The NeverEnding Story

Another day, more stories of districts reporting to families that TNReady scores won’t be back in time to be factored into student grades. I first reported that Williamson County sent word that scores would not be back according to the original timeline. Next, it was MNPS telling parents that TNReady scores won’t be back until June, meaning they won’t be factored into report cards.

Now, two more middle Tennessee districts have sent notices about TNReady results not being ready in time.

Here’s the notice from Clarksville-Montgomery County:

The TNReady materials from CMCSS have been returned to Questar. Tennessee has noted that they will be unable to provide the district with the test results until after the end of May. Based on CMCSS Administrative Policy INS-A023, effective April 17, 2015 in alignment with HB 36 SB 285 Amendment (005744), Clarksville Montgomery County School System will not include students’ state assessment scores in their final spring semester grades if the state assessment scores are not received by the district at least five instructional days before the end of the academic year. As we will not be receiving the scores until the end of May the scores will not be included in students’ grades for this year. The second semester average for elementary and middle will be 50% 3rd 9 weeks and 50% 4th 9 weeks. The second semester grades for high school will be 40% 3rd 9 weeks, 40% 4th 9 weeks, and 20% final exam.

And one from Wilson County Schools:

Good Afternoon!

The end of a school year always brings about a flurry of activity and excitement, but I wanted to take a moment to update you on report cards for the spring semester.

A couple of weeks ago, we announced that report cards would be available, VIA Skyward, on Tuesday May 30th. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether the district will be able to meet that date, due to a shipping delay that was beyond our control. While our district met all of the required deadlines to ensure that our raw scores would be returned by May 22nd, the state vendor responsible for picking up the completed materials arrived several days later than scheduled. This has affected a number of large districts across the state, including Wilson County.

The TN Department of Education is aware of these delays. They’ve assured us that they’re working with the vendor to “find a remedy” for the school districts impacted. Our hope is that a solution WILL be found, and our raw scores will be returned on time. Having said that, we thought it was important to make you aware of what’s happened, in the event that report cards have to be delayed for a week.

You may remember, TNReady scores came back later than expected for the fall semester, causing report cards to be delayed. While school districts have the authority to exclude TNReady scores that are returned more than 5 days late, it is the position of Wilson County Schools that the scores be included for this semester, as they were in the fall. This is not a decision that was taken lightly. Many conversations have taken place with teachers and principals about this issue, and the overwhelming consensus is that we include the scores on report cards. Students have worked incredibly hard all year to show of their skills, and we’re eager to see just how well they did!

Thank you for remaining patient, as we work through the process. We’ll keep you updated, as we receive additional information from the state. If you have any questions, feel free to submit those to “Let’s Talk” at the following link: http://www.k12insight.com/Lets-Talk/embed.aspx?k=WK9F4DLT. You can also reach out to me directly, using the information below.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Johnson

Here’s what the Department of Education has to say about the importance of state assessments:

Our state tests serve multiple objectives:

  • They provide feedback about students’ academic progress and how it aligns with grade-level expectations, providing parents and teachers a big-picture perspective about how a student is progressing compared to peers across the district and state, including a student’s strengths and growth opportunities.
  • This builds confidence and transparency about students’ readiness for college and the workforce among Tennessee universities and employers and holds us accountable to serving all students fairly.
  • Assessments help educators strengthen instruction and reflect on their practice, and allow us to highlight schools where students are excelling, so we can learn from those who are doing well.
  • State assessments also help inform decisions at the state level and help state and district leaders determine how to allocate resources, better invest in schools, and identify where we may need to offer additional support.

All of this sounds pretty important. But, not important enough to get it right. Last year, TNReady was a complete disaster. For the past four years, there have been problems with scores being either not available or not clearly communicated.

This year, the state is not providing quick scores to districts — those are the scores used to factor into a student’s final grade. Instead, the districts were to receive the raw data and choose a method of tabulating quick scores. An analysis of the various methods indicates a significant difference in scores depending on the calculation used:

The cube root method yielded on average a quick score, the score that goes for a grade, of 4.46 points higher. In other words, a student scoring basic with a raw score of 30 or higher would, on average, receive an extra 4.46% on their final quick score grade, which goes on their report card. A student who scored a 70 last year could expect to receive a 74 under the new quick score calculation.

The additional points do drop as one goes up the raw score scale, however. For the average basic student grades 3-8 with a raw score between 30 and 47, they would receive an extra 5.41 extra points under the new method.

The average proficient student grades 3-8 with a raw score between 48 and 60 would get 4.32 extra points under the new method.

The average advanced student grades 3-8 with a raw score of between 61 and 67 would receive an extra 1.97 extra points under the new method.

The difference varies much more widely for below basic students, but the difference can be as much as 25 points in some cases.

So, for those districts using quick scores in report cards, there could be a wide variance across districts depending on the method chosen. It seems to me, districts should have already communicated to families how they will calculate quick scores with some justification for that choice. Alternatively, the state could have (should have?) mandated a method so that there is score consistency across the state.

Of course, since a number of districts now won’t have data back in a timely fashion, there may not be many districts using quick scores at all this year.

Here’s the key point: Last year’s TNReady was a debacle. That means this year is really the first year we’ve done TNReady. Instead of jerking districts (and their students) around, the state should have waived use of TNReady scores to evaluate teachers and grade students this year. Doing so would have provided insight into the time it takes to get scores back to districts and allowed for possible changes in administration for next year. Instead, the plan was rushed with a new vendor. Now, we’re where we’ve been year after year: The school year is ending, and there’s a problem with test data.

One more thing: Despite this being the first year of a successful administration of a new test and despite the gap in test results — TCAP in 2015, no results in 2016, TNReady in 2017 — the scores from TNReady will still factor into teacher evaluation.

A word of caution to districts during the 2017-18 testing cycle: The state’s track record with deadlines and score results is not so great. Maybe when they promise you scores will be ready according to a certain timeline, you should be making plans for that timeline not being met.

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


 

Maybe Someday

I reported recently on Williamson County Schools posting information that indicated a delay in the return of TNReady scores for this year. That report indicated scores would not be returned on the agreed timeline and a delay in report cards would result.

Now, word comes from MNPS that scores will not be returned to them until June. This means TNReady and EOC scores will not be factored into student grades.

Here’s the text of an email sent home to parents at JT Moore Middle School in Nashville:

Dear JT Moore Families:
TCAP grades and EOC scores will not be back in time to be included on report cards.
TCAP quick scores arriving in June
The Tennessee Department of Education has confirmed that we will not receive quick scores from state assessments before the end of the school year. Thus they will not be factored into student grades.
Infinite Campus is set up to properly adjust the weighting of nine weeks grades in the event that no exam grade is entered. Each nine-week grade will count as 25 percent of the yearly average for grades 3-8 or 50 percent of the semester average for high school courses.
As a result of this the following will apply:
No grade will go in the TCAP column in ES (3-4) and MS (5-8)
For the following HS or HS for Credit that take an EOC course there will be NO EXAM grade at all.

The grade for these semester classes will calculate 50/50:
English I, II, and III
Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry
Integrated Math IB and Integrated Math IIB
US History
Biology

Once again, the state’s testing regime is creating chaos. In some districts, the scores may end up counting in student grades — resulting in delayed report cards. Other districts (like MNPS) will simply not factor the test scores into student grades.

Imagine studying for an exam, being prepared, and doing well — knowing your performance is a significant factor in your final grade. Then, being told that the people who mandate the test simply won’t get it back in time. That’s the level of consideration being shown to our students.

This marks the second year of problems with TNReady and the fourth consecutive year of testing trouble wreaking havoc on students and teachers.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of what these tests really tell us:

An analysis of TCAP performance over time indicates that those school systems with consistently high levels of poverty tend to have consistently low scores on TCAP. Likewise, those systems with the least amount of poverty tend to have consistently higher scores on TCAP.

Of course, while the scores may or may not count in student grades (depending on district), they WILL be factored into teacher evaluations this year. This despite the fact they won’t provide any valid information.

TNReady will be ready. Maybe. Someday.

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


 

McQueen Joins Chiefs for Change

Education Week reports that Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, Candice McQueen, has joined education reform group Chiefs for Change. Her predecessor, Kevin Huffman, was also a member of the group that has advocated for expanding charter schools and using value-added data in teacher evaluations.

Here’s more:

Chiefs for Change, once part of the former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and comprised solely of state education chiefs, has spun off as an independent organization.

And on the addition of McQueen among the group’s four new members:

The lone state chief in the group is Candice McQueen, Tennessee’s commissioner of education.

While McQueen has been Tennessee’s Education Commissioner for three years now, she is new to Chiefs for Change.

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


 

Rally for Raises

Tonight’s MNPS Board meeting includes discussion of a revised budget that includes taking proposed employee raises from 3% down to 2%.

UPDATE – 3:20 PM: Jason Gonzales reports that the reworked budget keeps the original 3% raises as proposed.

Middle Tennessee CAPE is also organizing a “Rally for Raises” which is described this way:

Join MNPS teachers and staff as we rally at the MNPS budget hearing. Dr. Joseph recently stated that the district would not be able to provide the 3% raises he promised due to cuts to his requested budget from the mayor. However, we believe that people are our district’s most powerful resource. Both the Tennessean and TEA now rank MNPS teacher salary between 12th and 17th in the state, and many of our support staff receive wages that place them below the federal poverty line for a family of 4. These facts, combined with the astronomical rise in housing costs in Nashville hurts our district because our employees literally cannot afford to work for MNPS any more.

Our city has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth and garnered interanational attention as the new “it city” of the South. We ask that our leaders in the district and the city work to make our public schools reflect our civic pride by paying employees the wages that reflect a respect for our professionalism and that allow us to live in the city we love to serve.

The event starts at 5PM at the board offices at 2601 Bransford Ave.

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


 

Fitzhugh Wins Wild Poll

TC Weber posted an early poll over at his Dad Gone Wild blog on the 2018 Tennessee Governor’s race and Craig Fitzhugh — the Democratic Leader in the House, won handily.

Here’s how Weber reported it:

Next year is an election year for governor in Tennessee and since obviously the governor has a lot of influence on the state’s education policy, I though we’d do an early straw poll. This one wasn’t that surprising. Democrat Craig Fitzhugh was the winner, claiming 42% of the responses. Fitzhugh is my personal choice and one of the things that I find most appealing about him is the fact that no matter who you talk to, Republican or Democrat, they refer to him as someone who would be good for everyone. The runner up was Republican and former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd with 26% of the vote. I don’t know to much about Mr. Boyd but by all accounts he’s a centrist in the mold of current governor Bill Haslam. Democrat and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Republican and Franklin businessman Bill Lee were up next tied in a virtual dead heat.

Two points worth noting: Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville wasn’t in the top three and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean finished third. Both are significant in my view because TC writes primarily about issues in Nashville’s schools or that directly impact Nashville. His audience is heavily Nashville-based. But, the former Nashville Mayor finished third and the Speaker of the House from Nashville wasn’t in the top three.

Fitzhugh has not made a formal announcement, but observers expect that’s coming. He took the time to speak to the recent TEA convention and his legislative work on education is likely to be a key element of his campaign platform.

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


 

Lobbyists Quit Amid Voucher Failure

Apparently, the fallout from this year’s defeat of voucher legislation has caused six lobbyists associated with Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children to quit.

Sheila Burke and Erik Schelzig of AP report:

Legislators couldn’t even enact a voucher pilot program limited to Shelby County, which includes Memphis.

The decision to put off the pilot program until at least next year incurred the wrath of the American Federation for Children, a school choice group DeVos once chaired. The group’s Tennessee political action committee has spent more than $1.5 million on direct mail, advertising and candidate contributions since 2012.

 

After the measure’s defeat, the group’s national spokesman, Tommy Schultz, placed the blame for what he called the “dysfunctional House process” on Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who is expected to run for governor next year.

 

“By allowing her hand-picked committee to not even bring the bill to a vote, she demonstrated to Tennessee’s Republican voters exactly how highly she regards them and the Republican Party platform,” Schultz said in a press release.

 

Since that release was sent, six lobbyists hired by the American Federation for Children have quit.

This marks the fifth consecutive year voucher legislation has been defeated, despite millions in spending from groups outside of Tennessee.

It’s telling that after AFC attacked Speaker Harwell, lobbyists decided to move on from an association with them. Of course, losing on your signature issue five years in a row doesn’t exactly help you attract and retain top talent.

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


 

Definitely Not Ready

Last year, I wrote about how Tennessee students, teachers, and parents have come to expect that there will be issues with state tests and timely distribution of results. Last year was the biggest testing disaster in recent memory, but it seems there are problems popping up again this year.

Williamson County Schools recently posted this message about TNReady results and report cards:

The State Department of Education has notified the district that results from this spring’s TNReady testing will be delayed so grades cannot be calculated by the timeline established. The district is in the planning stages of determining how to proceed.

“We are disappointed in this delay,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney. “The school district is preparing an action plan so we can accurately communicate to parents how their student performed during the 2016-17 school year.”

This marks the fourth consecutive year the state has not been able to produce testing results as promised.

Interestingly, earlier this week, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen declared TNReady a “success.”

Here’s what Chalkbeat reported:

Testing results won’t be in for months, but Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is giving this year’s TNReady run an A-plus.

TNReady’s second year — and first full year for grades 3-8 — was a success on both paper and online, McQueen told education stakeholders in an email on Monday.

While the administration of the test may have been uneventful, the release of scores is proving problematic. I wrote in December about the State Board of Education getting involved late in the game on whether and how much TNReady scores should count in student grades.

Now, with a delay in scores being released, local school boards will have to decide what to do with the results. Will they hold report cards until quick scores can be reported OR will they release report cards with grades that don’t include TNReady scores?

In either case, we’re now on year four of testing trouble in Tennessee. Will next year continue the cycle?

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


 

Powell Moves to Protect Special Needs Students

Alanna Autler of WSMV noted yesterday that State Representative Jason Powell of Nashville has drafted legislation to be introduced in 2018 that will ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities. Powell had previously attempted to pass legislation banning the practice for all students, but that legislation never made it out of a subcommittee.

Autler reports:

A state lawmaker has vowed to file legislation that would ban the use of corporal punishment against students with special needs following an investigation by the Channel 4 I-Team.

“This seems like a no-brainer,” said Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville.

The I-Team found in a single school year students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities at 60 Midstate schools.

Disparities could be found at dozens of schools, according to data released by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. The most recent data available is from the 2013-2014 school year.

At Allons Elementary in Overton County, 62.5 percent of students with disabilities received corporal punishment compared to 7.7 percent of students without disabilities.

“It’s absolutely unfair to have students with disabilities punished at a higher level than students without disabilities,” Powell said. “I would say it’s troubling. To say it’s shocking, it’s not.”

It’s still unclear why Tennessee lawmakers allow the practice of corporal punishment to continue or why more local school boards haven’t banned the practice.

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


 

A Troubling Disparity

WSMV’s Alanna Autler reports that students with disabilities in some middle Tennessee school districts are disciplined with corporal punishment at higher rates than their peers without disabilities.

From the story:

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation has found that at 60 schools in Middle Tennessee, students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities.

These are students protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures services to children with a variety of special needs ranging from autism to intellectual and physical disabilities.

The I-Team analyzed data from the 2013-2014 school year, which is the most recent data published by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

Autler’s story also notes that only seven middle Tennessee districts have banned corporal punishment.

Whether and when to use corporal punishment in Tennessee schools is a district-level decision.

Of course, one way to eliminate this disparity would be to ban corporal punishment at all Tennessee schools. That would require legislative action.

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


 

Williamson Budget Woes

Apparently, Tennessee’s wealthiest county is having trouble figuring out how to properly fund schools. Here’s a story from the Tennessean on a proposed cut to the school system’s budget:

The county commission’s budget committee proposed a 1.46 percent cut Thursday to the operational budget.

The $5 million cut will impact dozens of employee positions as salaries comprise the majority of the district’s budget, said Leslie Holman, chief financial officer for Williamson County Schools.

Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney called the proposed cut tragic.

“It’s not like this budget hasn’t been vetted multiple times,” Looney said.

Principals submit requests to central office. Central office vets those requests, then the school board reviews the whole budget. Cuts are made at every level, Looney said.

“As a community, we have to decide what our priority is,” Looney said. “We can’t fund our school system with pennies.”

Parent advocacy group Williamson Strong notes there are several ways to generate revenue and also points out that Williamson County has the lowest property tax in middle Tennessee and the lowest among counties with a population greater than 100,000.

Here’s more from Williamson Strong on revenue options:

The Education Impact Fee

  • This is a fee on new construction. It is expected to raise a little less than $15 million annually when fully implemented next year.
  • This revenue will be allocated to the county’s debt service for WCS capital projects.
  • This fee was voted on by the County Commission. It can be changed by the County Commission.
  • This fee does not address turnover of existing homes in established communities like Brentwood. 7,641 homes are projected to be built in the Page zone while only 108 are projected in Brentwood.

Sales Tax

  • The state sales tax is 7%. The county sales tax rate is currently 2.25% (for a total Williamson County rate of 9.25%).
  • If the local rate were increased to 2.75% (maximum allowed), WCS could gain $11 million more in funding annually. Increasing the tax to 2.5% would yield approximately $8 million per year.
  • Increasing the county sales tax rate requires a two-thirds vote from the County Commission AND citizen approval from a county-wide voting referendum.
  • District 6 Commissioner Paul Webb plans to introduce a resolution for a referendum to be held asking voters to support a half-cent sales tax from 9.25% to the maximum 9.75%.
  • A local sales tax increase was considered in 2011 but withdrawn. We don’t know that a sales tax referendum has everbeen successfully passed in Williamson County. It requires voters to show up for a special election at an odd time of year, which drives down turnout, and it requires people to show up to specifically vote to raise their taxes. It also provides a more attractive focal point for anti-tax folks to organize around. Some may propose this option because they want it to pass and others because they think it will fail. Be thoughtful about motivations on this potential funding mechanism. Most experienced Williamson County political observers think it is unlikely to pass because turnout for a special election tends to be more anti-tax than the electorate as a whole.

Wheel Tax

  • The current wheel tax is $25.75. Increasing the wheel tax to $100 would mean approximately $18 million in revenue. In fiscal year 2015-16, the county sold approximately 180,000 stickers.
  • Like sales tax, an increase in the wheel tax would require a two-thirds vote from the County Commission and then citizen approval from a county-wide voting referendum.
  • Again, many longtime political observers believe a wheel tax has little likelihood of passage for the same reason as a sales tax. An increase in the wheel tax failed in 2000.

Property Tax

  • The current property tax rate is $2.15 (per $100 of a property’s assessed value). This rate represents the lowest tax rate in middle Tennessee and the lowest among Tennessee counties with populations greater than 100,000.

TaxRateMap

Property Appraisal = $400,000

Assessed Value (25%) = $100,000

Property Tax Rate = $2.15 per $100 of a property’s assessed value

Property Tax = $100,000/100 x $2.15 = $2,150

  • Each additional cent equates to roughly a million dollars so in order to increase revenue by $8 million, we’d need a rate of $2.23. On the sample $400K home, the annual tax bill increase would be $80.
  • Increasing the property tax would require a simple majority – 13 out of 24 County Commissioners.
  • County Commissioners, particularly the thirteen who voted for the property tax change last year, may be reluctant to vote for an increase especially with every seat up for election in May 2018 if they believe their constituents are against it.

District 2 Betsy Hester and Judy Herbert, District 3 Matt Milligan and David Pair, District 5 Tommy Little, District 6 Paul Webb, District 7 Bert Chalfant, District 8 Jack Walton, District 10 Matt Williams and David Landrum, and District 12 Dana Ausbrooks and Steve Smith voted yes. Another yes vote was Tom Bain (D7) who retired this year. Dwight Jones (D1), Lew Green (D5), and Brian Beathard (D11) were absent.

Most of the same commissioners who voted against the county budget also rejected the property tax change – District 4 Kathy Danner (voted for overall budget) and Gregg Lawrence, District 6 Jeff Ford, District 8 Barb Sturgeon, District 9 Todd Kaestner and Sherri Clark, District 11 Brandon Ryan, and District 1 Ricky Jones (abstained from voting on overall budget).

 

How about more money from the state?

Getting more money from the state would be excellent. Currently, the state only funds a portion its school funding formula, known as the BEP (Basic Education Program). A word of caution: state funding would still not solve our local school funding issues. If a local elected official tells you the money should come from the state, ask them to fill you in on their conversations with the legislative delegation. If they’re actually advocating for the state to fully fund the BEP, for example, that’s great. Otherwise, they’re just talking. The chance of getting more than our calculated share from the state is slim because Williamson County has the ability to generate more revenue than most counties in the state.

Williamson County is the wealthiest county in Tennessee. They have tremendous fiscal capacity (ability to generate revenue), and they have a very low tax rate. They could meet current and future needs with a relatively small increase in the property tax that would still leave them with the lowest rate in middle Tennessee. Instead, they are “struggling” to figure out how to pay for schools.

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