Replacing TCAP

Measurement, Inc. has been hired by the State of Tennessee to design new assessments in ELA and Math.

The contract came about because the General Assembly passed legislation calling on the state to open bidding for new assessments rather than continue as planned with administration of the PARCC tests.

Here’s an email sent to educators today explaining the upcoming changes:

Over the past several months, Gov. Haslam and his administration, including the state department of education, have participated in a number of ongoing conversations with you and your colleagues about K-12 education in Tennessee. These conversations have reflected both the historic progress Tennessee has made through your work as well as your concerns and recommendations for improvement. One emerging theme from these discussions has been the challenges experienced by educators due to the uncertainty of the state’s assessments in English language arts (ELA) and math and the impact of administering the existing TCAP exams while meeting the current ELA and math academic standards.
We are excited to report to you that this week the state of Tennessee completed the process to replace the state’s current TCAP assessments in ELA and math. The new measurements of learning for ELA and math will be called Tennessee Ready (TNReady). These assessments, to be administered by Measurement Inc., were selected through a fair, thorough and transparent process established by the General Assembly and administered by the state’s Central Procurement Office.
TNReady will be administered beginning in the 2015-16 school year and will assess our state standards in ELA and math. These standards are located on the department of education website (ELA is here and math is here).
You’ll find additional information about TNReady below:

  • By Tennessee, For Tennessee: Tennessee educators – both at the K-12 and higher education levels – were significantly involved in the selection process and chose an assessment that is both fully aligned to the state’s academic standards but also adaptable to future improvements. Tennessee will make decisions about item selection, test length and composition, and scoring. In the future, Tennessee will decide on changes to the test based on changes to standards, and Tennesseans will be engaged in item development and review.
  • Higher Expectations and Critical Thinking:  TNReady will expand beyond just multiple choice questions to include: writing that requires students to cite text evidence at all grade levels; questions that measure math fluency without a calculator; and questions that ask students to show their work in math with partial credit available.
  • Resources for Parents and Teachers:  Online tools will be available for schools and teachers to develop practice tests that can provide students, teachers, and parents with valuable and immediate feedback. These resources will be available before the end of the 2014-15 school year.
  • Comparability:  While the assessments will be unique to Tennessee, TNReady will allow Tennesseans to compare our student progress to that of other states. Through a partnership between Measurement Inc. and American Institutes for Research, TNReady will offer Tennessee a comparison of student performance with other states, likely to include Florida and Utah.
  • Training:  The Tennessee Department of Education will provide training for educators across the state during the summer of 2015.
  • Test Administration & Scoring: TNReady will have two parts. The first portion, which will replace the state’s current comprehensive writing assessment, will require extended written responses in ELA and math and will be administered in February/March. The second portion will include selected responses, such as multiple choice and drag-and-drop items, and will be administered in April/May.
  • Technology: TNReady will be administered online and available for use on multiple devices with minimal bandwidth. As most states move their tests for all grade levels online, we must ensure Tennessee students do not fall behind their peers in other states. However, all districts will have the option of administering paper-pencil exams.

We look forward to sharing additional details about the new assessments in the coming months.  Additional information will be posted on the new TNReady page of our website.
Finally, as previously noted, Tennessee will make appropriate revisions to assessments in the future to reflect any change in the academic standards. Recently, Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education announced a public review process in which all Tennesseans will have an opportunity to provide input on our ELA and math standards. These public comments will then be reviewed by committees of Tennessee educators, which will make recommendations to the state board. We encourage all of you to be engaged in this process in an effort to ensure our academic standards continue to reflect higher expectations for our students. To participate in the standards review process, visit https://apps.tn.gov/tcas/. We want to thank you for your patience and acknowledge the tremendous dedication you have shown in improving the life outcomes for Tennessee students and their families. Thank you for what you do every day.

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

Is Common Core Dead in Tennessee?

That seems to be the message Tennessee leaders are sending about the controversial Common Core State Standards.

After a legislative session which saw the House of Representatives strongly denounce Common Core and ultimately the entire General Assembly vote to delay the PARCC tests, Governor Haslam convened an Education Summit to “reset the conversation” around education policy in the state.

In Williamson County, Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of dollars on School Board races to elect new members who oppose the Common Core State Standards.

Just this weekend, Scott Stroud of the Tennessean wrote:

If Common Core education standards come crashing to earth next year when the legislature reconvenes — and it looks as though they might — Gov. Bill Haslam will need to look no further than his campaign for re-election to figure out when he lost that fight.

Haslam appears now to be shifting to a conversation of why higher standards matter rather than advocating in favor of the Common Core.

And, Speaker Beth Harwell is joining him. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Harwell said:

I really think Tennessee is going to get to the point where they’ll just develop their own standards and try to make them some of the best standards in the nation.

So, it seems likely that Tennessee will shift away from Common Core. But will Tennessee policymakers use the Common Core as a guideline for new standards? And how will development of Tennessee’s own standards impact the already-issued RFP for tests aligned to the Common Core in math and reading? Will there be yet another delay in the use of assessments aligned to Tennessee standards? Will teachers be sent yet another set of standards to teach students? And how will these new standards be developed?

The shift away from the CCSS may be politically expedient, but it leaves many questions unanswered. It also presents an opportunity: To reset the conversation by involving teachers, parents, and communities in a discussion about what’s best for Tennessee.  That conversation was missing in the initial build-up to Common Core in Tennessee and it is likely among the reasons why the standards are facing challenging times now.

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

Failure to Communicate

It seems Governor Bill Haslam is having some trouble advancing his education agenda.

But why? Why is a governor with a supermajority from his own party not able to advance key pieces of his legislative agenda?

He hosted an Education Summit last week designed to “reset” the education conversation in the state. More than anything, it seemed an attempt to save Common Core from a potential political demise. That summit failed to address one key education topic. And he received a response from a teacher (TEA Vice President Beth Brown) indicating he may be missing the point when it comes to what matters to students and teachers.

Earlier this week, a report from a Vanderbilt study indicated support for Common Core among Tennessee’s teachers has dropped dramatically. Teacher Lucianna Sanson explained it this way:

“What you’re seeing in that survey is the difference between what we were told it was and a year of implementation,” Sanson says. “And that is why you have that drastic, drastic change. Because you start implementing it, and you’re like, ‘What is this?’”

Back in August, Haslam sent a note to teachers welcoming them back to school. But, teachers were not amused. Instead, they reminded him that he’d broken his promise to dramatically improve teacher pay in the state.

Of course, during the legislative session, Haslam suffered a major setback as the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests were delayed by the General Assembly.

Before that, Directors of Schools from around the state sent a letter to Haslam complaining that Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman wasn’t listening.

What do all of these issues have in common? Here’s a video that briefly illustrates the problem:

 

 

 

PARCC Delayed is PARCC Denied?

The Conference Committee Report on HB 1549/SB 1835 — legislation that would delay Common Core implementation — is out.

While the report does NOT recommend a delay in implementation per se, it does set out requirements for legislative notification prior to adoption of Common Core standards in science and social studies. Which may ultimately mean those standards are not adopted.

Perhaps most interesting is the section related to PARCC — the Pearson test associated with Common Core.

The Conference Committee Report contains language that would DELAY PARCC tests for one year — so, they wouldn’t start in 2015 as planned.  It goes further by requiring that the Department of Education accept bids for a test of Tennessee’s standards, including the Common Core in English/Language Arts and Math.

It’s possible, of course, that PARCC could still be the chosen option in Tennessee.  Then again, the state could go the way of Kentucky and Florida and drop out of PARCC altogether and contract for a different test.

Unless the General Assembly wants to stay in session for a few more days, it seems likely that this report will be adopted as the compromise position — allowing Tennessee to proceed with the Common Core as currently adopted and taking a step back to assess which test best meets the state’s needs.

Read the full Conference Committee Report.

Helping Haslam

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, has some advice for Governor Haslam:

The critic, Niccolo Machiavelli, taught us that assertions of virtue and integrity in politicians are often grinning masks of deception. So we are not surprised when politicians routinely over-promise and under-deliver. State leadership must coherently articulate K-12 Education Policy to citizens in a truthful manner.

By state leaders continuing to ignore legitimate concerns, such as a vocal opposition to the Common Core State Standards and PARCC Assessments, policymakers and stakeholders across Tennessee have now been negatively impacted. This message has largely fallen on deaf ears at the highest level of state government, who continue to believe all is well. Members of the Tennessee General Assembly have listened and we are grateful to those legislators. Many citizens share the opinion that school teachers, principals, and superintendents are regarded by the administration as impediments to school improvement rather than partners.

As an organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee have embraced higher standards, with the caveat that we should always seek higher standards and a commitment to student achievement. We were very enthusiastic when Governor Haslam pledged to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries in October 2013 and again in the State of the State in February 2014. We intend to help him keep his word.

Governor Haslam has justly boasted “we are one of only six states in the country that has consistently increased state spending on K-12 education as a percentage of our total budget.” He has added that since 2011, “we’ve had the fourth largest increase in education spending compared to the rest of the country.” The questions we need to ask:  How much of this has been Race to the Top Funds?  Where were all those funds allocated?  How much money was actually earmarked to the classroom?

If policymakers boast that Tennessee is the fourth largest state for increase in education spending, then funds from RTTT need to factor into that calculation. Our estimation is that roughly $252 million of the RTTT grant was retained by the Tennessee Department of Education and never saw the inside of a school or classroom. These dollars went toward consultants’ contracts and partnerships.

Our belief is that every dollar earmarked for education should be spent to benefit Tennessee school children. A teacher’s working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. If Tennessee had the most ‘growth’ of any state on the latest NAEP results led by our state teachers, why were their promised salaries a lower priority than unproven PARCC Testing or adding Media/Marketing and Event Coordinators at the Tennessee Department of Education?

We support a delay and/or for the state to rescind the mandate for LEA’s to create a differentiated pay plan. Without the state’s increased financial contribution this creates an unfunded mandate on our local school systems. If the state mandates a requirement they should subsequently provide the necessary funding to facilitate that obligation at the local level. Unfunded mandates fly in the face of conservative orthodoxy and sound public policy.

Teacher attrition is a serious issue. We must keep experienced educators in our classrooms. Tennessee colleges and universities are very adept at meeting the demand for producing quality educators in this state. Historically, approximately 50% of the teachers that graduate with a degree in education do not find a teaching job.

We would suggest a review and delay for all Teach for America (TFA) contracts. Researcher Elaine Weiss revealed that Tennessee spends more money per Teach for America recruit than any other state. Some reports state that total compensations ranging from $5,000 to $9,000, to as high as $15,000, have been paid to Teach for America for their recruits. If this is true, we should turn to our own graduates of traditional colleges of education looking for an opportunity to teach in their own state.

Teaching is higher calling for professionals, not a pre-career placeholder. Therefore, it makes little sense to employ temporary teachers and spend scarce tax dollars and resources then watch a teacher leave after two years. Our goal should be hiring and retaining quality teachers that want to live, play, and worship in our communities long-term, instead of marking off days until a loan is forgiven and entrance to graduate school is accomplished.

We do not seek to be unduly critical of Governor Haslam. We recognize that there are many competent people in the Department of Education and administration. However, the media may be the only hope to reach the Governor. We encourage the Governor to confront issues directly, answer emails timely and regularly meet face-to-face with education stakeholders on a consistent basis, not through intermediaries. Governor Haslam, you need our help and we want to extend our hand to offer the assistance you need.

More on how Tennessee came to be short on revenue.

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

 

Thoughts on PARCC and Other Tests

 

This article was written by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. The article notes that the road ahead for PARCC and for other Common Core connected assessments is complex and requires careful navigation.

There has been a renewed focus on the role of testing across the United States. This has opened a new dialogue among stakeholders, as well as policymakers. It is clear that new policies are needed to reflect the changing landscape in education and maximize changes in technology. As assessments will also be changing, data protection is a must. The ancillary debate is “Should the state bear the expense of testing, or is it a local responsibility?”

 

The debate is not merely about the pending and still experimental PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessments. In fact, there will be probably 10 to 15 less expensive assessment options under consideration. Additionally, there are the assessments of the states that are not Common Core State Standard members, for a total of about 20 possible assessments designed to measure a common set of standards. Some of these options may become a necessity if a “Plan B” is needed in case the PARCC exams become too costly or are proven to not be a right fit for Tennessee.

 

The purpose of testing should be to determine if a student is making satisfactory progress from grade to grade in grades 3 through 12. Our belief is that a standardized test is inappropriate within the K-2 setting. The use of assessments should allow educators to better assist students who are behind their peers to ensure they receive the help they need immediately to get back on track. In addition, those students who meet or exceed expectations can be monitored to make certain that they continue to excel. In the 9-12 setting, end-of-course (EOC) exams may still be an option if they are not discontinued. How many tests are needed? How often should they be administered? What is their purpose? These questions need to be asked frequently by stakeholders and policymakers.

 

The attraction of emergent technology is that it will allow educators to effectively identify and address student needs, if there is timely feedback. This ongoing transformation will continue to impact student learning – and advance prescriptive teaching. Students will need to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge or skills in a range of contexts. Assessments should allow educators to gauge their students more efficiently, and provide them with concise and accurate data to permit more focused support to students on an individual basis.

 

Most colleges and universities across the nation use the ACT, the SAT or both as part of their admissions procedure. The vast majority of state colleges and universities admit most of their applicants, and do not require minimum scores for admission that represent college readiness. A significant number of students require remediation. Is that a fault of the K-12 community or a failure by higher education? Perhaps greater dialogue and collaboration is needed. That is a discussion for another time.

 

The ACT test predicts a student’s prospect of earning credit in entry-level courses, but has not been aligned to states’ K-12 academic standards. This is also true of the SAT. The SAT is not designed to specifically predict college entry-level course success. However, it does provide predictors of overall college success, retention and completion. Both the ACT and SAT are in the process of fully developing their own suite of CCSS aligned assessments.

 

Stakeholders and policymakers all want what is best for public education. However, the road ahead is fraught with complexity. If we are going to take the time and expense to create standards, it stands to reason we will measure to see if students have in fact learned them. The purpose of testing is to guide educators on how and what to teach students so that education goals are met within a community, state and nation. We must keep focused on achieving our educational goals as a state and a nation.

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

 

A Letter on Common Core from Bluff City Ed and TN Ed Report

As adults, we constantly need to master new skills and adjust our thinking to new information to solve the many challenges facing our world.  Our schools should be designed to empower our children to accomplish the same.  To accomplish this, it’s essential that our teachers have a rigorous set of standards to guide them.  Currently our existing standards don’t adequately prepare students for these challenges.  They don’t push our kids to fully build the critical thinking skills necessary for college and career readiness, let alone to lead the next generation.

That is why the Tennessee Education Report and Bluff City Education jointly support the adoption of the Common Core state standards here in Tennessee.  These standards represent a dramatic improvement over our existing state standards.  They reduce the amount of content required for teachers to cover and give teachers more time and freedom in how to pursue their goals.  This in turn empowers educators and schools to push their kids to higher levels of critical thinking every day throughout the year.

These standards also represent a crucial transition for our state’s future.  In recent months we’ve focused on increasing the number of students with access to a college degree through Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative.  However, college access is not enough if our students are not prepared for the rigors of a post-secondary education.  We believe that the Common Core standards should be viewed as a crucial component of this effort.  If we want our state to be truly competitive in a global economy, we cannot afford to allow our public education system to linger in the limbo of the status quo any longer.  Failing to do so will ensure that we fall compared to others raising their academic standards.  In this way, the fight to adopt Common Core represents a fight for Tennessee’s future.

However, we have some serious questions about the common core standards as it relates to testing.  We are concerned about the implementation of the new PARCC tests and their potential impact on teachers and schools, particularly in the area of evaluations.  Other states that have enacted the common core have seen dramatic declines in test scores.  This is to be expected if we are truly holding students to a higher level of critical thinking.  Over time we expect these scores to rise as teachers and schools become more comfortable with these standards and the state continues to support their implementation.

However, this becomes a concern when these scores are used to evaluate teachers and schools in the existing evaluation system.  Teachers and schools will likely see their scores drop dramatically for the first few years.  This will impact their evaluation scores and by association is likely to cause a decline in support for these important standards.  We are also concerned that we may see strong schools placed on the failing list in these first few years of common core implementation simply by virtue of the fact that they have not had the time to fully adjust to the new standards and their accompanying assessments.

Another concern is that while these tests have been field tested throughout this year, there will still be kinks that need to be worked out of the system in regards to data and implementation.  For example, test questions will likely need to be dropped, added or modified and the standards themselves may need to be tweaked to improve them as time goes on.  Additionally, over the years we’ve given students their yearly assessments in paper form.  They will need time to adjust to taking assessments online, which is a crucial component of the PAARC assessments.  Lastly, the entire TVAAS system will need to be adjusted from analyzing a complete multiple choice assessment to a mixed multiple choice-open response assessment.  Teachers and schools should not be held accountable for these factors which are outside of their control.

We propose three modifications to the current process to ensure a successful Common Core implementation.  First, we propose that the state board of education issue a moratorium stating that the first year of tests scores will not be used on teacher evaluations.  In the second year, test scores would increase to 15% of evaluation score and in the third year they would return to the full 35%.  This would allow teachers adequate time to adjust their instruction to the new standards and their accompanying assessments and give students a full three years to accustom themselves to the higher level of thinking demanded by the common core.

In addition, during the moratorium year, the state Department of Education should seek feedback on the TEAM model from teachers around the state and make necessary changes as it relates to common core. These could include a broader rollout of portfolio-based assessments for teachers in related arts, for example.  It could also include ways to factor in teachers in non-tested, academic subjects, such as using AP scores in place of whole school value-added data.  If teacher evaluation is to be tied to student performance data, we should ensure that data represent students taught by the teacher being evaluated.

Second, we propose that the state place at minimum a one year moratorium on using these test scores to evaluate schools.  This should give schools additional time to adjust to these new tests and adequately prepare their teachers and students for the new format.  We would never teach students the entirety of calculus in a month and then penalize schools when they fail to pass the advanced placement exam.  We shouldn’t do the same to schools.  Students need time to adjust to the new content and the new ways of thinking demanded by the standards before schools are assessed on their performance, which a one year moratorium will provide.

Third, we also propose that the state of Tennessee leave open the possibility of switching tests if it appears that PARCC is not working by including an exit clause in any new contract created with PARCC to hold it accountable for continuing to provide a high quality assessment. After the second year of PARCC, the State Board of Education should issue a report on its effectiveness in meeting the goal of assessing achievement of Common Core State Standards.  Factors for making this judgment should include the cost of PARCC relative to similar tests that also assess the standards. To facilitate this, the governor should appoint a committee to establish metrics which would be used to evaluate the effectiveness of PARCC as an assessment tool in meeting the academic goals established by the common core state standards.

A comparison of new tests in states like Kentucky and Florida is also warranted. We should not be locked into a test if it is found that PARCC has not met the state goals.  If in a worst case scenario Tennessee decided to continue to delay or even pull out of PARCC, including such a clause would mean we would not need to end our use of the Common Core State Standards.  Other states, notably Kentucky to our north, continue to strongly support Common Core implementation in their state but have chosen to create their own assessments.

We support Common Core and sincerely hope that PARCC is successful in our state.  Above all, we should constantly evaluate both the quantitative data gleaned from the new PARCC assessments and the qualitative data we hear from teachers, students and parents.  Common Core represents a necessary change for our state, but there will be challenges along the way that demand adjustments.  Only by listening carefully to those directly impacted by these new standards will we truly be able to fully implement them and alter the trajectory of the future of public education here in Tennessee.

Tennessee Education Report Endorsers: Andy Spears, Zack Barnes, John Haubenreich

Bluff City Education Endorsers: Jon Alfuth, Ryan Winn, James Aycock, Tamera Malone, Elana Cole, Casie Jones

Follow these Tennessee education writers on Twitter @BluffCityEd and @TNEdReport

 

House Overwhelmingly Votes to Delay Common Core, PARCC

The Tennessee House of Representatives this morning voted to delay any further implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Tennessee and to delay the use of the Pearson Assessment of  Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) until July 1, 2016 — effectively a two-year delay in the process.

The vote in favor of the legislation was a resounding 82-11.  The vote was a surprise, as two amendments offered by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh were adopted.  An amendment to delay further Common Core implementation, including the adoption of new standards in science and social studies was approved by an 80-6 vote.

On delaying the PARCC testing, the vote was 88-0.

If Tennessee goes forward with a delay in PARCC participation, it will join Florida and Kentucky, who have already decided to stop using PARCC to assess their students’ mastery of the Common Core State Standards.

Procedurally speaking, the bill has already passed the Senate in a different form.  It will now be sent back to the Senate to ask that body to concur in House amendments.  The Senate can choose to adopt the House amendments, in which case the bill would be sent to Governor Haslam for his action.  If the Senate does not adopt the House amendments, the bill goes back to the House.  The House can then either 1) remove the amendments or 2) refuse to remove the amendments.  If the House refuses to back down from its original action (which passed with more than 80 votes), a conference committee will be appointed to sort out the issue.

The vote to delay Common Core and PARCC ended a particularly bad week for Governor Haslam’s education policy agenda.

First, the TEA announced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TVAAS-based merit pay for teachers, a measure supported by the Haslam Administration.

Then, the House Finance Committee did not take up Haslam’s proposal for school vouchers, instead delaying consideration for one week.  The bill barely eked out of House Finance Subcommittee with Speaker Harwell having to break a tie vote.

A TEA-backed bill prohibiting the use of TVAAS in teacher licensure decisions also passed key committees in the House and Senate this week.

 

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

 

TREE to Host Testing Forum

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) will host a community forum on the use of testing in Tennessee schools this Saturday, March 1st at 2:00 PM at New Song Church in Nashville.

The forum will feature speakers Dr. Jim Horn and Dr. Denise Wilburn, scholars who have been critical of TVAAS and the overuse of testing in schools.

The forum comes at the end of a week that so far has seen the TEA call for a moratorium on the use of the PARCC tests for Common Core at the same time legislative committees put off key votes on legislation dealing with Common Core implementation.

Metro Nashville School Board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering have also raised concerns about the amount of testing in schools and the cost of that testing to the school system.

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

TEA Calls for Moratorium on PARCC

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) issued a statement today calling on the State of Tennessee to reconsider participation in PARCC – a consortium of states administering a Pearson-designed test to assess Common Core skills.

The statement indicated that TEA supports the Common Core State Standards but has concerns about the PARCC test.  Neighboring Kentucky, an early Common Core and PARCC adopter, recently chose to stop using PARCC.

Here’s the TEA Release:

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement today calling for the state to put the brakes on its plans to use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards.

 

“TEA believes Tennessee needs to reconsider the use of the PARCC assessment,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “First and foremost, we object to our students being set up to fail. Any assessments aligned with the Common Core standards should ensure no harm is done to Tennessee students, schools or educators. Though PARCC supporters speak of an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement, Tennessee students will be measured against states that invest thousands of dollars more per pupil.”

 

“TEA supports the more rigorous standards that are included in Common Core, but the implementation must provide adequate time and resources to be effective. Tennessee teacher involvement in standards development and implementation is critical to ensure the standards are developmentally appropriate for all students,” added Summerford.

 

“While thousands of teachers and administrators have received training, more support and resources are needed,” the TEA president said. “Many school districts lack the necessary technology for student access to the PARCC.”

 

“Teachers do not oppose testing and accountability. Teachers do oppose an over-reliance on summative standardized test results above all other indicators of student learning, particularly on a test that has not been properly vetted,”  emphasized Summerford.

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