RTI Rollout Rushed?

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a story about Tennessee’s RTI2 program implementation in which she notes that the program’s mandates have come largely unfunded by the State of Tennessee.

The Response to Intervention and Instruction program is designed to identify students who are struggling and get them extra assistance before they fall too far behind.

In practice, the program means many students miss related arts or even social studies and science in order to spend extra time in remediation for math and reading, the two subjects tested on the state’s TCAP test.

Additionally, many districts report they lack the funding to provide subject-matter teachers and so individuals not certified in math or reading may be in charge of certain remediation classrooms.

Tatter notes:

Districts have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments, and don’t have the money to hire educators with the expertise required to work with the highest needs students. Some schools are using their general education teachers, already stretched thin, and others are using computer programs.

The state’s RTI2 policy identifies the intervention levels for students:

According to the state RTI2 policy, students should be divided into three groups: the majority, on grade level, are in Tier 1, students in the bottom 25th percentile of students across the country  are in Tier 2, and students in the bottom 10th percentile are in Tier 3.

All students, regardless of tier, get an hour of intervention time a day. For Tier 2 and Tier 3, intervention time is spent in small groups, ideally of fewer than five students, working on specific skills, while for kids in Tier 1 it might be enrichment activities.

Tatter notes that Metro Nashville Public Schools is among the districts taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the state to serve a smaller pool of students.

Essentially, if a district feels it lacks adequate resources to provide services to the bottom 25 perfcent of students, it can shift down to a smaller number, 16% in Tier 2 in MNPS for example, and the bottom 7% in Tier 3.

The shift at MNPS means they can focus on a smaller pool, but it also highlights the challenge faced by districts across the state. That is, those districts with higher concentrations of poverty (and likely to have higher numbers of students needing intervention) also have the least resources available to assist students.  The poorest districts, then, are left further behind as a result of a well-intentioned unfunded state mandate.

Tatter notes that education researchers and practitioners believe RTI2 can work and work well, but without proper support, many districts are struggling to make that happen.

More on RTI2 from our friends over at Bluff City Ed

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

 

 

Message from McQueen

New Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent a message to teachers today. In it, she noted that she is a Tennessean (from Clarksville) and that she has years of classroom teaching experience, including teaching in Tennessee. These two items differentiate her from her predecessor.

Here’s her message:

I wanted to send you a brief note during this holiday season to express how much I look forward to working with you in the months ahead.

 

I am honored Governor Haslam has asked me to serve as Commissioner of Education, and I am pleased I will have the opportunity to listen, learn, and work with you in support of the children and families of Tennessee.

 

This is a very exciting time in our state.  We know we are headed in the right direction.  We are the fastest improving state in the nation in student achievement.  Most importantly, thanks to you, we are making a real difference in the lives of our children and the future of our state.  I also know you share my belief that we have more work to do.

 

We want every child in our state to have access to a great school and to great teaching in every classroom.  We want every graduate to be college and career-ready so they can succeed in the future.  We want Tennessee to continue to set the pace and lead the nation in the reforms and innovations that are making a real difference in the lives of our students. We will do that by supporting strong school leaders and great teachers, like you, in every school in our state and by staying focused on high standards and assessments that align with and work with those standards.

 

I grew up in Clarksville, and like you have served as a classroom teacher – in both public and private schools – at the elementary and middle school levels — in Tennessee and outside our state – and I have spent most of my career focused on developing and supporting educators to help our students succeed. We both know that’s where the magic and hard work takes place – in classrooms – between great teachers and eager children.

 

Now I look forward to traveling our state to listen and learn from you and other teachers, principals, parents, and other school leaders who are working so hard every day to help our children succeed.

 

I can commit to you that I will always put children first in making decisions about policy or practice.  Every decision we will make at the department will be made through the lens of what is best for our students.  We know this work is hard, but if we continue to put students at the center of the conversation I am confident we can build on our progress.

 

The future of our state – and of our children – depends on the work we will do together in the coming months and years.  I’m excited to get started, and I look forward to working closely with you.

 

Thank you for your leadership, and best wishes during this holiday season.

 

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

Commissioner McQueen

Though she didn’t make it to the Final Four in Education Commissioner Madness, Lipscomb University Senior Vice President Candice McQueen looks to be Governor Haslam’s choice to serve as Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education. This according to Joey Garrison at the The Tennessean.

In addition to serving as Senior Vice President at Lipscomb, McQueen is the Dean of the College of Education at the school.

Here’s more on McQueen from her bio at Lipscomb:

Dr. Candice McQueen was appointed as a Senior Vice President at Lipscomb University in January 2014 where she also serves as the Dean of the College of Education.  In her new senior role, McQueen serves on the executive leadership team of the university and oversees both her college and the 1,300 Pre-K-12th grade students in three schools at Lipscomb Academy – the largest private school in middle Tennessee.

McQueen’s college and teacher preparation programs have been highlighted at both the state and national levels for excellence in both teacher preparation design and teacher candidate outcomes.  The programs in McQueen’s college have been consistently highlighted as one of the top teacher training programs in the state of Tennessee for quality and effectiveness based on the Tennessee Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs and was most recently pointed out as the second highest ranking program in the nation by the National Council on Teacher Quality.  In addition, in her six years as dean, the college has grown by 54% with 72% growth at the graduate level while adding 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and creating innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.

In 2012, McQueen and the College of Education partnered with the Ayers Foundation to initiate The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation.  The institute has a focus on supporting higher academic standards, embedded professional learning and new approaches to leadership training and support.  The institute initially partnered with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to create pre-service teacher resources and web-based videos on teachers modeling the usage of college and career readiness standards.  Tennessee’s higher education institutions and alternative preparation programs are currently utilizing the resources to prepare new teachers and leaders.  Also, many Tennessee school districts and other states are using the resources for professional development.  In addition, the institute’s innovative MOOCs (massive open online courses) in teacher preparation were recently released.  The first three MOOCs released in September and October 2014 already have almost 10,000 users.

Before coming to Lipscomb and serving as a department chair, Dr. McQueen taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools where she was awarded multiple awards for both her teaching and the curriculum design of a new magnet school. Dr. McQueen has a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb, a master’s degree from Vanderbilt, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas.

 

McQueen has been a strong supporter of Common Core, testifying before state legislators on the issue. She also spoke about the standards and their importance at Governor Haslam’s Education Summit held earlier this year.

Tennessee Education Association statement on McQueen:
“TEA looks forward to working with Dr. McQueen to provide a quality public education to every student in Tennessee,” said Barbara Gray, Shelby County administrator and TEA president. “We hope she will listen to veteran educators in the state when making important policy decisions. The people who work with children in the classroom every day are the real experts and should have a significant voice in decision-making at the state level.”

“TEA is hopeful she will use this new position to forcefully advocate within the administration to improve per student investment in Tennessee,” the TEA president continued. “As a former educator herself, I’m sure she agrees that it is unacceptable for our state to rank below Mississippi in what we invest in our children.”

Professional Educators of Tennessee statement on McQueen:

We look forward to working with Dr. McQueen on critical education issues facing Tennessee Educators. Dr. Candice McQueen is well versed in the hard work teachers’ face every day as she has taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools. She is familiar with Tennessee, one of our major concerns. “We have admired Dr. McQueen’s work from afar, and are looking forward to working with her more closely,” said Executive Director J. C. Bowman. Priorities for a new commissioner must first be student-centered. Our students must have the resources and innovative instruction to compete in a world-class economy right here in Tennessee. We are reminded that the working conditions of our educators become the learning environment of our students, therefore teachers must also be a high priority in the new commissioner’s agenda. Finally, Tennessee will need to continue to allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have maintained, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators. In this season of hope, we truly look forward to working with Dr. McQueen to move our state forward.

 

 

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

 

Report Card on MNPS

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its annual Report Card on Metro Schools yesterday. The group made 5 policy recommendations, including asking the MNPS School Board to wait until after the new Mayor is elected in August of 2015 before finalizing a Director of Schools.

Here are the recommendations from the Chamber press release:

  • The Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card Committee should annually monitor the implementation of MNPS’ strategic plan through 2018.
  • MNPS’ pay supplement system should be reformed to financially reward teachers who assume a leadership position at their school.
  • MNPS should highlight issues which impede school-level autonomy to identify needed policy or statute changes.
  • The Metro Nashville Board of Education should take action to recommit itself to policy governance and professional development in order to establish steps toward developing consensus moving forward.
  • The school board should hire a new director of schools after the election of a new mayor in 2015.

Here’s how Report Card committee members explained the suggested delay on a Director choice until after the Mayor’s election:

“The director of schools reports to the Metro Nashville Board of Education,” said Committee Co-chair Brian Shaw. “But our committee felt it will be critically important for both the educational leadership and the political leadership of our community have strong working relationships, and the upcoming election for mayor and Metro Council is critical to that.”

“The school board has a tremendous amount of work to do to get to the point where they are ready to hire a new director, so we understand the need to go ahead and begin the search process soon,” said committee Co-chair Jackson Miller. “We believe knowing who our next mayor is before the finalists are identified eliminates a big question mark in the minds of the quality candidates we are trying to recruit.”

The Metro Nashville Education Association weighed-in on the Report Card, essentially agreeing with the core recommendations but adding that teacher input is needed going forward and that funding for teacher pay must be a priority. The MNEA agrees that a new Director should not be hired until the new mayor has been elected.

Here’s what MNEA had to say, from their press release:

  • In addition to the annual monitoring by the Chamber’s Report Card committee, the success of MNPS’ strategic plan, Education 2018, a plan to become the highest performing urban school district in the United States, will be dependent on the support of all of Nashville, especially its students, teachers, and leaders.
  • MNEA has long supported more pay for teachers who assume leadership responsibilities. However, its implementation will be contingent upon the district making it a funding priority.
  • Both nationally and internationally, highly success schools exist where there is teacher autonomy. Yet experience tells us that in the absence of an accountability structure and/or the will to create one, school-level, or principal autonomy, will lead to chaos and injustice.
  • In 2002 the MNPS Board of Education adopted policy governance. No member of the current board served during 2002, nor did any member vote to adopt this form of governance. The current elected board should either recommit to policy governance or choose a form of governance that best serves their needs, and most importantly, best serves the needs of Nashville’s students.
  • The hiring of the next MNPS Director of Schools should not occur without input from Nashville’s students, parents, teachers, and new mayor.

 

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

 

PET Looks to 2015

A response to Governor Haslam’s recently announced teacher support initiatives by JC Bowman and Samantha Bates of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

 

The announcement by Governor Bill Haslam addressing testing, evaluations, local control and teacher input was a much needed statement, as Tennessee is heading into the 2015 legislative session. Keeping in mind that each branch of government has a distinct and separate role, it is appropriate for Governor Haslam to identify changing priorities. As always, the key is in implementation of policies. Many policies sound good. They simply have to be executed correctly.

It is always good to step back and put some political philosophy behind the policy. However, the real message educators need to hear from elected leaders is that they are trusted. We need to start a fresh conversation on evaluating how we assess our educators, which may mean a change in the way we measure engagement.

When did test results became the be-all and end-all of our education experience? Is standardized testing so reliable that it has ended the search for something better to determine the quality of our education experience? And while numbers may help us understand our world, we recognize that they do not tell us the entire story.

Most local school districts understand that ability of their instructional personnel is the only real differentiator between them and other local districts. Therefore, it is imperative that we start treating our educators like one of our most important assets. And it is only common sense that one of the key items policymakers need to address in 2015 will be teacher salaries.

However, educators do not enter this field of public education for the income; they are there for the outcomes. If the perception within Tennessee is that teaching is not a celebrated profession, we certainly will not get the young talented people to pursue a career in public education as a profession.

We have steadfastly maintained that requiring school districts to simultaneously implement new standards, new teacher evaluations and perhaps a new curriculum, as well as new testing demands, will continue to place enormous pressure at the local level. More information and feedback on state assessments to help teachers improve student achievement is a welcome addition to the discussion. The use and/or overuse of testing remain a conversation worthy of public debate.

Tennessee will need to continue allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have argued, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators.

The key item we took away from Governor Haslam’s latest proposal is his willingness to hear teacher concerns. It has taken us a long time to get to that point. However, it was a welcome relief to many educators, as we are now positioned to reset the dialogue. The area of improved teacher communication and collaboration has long been needed. We hope a new commissioner of education will truly embrace this concept.

If the right people are brought together for the right purpose, we believe anything is possible for Tennessee children and those who choose to educate our students. Dreaming big should not be just for the children in our classrooms, it should be for the stakeholders and policymakers in our state as well.

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

TEA, MNEA Issue Statement on Neely’s Bend Takeover

The Tennessee Education Association and Metro Nashville Education Association issued a joint statement on the takeover of Neely’s Bend Middle School by the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD).

From the statement:

“The state takeover model has proven to be an ineffective solution for struggling schools. Schools in the Achievement School District in Memphis on average are doing no better or worse than before the takeover. The ASD method of ‘do less with more’ is already harming our students in Memphis. Increasing its presence in Nashville is irresponsible and reckless.

“Nashville students, teachers and schools need support and resources from the state, not a heavy-handed, unwanted takeover of one of our community schools. Neely’s Bend parents and teachers made it very clear at the Dec. 4 ASD meeting that they believe in their students, their school and their community.

“Just this week Governor Haslam spoke of the need for greater local control and decision making in public education. This must extend beyond teacher evaluations to decisions about how to improve struggling schools. The ASD and its charter operators do not know this community. Strangers do not understand what this school needs more than the students, parents and educators who make up the Neely’s Bend family.

“Instead of continuing to funnel money into a program that has failed to deliver on its promises, the state should instead invest that money in struggling public schools to allow educators and parents to determine how to improve public education for their students.

“Measuring a school’s value by student performance on one standardized test given one day during the school year does not provide a clear picture of the school, its students or its teachers. The only thing standardized test scores measure effectively is poverty. Impoverished, minority communities deserve the same quality education available in other parts of the city. That can be accomplished by the state increasing its investment in our students to provide the resources needed for student success.”

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

 

Little Value Added?

 

That’s the conclusion teacher Jon Alfuth draws about Governor Bill Haslam’s recently announced changes to teacher evaluation and support.

Alfuth notes with frustration that Haslam appears happy to support teachers in ways that don’t involve any new money.

Reducing the weight given TVAAS on a teacher’s evaluation, for example, doesn’t cost anything. Adding a few teachers to a “cabinet” to give feedback on tests is welcome change, but also doesn’t carry a price tag.

Haslam’s changes still unfairly assess teachers in non-tested subjects, in Alfuth’s view:

While reducing the percentage from 25 to 15 percent achievement data for non-EOC teachers is a step in the right direction, I don’t feel that it goes far enough. I personally think it’s unfair to use test scores from courses not taught by a teacher in their evaluation given the concerns surrounding the reliability of these data systems overall.

And, Alfuth says, the financial support teachers and schools need is simply not discussed:

Consider the teacher salary discussion we’ve been having here in Tennessee. This is something that Tennessee Teachers have been clamoring for and which the governor promised but then went back on this past spring. There’s no mention of other initiatives that would require extra funding, such as BEP2.0, which would provide millions of additional dollars to our school districts across the state and do much to help teachers. There’s also no mention of expanding training Common Core trainng, which is essential if we’re going to continue to enable teachers to be successful when the three year phase in of growth scores winds down.

In short, while the proposed changes are step forward, at least in the view of one teacher, much more can be done to truly support teachers and their students.

More on the importance of investing in teacher pay:

Notes on Teacher Pay

More on the state’s broken school funding formula, the BEP:

A BEP Lawsuit?

The Broken BEP

What is BEP 2.0?

For more from Jon Alfuth and education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

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

Take a Walk, ASD

That’s the message from the Frayser Neighborhood Council in response to plans by Tennessee’s Achievement School District to take over and convert to charter schools several existing schools in the Memphis neighborhood of Frayser.

Here’s the text of a letter from the Education Committee of the Frayser Neighborhood Council:

 

As members of the Frayser Neighborhood Council Education Committee and on behalf of the parents and children of Frayser we stand in support of parents at Hawkins Mills, Denver and Brook Meade Elementary Schools who choose as their parental option to keep their neighborhood schools with the Shelby County Schools system.

 It is our position that the Achievement School District should improve the education performance and outcomes in the schools they presently run and those that they have approved before considering absorbing any additional schools in Frayser.  We are asking that the ASD respect the wishes of the parents and the broader community as our parents exercise their right to choose.

 

Sincerely,

Sonya H. Smith

Marvis Rogers

Carmen White

Jessie Binion

Charles Taylor

 

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

Mandated to Death

That’s how Sewanee Elementary School teacher Rachel Reavis says she feels when it comes to the amount of testing going on in her school these days.

Reavis made the remarks at a forum with a local school board member hosted by the school’s PTO.

The Sewanee Mountain Messenger has the full story of the meeting, where parents and teachers alike expressed frustration at the amount of testing being done, even at the pre-k level.

Nine Tests in Pre-K?

Parent Janna McClain, a former academic interventionist in Murfreesboro, said her son will take nine mandated tests this year in pre-K. “Who thought that was a good idea? As a parent it would be helpful to know what it is our teachers are being forced to do,” McClain said. “I think the rationale is to prepare for these tests that are connected to dollars, so we have to do more and more tests,” she added. “I understand mandated testing, but I don’t want my child tested nonstop.”

Principal Agrees: Testing is Excessive

“The pendulum has swung to excessive testing,” said SES principal Mike Maxon. “There needs to be a balance.” Certain programs that involve mandated testing also require additional interventions in specific areas, which can be detrimental because it draws students away from other core subjects and creative learning.

Maxon went on to note that the interventions, a part of the Response to Intervention program (RTI2), are being conducted by related arts teachers and guidance counselors because financial support is not provided by the state to pay for the required interventions.

For his part, school board member Adam Tucker said he understands parent and teacher concerns about excessive testing and wants to explore options to reduce testing so students can focus on related arts and other areas that enrich the educational experience.

More on Testing

A Tennessee Teacher Challenges Arne Duncan

Toward a New Model of Testing in Tennessee?

Parents, Educators Challenge Over-Reliance on Testing

Amy Frogge vs. Testing

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

 

Value Added Changes

 

In what is certain to be welcome news to many teachers across the state, Governor Bill Haslam announced yesterday that he will be proposing changes to the state’s teacher evaluation process in the 2015 legislative session.

Perhaps the most significant proposal is to reduce the weight of value-added data on teacher evaluations during the transition to a new test for Tennessee students.

From the Governor’s press release explaining the proposed changes:

The governor’s proposal would:
•        Adjust the weighting of student growth data in a teacher’s evaluation so that the new state assessments in ELA and math will count 10 percent of the overall evaluation in the first year of
administration (2016), 20 percent in year two (2017) and 35 percent in year
three (2018). Currently 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation is comprised of
student achievement data based on student growth;
•        Lower the weight of student achievement growth for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects
from 25 percent to 15 percent;
•        And make explicit local school district discretion in both the qualitative teacher evaluation model that is used for the observation portion of the evaluation as well as the specific
weight student achievement growth in evaluations will play in personnel
decisions made by the district.

 

The proposal does not go as far as some have proposed, but it does represent a transition period to new tests that teachers have been seeking.  It also provides more local discretion in how evaluations are conducted.

Some educators and critics question the ability of value-added modeling to accurately predict teacher performance.

In fact, the American Statistical Association released a statement on value-added models that says, in part:

Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores

Additional analysis of the ability of value-added modeling to predict significant differences in teacher performance finds that this data doesn’t effectively differentiate among teachers.

I certainly have been critical of the over-reliance on value-added modeling in the TEAM evaluation model used in Tennessee. While the proposed change ultimately returns to using VAM for a significant portion of teacher scores, it also represents an opportunity to both transition to a new test AND explore other options for improving the teacher evaluation system.

For more on value-added modeling and its impact on the teaching profession:

Saving Money and Supporting Teachers

Real World Harms of Value-Added Data

Struggles with Value-Added Data

An Ineffective Teacher?

Principals’ Group Challenges VAM

 

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