing a teacher’s impact on student growth can be obtained. The representative from the Department of Education at today’s House Education Instruction and Programs Committee hearing said the issue was not that important, because this year’s test only counted for 10% of the overall growth score for a teacher. Some teachers disagree.

Also, look at that chart again. Too far up? Too confusing? Don’t worry, I’ve made a simpler version:

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4 thoughts on “Would You Eat This Pie?

  1. Although I might be the person who penned this letter, I know I am not alone in the sentiment behind it. As an educator and a tax payer, I am appalled at the information, directives, and political spin, the TDOE continues to disseminate.

    As recently as today, a brief was sent, once again, to try to convince boards of education, directors of schools, central office personnel, teachers, parents, and students that TNReady will produce results that matter. How can anyone have faith in the results that will come from TNReady testing this year? There have been too many issues with testing to believe that the results obtained will truly show what students have learned and what teachers have taught. There have been issues with both the online platform and issues with the paper/pencil administration due to omissions in the guiding documents schools received such as the TAMS and the TAP.

    Contrary to the rhetoric coming from the TDOE, results will not “serve as accountability for the millions of taxpayer dollars that are invested into public education each year – a key check on Tennessee citizens’ return on investment”. If the results obtained truly demonstrated accountability for the millions invested, students would have been able to seamlessly test, basic fundamental instructions would not have been omitted in the TAMS and TAP, and most importantly, teachers and students would have been afforded, an irregularity free, opportunity to demonstrate what has been taught and what has been learned this school year.

    As taxpayers and stakeholders, we do not need to wait to see the results that “do matter”. After all, the TDOE, said it best in their most recent guidance document… “The results always matter.” I could not agree more. The results do matter. It matters that at the end of the day, the Commissioner and the TN Department of Education could only bring themselves to say that they were “devastated”. However, not so devastated that they actually took action. They offered words. Words that were devoid of action, devoid of helpfulness, frankly devoid of leadership. There was an opportunity for the department to demonstrate leadership and accountability. Instead, they have continued to lead students and teachers into a determined effort to prove true, the theory of insanity. For the past 2 weeks students and teachers were expected to continue doing the same thing over and over with the expectation of getting a different result. Despite the rose colored glasses the TDOE is frantically trying to get everyone to look through, the results are glaringly clear. TNReady is a failure. The TDOE readily reminded school personnel that taxpayers invest millions each year in our educational system and that there is accountability for that. A note to the TDOE: taxpayers invest millions each year in our educational system, AND taxpayers invest millions in TNReady each year. TDOE is accountable for that! Despite rhetoric, spin, and the continual mushroom state the TDOE is using, scores derived from this year’s TNReady debacle will not be a true indicator of the work done this year by teachers and students. However, it might be a true indicator of the effectiveness of the TDOE. “IN NEED OF IMPROVEMENT” seems like the appropriate designation for the effectiveness of the TDOE and its leader.

  2. Thank you for being a voice of sanity. I have not been able to put so succinctly into words why I have been LIVID for the last week. The TDOE needs to start having the same level of accountability they are so determined to enforce upon educators.

  3. I came into teaching to help children become good people. I want them to leave my classroom with knowledge of reading, legible writing, life skills in math, reading, science, and history. I assess their knowledge with tests that use the standard.

    I did not come into teaching to stress myself out with teaching students how to bubble answers, take tests on skills that are not their standard, or to stress my students out because of being timed.

    I do not understand the purpose in having so many standardized tests. When I started teaching in 2003 we had a benchmark test at the beginning of the year, middle of the year, and the end of the year. This test allowed to show growth throughout the year.

    What are we really trying to show by testing these students so much? Plus, it doesn’t matter if it’s on the computer or in a booklet, the test doesn’t always match what the grade level standard says. And the test asks tricky questions to purposely have the students fail. What is the purpose of teaching students that the main idea is explicit when all the questions have the students find an implied main idea. Ugh! Students can’t learn if they are getting confused on what the question wants them to do.

    Also, what is the purpose of differentiation in the classroom if everyone has to take the grade level test in the end. That doesn’t show how the students have grown.

    We want to create a fun, engaging learning environment where students can retain their understanding from year to year.

    Let’s get back to the old ways. I learned from the old ways and I worked really hard to be where I am today. I want the same for my children and for my students.

    All these tests are why our nation is turning on each other. No one has anything positive to look forward to.

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