Fiasco

That’s how one Kindergarten teacher described the state’s portfolio assessment program for teachers at a legislative committee meeting last week. At the final meeting of the House Education Subcommittee on Curriculum, Testing, and Innovation, legislators presented bills that would fundamentally change the way Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers are evaluated. One bill would allow local districts to choose to use the current portfolio model or use an approved alternative evaluation. Another piece of legislation would simply move away from portfolio evaluation altogether.

Readers will remember the story last year that exposed the current portfolio model as a complete failure. Here’s more on that:


Kindergarten teachers I talked to estimate the evidence collection process takes up a minimum of five instructional days. This means students aren’t actively engaged in the learning process during the evidence collection days. As in the scenario with Eric, it requires the full attention of the teacher (and if possible, an assistant) in order to collect the evidence. This doesn’t include the tagging of evidence or the uploading to an often unreliable online platform known as Educopia. Some districts report hiring subs on evidence collection days so teachers can document the evidence from their students.


Eric’s story is just one more example of a Department of Education that claims victory when the evidence suggests much improvement is needed. It’s a Department hellbent on pursuing supposedly lofty goals no matter the consequences to students or their teachers.
Lost instructional time due to portfolio evidence collection? No problem!
Days of stress and chaos because TNReady doesn’t work? Outstanding!
Teachers faced with confusing, invalid evaluations? Excellent!
Eric and his teachers and Tennessee’s schools and communities deserve better.


Many teachers also recall the nightmare that was the portfolio scoring process from last year:


Anyway, after this year’s blame the teachers portfolio event, the state finally agreed to review portfolios and re-score them. In fact, the state offered $500 each to reviewers who would meet at centralized locations and on a single day (September 8th) to assess the portfolios in question. This would allow for immediate feedback and assistance should problems arise.
The good news: No assistance was necessary because problems didn’t arise during the scoring.
The bad news: That’s because there was no scoring as the state’s vendor, Educopia, could not provide access to the portfolios in order for them to be graded.
To be fair, some portfolios were graded in certain locations before the infrastructure was overloaded and all grading stopped.
This means trained reviewers sat in rooms around the state looking at blank screens instead of assessing portfolios. It means they were fed sandwiches and then told to go home. It means they were promised $500 for the lost day.

Since last year, the Department of Education has moved to a new platform for portfolio evaluation — a group called Portfolium. More on this “new” group:


Who is Portfolium?
Portfolium is a startup company designed to provide college students with a way to highlight accomplishments and work samples for future employers. Yes, you read that right: The new evaluation platform is a startup company that was founded in 2013 and just three years ago, began raising a small amount of capital to launch:
Portfolium, a Web-based social network for students preparing to start their careers, said it has closed on $1.2 million in new venture funding, bringing its total funding to $2.1 million since 2013, when the San Diego-based startup was founded.

And, according to teachers, the Portfolium platform is pretty frustrating. Kindergarten teachers report frequently receiving the “Uh-Oh” screen and also note they’ve been told not to upload material during the TNReady testing window so as not to stress the state’s computer system. With dump trucks already preparing to attack this year’s test, it’s certainly not reassuring that there are concerns about capacity.

While teachers were raising concerns with legislators, the Department of Education, always eager to call teachers liars, suggested that MOST Kindergarten teachers loved the portfolio model and were enjoying this year’s experience. No, I’m not joking. A TN DOE representative claimed that more than 80% of Tennessee Kindergarten teachers actually liked the portfolio model.

In any case, the legislation to change portfolios advanced to the full Education Committee in the House. That’s where lawmakers will decide the likely path for next year.

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

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