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

Parents, Educators Challenge Over-Reliance on Testing

Stories out of Shelbyville and Knoxville over the weekend indicate a growing pattern of frustration on the part of parents and teachers about the amount of testing forced on Tennessee students and the use of those students (and now, student surveys) to evaluate teachers.

Jason Reynolds at the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports that the currently used TCAP tests are coming under increasing scrutiny. Reynolds reported that Nashville parent  and education activist Jennifer Smith, suggests Tennessee students are subject to too much testing and it is having negative consequences:

“Children are being denied valuable classroom instruction, experiencing undue anxiety and stress, and receiving little — if any — recess time so they can prepare to take a test that is ‘not very strong,’” she wrote. Smith said she would like to see Tennessee follow the lead of California, which recently discontinued its version of TCAP so teachers could prepare to implement PARCC.

Reynolds also notes that J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) says Tennessee students are overloaded with tests.  Bowman has also expressed concern with the use of value-added scores to evaluate teachers.  His organization has called for a suspension of the use of TVAAS in evaluations until the PARCC test is implemented, which seems to echo Smith’s concern.

Teachers are speaking out as well.  A Knox County teacher recently addressed her School Board about the pressures teachers are facing.

And in this story out of Knoxville, parents and teachers both express concern over excessive testing.

One PTSO leader in Knox County noted: 35 days during the year at the elementary level were devoted just to math assessments, “and that’s not including the other four subjects.”

Concern from parents and teachers over testing combined with serious questions about the ability of value-added scores to actually differentiate between teachers seem to be behind the school systems of both Bradley County and Cleveland passing resolutions recently opposing the use of TVAAS data for teacher evaluation and licensure.

The same parent noted she is concerned about the use of student surveys to evaluate teachers. This is practice underway in Knox County, Shelby County, and Metro Nashville.  It’s called the TRIPOD survey and uses student answers on a battery of questions to evaluate teacher performance.  This year, the surveys count for 5% of a teacher’s overall evaluation score.  It’s not clear how the surveys are scored or what a teacher needs to do to earn the top score of 5.

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

 

Cleveland, Bradley County Speak Out on State Ed Policy

The School Boards of Cleveland and Bradley County have both passed resolutions this week calling on the State Board of Education to stop using TVAAS (Tennessee Value Added Assessment System) scores in teacher evaluation and licensure.

UPDATE:  Read the resolution here.  We’re told this resolution will be presented to the TSBA (Tennessee School Boards Association) Delegate Assembly for a vote in November.

Cleveland’s Board expressed support for Common Core while the Bradley resolution questions the appropriateness of Common Core standards for younger children.

The two districts join Roane and Marshall counties in passing resolutions raising concerns about state education policies and a lack of collaboration from state leaders.

Specific to TVAAS, Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) has also called on the state to stop using value-added data until 2016-17 when the PARCC tests are fully phased-in.

TVAAS has come under criticism recently for providing a smokescreen that has allowed Tennessee policy makers to claim schools are making gains while masking relatively low proficiency rates on tests like NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

Additionally, some question the ability of value-added data to provide meaningful differentiation among teachers.

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