Early Warning

At last night’s Knox County School Board meeting, Director of Schools Bob Thomas reported that the district has been informed that 2017-18 TNReady quick scores for grades 3-8 will likely not be returned within five days of the end of the school year. He noted that per the district’s policy, this means TNReady scores will not be included in student report cards. Thomas also said that since the high school EOC tests are being delivered online, there should not be a problem with timely delivery this year.

The good news is districts are learning about this likely delay in December, instead of in May as was the case last year.

The bad news is, well, it’s still TNReady and Tennessee is still clearly not ready. Last year was the fourth consecutive year of problems with the release of quick scores — the scores used in student grades. This year, it looks like districts will again be faced with a decision: Wait for quick scores and delay report cards OR release report cards without using TNReady scores.

Senator Bill Ketron, who is introducing legislation that would place a moratorium on TNReady testing for two years, asked a very simple question: Why can large states like Texas, California, and New York handle testing and score reporting while Tennessee, with significantly fewer students, struggles with this year after year?

It’s a fair question. What policy barriers or other challenges in Tennessee prevent us from successfully administering a test and delivering the test results in a timely fashion?

As Ketron notes, until that question is answered, maybe we should just stop giving the test.

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


 

TC Ready

In his latest post, TC Weber takes on the Tennessee Department of Education blog Classroom Chronicles and the apparent disconnect from reality evident in a recent post on TNReady.

Here’s TC’s take:

So here’s the rub, the example she links to is nice, but so is a picture of a unicorn. As far as I know teachers at all grade levels don’t have access to individual scores yet and nor do parents.  So where are these reports coming from? Later she mentions using these reports to plan before the semester starts. What semester? Winter? Because results by schools just arrived recently and we are still waiting for individual results.

What happens when I read these TNDOE writings is I end up thinking up is down and I’m missing something. I call other activists and they confirm my thoughts and then we all end up confused. It’s  like we’ve fallen through the looking glass.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think this writing is intended for activists and educators. Its aimed squarely at parents who don’t know better and trust the TNDOE. When questions arise about the usefulness of TNReady people will pull this blog post out and say, “Nope, nope, you are wrong. It says right here that teachers are getting timely useful reports. You just hate all testing.” Mission accomplished.

The post closes with an admonishment for teachers “to remember that teacher attitude influences the classroom environment.” So buck up buttercup. Toe the line and remember…”The more I can emphasize TNReady’s worth as a tool for teachers, as well as parents and students, the better!”

It’d be great to emphasize TNReady’s worth as a tool for teachers, parents, and students — but in the case of students in grades 3-8, the results aren’t yet available. Maybe TNReady will provide me with some amazing insights about my child’s learning. But, by the time I have the results, she’ll be finished with the first semester of her 6th grade year. Those insights might have been helpful in August or maybe September. Now, though, they will likely add little value.

Maybe that’s why legislators like Bill Ketron are calling for a TNReady moratorium. 

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


 

Ready to Stop?

Murfreesboro State Senator Bill Ketron is proposing legislation that would place a two year moratorium on TNReady testing, he told the Daily News Journal.

Ketron said he will sponsor legislation for a two-year moratorium on the standardized testing mandate from the Tennessee Department of Education until all data is accurate and can be released to school districts in a timely way instead of being too late to be of use in evaluating performance.

Ketron’s legislation goes further than proposals made by legislators earlier this year that would continue the testing, but not use the results for student scores or teacher evaluation.

The move comes as Tennessee has experienced yet another round of testing trouble.

Tomorrow is December 1st and students and parents still do not have results from a test administered in April.

Members of Murfreesboro’s School Board expressed frustration:

“I do believe we are overtesting,” Terry said.

The lawmakers listened to school officials complain about the standardized testing.

“The system has not worked like it’s supposed to,” County Board of Education Chairman Jeff Jordan said.

The money spent on TNReady testing is “in large part being wasted,” Jordan said.

“It’s just thrown away,” Jordan said.

Murfreesboro City School Board member Nancy Rainier said the “testing debacle” has been hard on children.

“They are the ones being tested to death,” Rainier said.

Fellow county school board member Lisa Moore agreed.

“It’s a never-ending source of frustration,” Moore said.

Tennessee taxpayers spend millions of dollars on testing that so far, hasn’t proven very useful.

Ketron’s legislation will need to gain sufficient support to receive positive votes in House and Senate Education committees before getting a floor vote.

It seems certain Commissioner McQueen and Governor Haslam will oppose the measure, as both have expressed (misplaced) confidence in the current system.

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


 

That’s Attractive

The Shelby County School Board will review proposed changes to benefits for future employees at today’s meeting, Chalkbeat reports.

The move comes as the district seeks to realize cost savings by reducing long-term costs:

Memphis leaders have been grappling for years with how to cut a $1 billion-plus liability for retiree benefits through Shelby County Schools. But even as they’ve put options on the table, they’ve never settled on a sure-fire reduction plan.

Now school board members are exploring one extreme option anew: eliminating all retiree benefits for employees hired after January of 2018.

Currently, employees must work 15 continuous years in Shelby County Schools to be eligible for retirement benefits beyond the state pension. District leaders say that savings will be realized in 20 to 30 years. It’s not clear what the total savings would be, but the district says about $570 of current per pupil spending goes to these benefits.

One concern is the impact the benefit elimination would have on attracting new teachers. Some suggest that impact could be lessened by raising salaries, but the savings from the reduction won’t come for 20-30 years and the salaries would need to be increased now in order to make up for the benefit loss.

When a proposal was floated in Nashville for teachers to trade their pension for higher pay during their years of service, I did an analysis on what it would cost to make up the difference.  It’s an expensive proposition. While these benefits are not as costly as a pension (which is managed by the state), it’s not difficult to imagine a pay raise of $5,000 or more per year being necessary to offset the future benefit loss.

Additionally, one promise of a teaching career historically has been the promise of a secure retirement. No one gets rich off a teacher pension, but having that guaranteed income combined with access to affordable health insurance certainly makes life easier.

It will be interesting to see how Shelby County leaders handle this issue and how that action impacts the recruiting of new employees.

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


 

LEAKED: Testing Task Force Reveals Secret Plan

The Tennessean reports that Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen is reconvening the state’s testing task force in the wake of yet another round of TNReady testing troubles.

From the story:

“This task force has been critical in our work to improve the testing experience for students while providing better information to teachers and parents,” McQueen said in a news statement. “As in the past, I am confident that this group will continue to provide meaningful, actionable recommendations for improving both district and state assessment programs.”

TNEdReport has obtained a copy of the proposed recommendations from the task force:

  1. Get Rid of TNReady
  2. Fire Candice McQueen

These recommendations are to be announced at what will surely be hailed as the shortest yet most effective meeting yet of the task force.

Stay tuned to hear more about this important meeting.

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


 

Virtual Equality?

As the school year began, I wrote about how students at some MNPS high schools were forced into online classes due to a teacher shortage. This impacted students primarily at Antioch, Whites Creek, and Cane Ridge High Schools. According to my sources, it’s still going on to some degree. That is, actual teachers haven’t been found to fill many of the positions that were empty at the beginning of the year. So, the students are taking courses from Edgenuity.

Here’s what I noted about Edgenuity at the time:

Here’s a review of materials developed by Edgenuity for grades 9-12 ELA done by the Louisiana Department of Education. Here’s the short version: Edgenuity received a Tier III (the lowest) rating for the quality of the materials it provided to students for grades 9-12 ELA.

Here’s what Louisiana had to say about Edgenuity’s 6-8 math materials. Also an overall Tier III rating, but mixed reviews depending on grade level and specific learning objective.

Now, there’s a court case about whether virtual classes provide a “substantially equal” educational opportunity for students.

Education law professor Derek Black notes:

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has taken up a fascinating issue regarding students’ access to teachers.  The problem could only arise in the brave new world of computers.  In short,  a student at a Tennessee high school had fallen behind in algebra and end-of-grade assessments were looming.  The school pulled the student  out of the class and placed the student in a computer based credit recovery program.  Apparently, this occurred with several other students.  The student claims that the school did this to help increase its standardized test scores.

The disputed issue in the case seems to be a narrower one: do students have the right to access a teacher?  The plaintiff says yes.  The school’s attorney says no.

And here’s Black’s analysis of the legal issue at hand:

The Supreme Court in  Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, 851 SW2d 139 (1993), held that students have a constitutional right to “substantially equal educational opportunities.”  The underlying facts in the case involved disparities in teacher salaries across the state.  Consistent with the overwhelming social science consensus, the court indicated that “teachers, obviously, are the most important component of any education plan or system.”  Because salary disparities resulted in students having unequal access to teachers, the Court ordered the state on more than one occasion to remedy is system of funding teacher salaries across the state.

So while state statutes may not create any specific property interest in access to a teacher, the state constitution creates a right to equal educational opportunities, which teachers are the most important part of.

And that’s why the situation at these schools is so interesting. The students at Antioch, Cane Ridge, and Whites Creek didn’t sign up for or choose virtual education. They were not offered the same or similar educational opportunity as students at other MNPS high schools — that is, students at most MNPS schools were assigned to an actual teacher who appeared in-person every day to provide instruction. These students were denied that opportunity and assigned to a program of questionable quality.

Why did this happen? One factor (though certainly not the only one) is teacher salaries. Teacher pay in MNPS is simply not competitive relative to the cost of living. It’s definitely not competitive relative to similar districts around the country.

The teacher salary issue is an important one, because it is the issue that drove the Small Schools court decision. In fairness, teachers at Antioch, Cane Ridge, and Whites Creek earn the same salaries as any other Nashville teachers. However, Nashville’s inability to adequately staff schools creates substantially unequal educational opportunity across the district. In fact, the district cited lack of adequate state resources as one reason it joined Shelby County in suing over BEP (Basic Education Program) funds.

It’s difficult to argue that students who signed up for and planned to attend traditional classes and then were forced into online learning were provided educational opportunities that are “substantially equal” to their peers at schools where this did not happen.

How this will be addressed remains to be seen.

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


 

Can you believe this guy?

Remember when the state hired a testing vendor to deliver a new online test and from day one, it was a total disaster? Remember how that vendor kept getting second chances and kept missing deadlines? Remember how we paid a bunch of money to have the tests graded by a different vendor? Then we moved on to Questar and forgot all about Measurement, Inc?

Well, Measurement, Inc. hasn’t forgotten about us. Like an unfortunate Craigslist encounter, the company just won’t go away.

Now, they are asking the state for $25 million for “services rendered” for a test that didn’t even happen.

Nope, I’m not kidding. Chalkbeat has the story:

Henry Scherich says Tennessee owes Measurement Inc. $25.3 million for services associated with TNReady, the state’s new standardized test for its public schools. That’s nearly a quarter of the company’s five-year, $108 million contract with the state, which Tennessee officials canceled after technical problems roiled the test’s 2016 rollout.

Given Scherich’s track record, this doesn’t seem surprising. Remember when he took full responsibility for all the testing problems? Oh, right, he didn’t. Instead:

“You just can’t take the test off line and put it on a printing press,” President Henry Sherich said by phone Friday. “We’re not failing to deliver. We are delivering as fast as possible.”

Sherich revealed his company is only working with one printer as other printers they work with are booked. This after a delay in delivering Phase I of the tests in March.

Sherich didn’t offer an apology or express concern for the students, parents, and teachers who have suffered as a result of this delay.

After all of this, the state may still end up on the hook for $25 million for a test that didn’t happen. That’s on top of the millions we’re spending for a test from which parents have yet to see results.

Can you believe this guy?

 

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


 

 

More TNReady Fallout

As the state continues to experience challenges with TNReady implementation, districts are speaking out. In October, the Williamson County school board adopted resolutions asking for changes to how the state will assign letter grades to schools and asking that TNReady scores not be included in report cards for students in grades 3-5.

This week, Knox County adopted three resolutions relevant to the current testing troubles.

All three were sponsored by Board Member Amber Rountree.

One addresses the proposed letter grading of individual schools and asks:

The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges the Senate to amend legislation SB 535 in the upcoming session by assigning a school level designation that aligns with the district designation, rather than assigning a letter grade to each school; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges Governor Haslam, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly to consider a moratorium in using any school or district designation based on data obtained via the TNReady assessment which was administered in School Year 2016-17.

Another relates to the use of TNReady data for student grades and teacher evaluation:

The Knox County Board of Education opposes the use of TCAP data for any percentage of teacher evaluations and student grades for School Year 2017-2018 and urges the General Assembly and the State Board of Education to provide a one-year waiver, as was previously provided for School Year 2015-2016.

And then there’s one similar to Williamson’s request to exclude TNReady data from report cards for students in grades 3-5:

WHEREAS, the Knox County Board of Education submits student scores on the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program’s grades 3-5 achievement test scores should not comprise a percentage of the student’s final grade for the spring semester in the areas of mathematics, reading/language arts, science and social studies.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION AS FOLLOWS: The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges the Tennessee General Assembly amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-1-617 to remove the requirement of using any portion of the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program scores as a percentage of the students in grades 3-5 spring semester grade

 

No word yet on a response to these two districts speaking out on the proper use of TNReady data.

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


 

A Theory

While Governor Haslam thinks everything is just fine with TNReady, a Coffee County student offers a theory for why the results have been less than great in initial rounds of testing.

Coffee County High School student George Gannon offers this insight:

Flash-back to the first year of TNReady- 2016. The company that created the tests could not actually handle the online traffic of thousands of people taking their exam at once. It eventually crashed the server  and caused the third grade through eighth grade tests to be switched to paper. But then they couldn’t get those tests out fast enough, so the test ended up not being administered at all. This was a statewide problem that was so laughably bad, that even the state government looked at the “moron-athon” of a testing experience they had just paid $108 million dollars for and  said “Wow. This is a train wreck.”; this eventually led to the termination of their contract with Measurement Inc. (the testing company). What was happening on the high school end though?

We took the test. We took it that first year under the impression that our scores would be weighted with our final average. Well, that did not happen. Personally, I didn’t even get my scores back until the next year. Maybe it was just a first-year rollout problem? No. Even after switching testing companies, it was the same deal last year. I just got my scores back and as far as I’m aware, they’re not weighted into my final grade. Humorously enough, there is even evidence  recently of tests being scored completely wrong.

What I think happened last year, though, is that we all knew something would mess up. We knew from how the year prior went that the scores would be delayed. Therefore, I think what happened statewide with the carpet bomb of bad test scores was not a lack of knowledge, but instead a lack of concern and determination. Take these thoughts for examples of what was going through our heads:

“Who cares if I fail this test? It’s not like it’s gonna’ be a grade. It wasn’t last year!”

“There is no incentive to scoring well. Just passing is all right, because in the event they actually grade these, I’ll still pass.”

Also, students who took the tests were automatically exempt from their semester exams, so many of them probably thought, “I just have to take it; I don’t have to do well.”

So, in case you are wondering if all the TNReady mishaps have an impact on students, the student perspective says YES.

And here’s the deal. The impact on students impacts the test results — those results are used to (partially) evaluate teachers and to assign schools as Reward or Priority schools. The A-F grading scale for schools will be based on these results. The state’s inability to oversee an effectively administered test and/or get the results back in a timely fashion is disrupting learning and skewing results.

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


 

Supposedly

Recently, Chalkbeat asked readers to pose questions about TNReady given the latest round of trouble for the state’s standardized test. One particular question asked about the validity of the scoring given that “scorers are hired off Craigslist.”

Here’s what the Tennessee Department of Education had to say:

“Questar does not use Craigslist. Several years ago, another assessment company supposedly posted advertisements on Craigslist, but Questar does not. We provide opportunities for our educators to be involved in developing our test, and we also encourage Tennessee teachers to apply to hand-score TNReady.

So, good news: scorers for the new vendor are not hired off of Craigslist. But, disturbing that the TDOE used the hedge “supposedly.” Back in 2015, I wrote about Measurement, Inc.’s ads on Craigslist:

Certainly, quality scorers for TNReady can be found for $10.70-$11.20 an hour via ads posted on Craigslist. I’m sure parents in the state are happy to know this may be the pool of scorers determining their child’s test score. And teachers, whose evaluations are based on growth estimates from these tests, are also sure to be encouraged by the validity of results obtained in this fashion.

My post even included a copy of the ad being used by Measurement, Inc. Then, in 2016, WSMV ran a story on scorers being hired via Craigslist ads.

Another response from the TDOE also caught my attention. This one dealt with the validity of comparisons between the old TCAP test and the new TNReady. The TDOE suggests this is like a group of runners changing from running 5Ks to running a 10K.

Runner and blogger TC Weber has a good response.

Then, when the issue of students not taking the tests seriously due to the perennial problems with returning data, the TDOE engages in more blame shifting:

“We believe that if districts and schools set the tone that performing your best on TNReady is important, then students will take the test seriously, regardless of whether TNReady factors into their grade. We should be able to expect our students will try and do their best at any academic exercise, whether or not it is graded. This is a value that is established through local communication from educators and leaders, and it will always be key to our test administration.

So, the fact that testing data has been returned late or that the quick score calculation method has changed has nothing to do with how students understand the test. If only those pesky school districts and their troublesome teachers would get on board and reinforce the right “values,” everything would be fine.

Here’s a hint, TDOE: Take some damn responsibility. TNReady has been a dumpster fire. Before that, you couldn’t get TCAP scores back in a reliable fashion. When districts told the TDOE that TNReady’s online administration wasn’t going to go well in 2016, the TDOE ignored them. Now, some students are wary of the test and whether or not it has any impact on their grades or any relevance to their learning. The TDOE simply responds by telling districts that if they just stopped asking so many questions and started drilling in the right messages, all would be well.

The disconnect is real.

As I noted in an earlier piece, accountability is a one way street when it comes to TDOE. This message is worth repeating:

How many warning signs will be ignored? How important is the test that it must be administered at all costs and the mistakes must be excused away because “accountability” demands it?

How can you hold students and teachers and schools accountable when no one is holding the Department of Education accountable? How long will legislators tolerate a testing regime that creates nightmares for our students and headaches for our teachers while yielding little in terms of educational value?

Apparently, according to Governor Haslam, everything is fine.

Still, the legislature meets again starting in January. And, there’s a Governor’s race on next year as well. Perhaps the combination of those events will lead to an environment that produces real answers.

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