A Teacher Takes on TNReady

Educator Mike Stein offers his take on the latest trouble with TNReady.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

TNReady is supposed to count for 10% of the students’ second semester grade and of the teachers’ evaluation scores. I had multiple students ask me before the test if it was really going to count this year. I told them it was going to count, and that the state was confident that they would return the results in time. Unlike last year, the Tennessee Department of Education had not announced anything to the contrary, so the students actually seemed to try. Sadly, the state has has once again let them down. They have also let down all of the teachers who worked so diligently trying to ensure that their students demonstrate growth on this ridiculously long, tedious, and inaccurate measure of content knowledge.

And he offers this insight:

Meanwhile, teachers’ performance bonuses and even their jobs are on the line. Though they wouldn’t assert themselves into the discussion, principals and directors of schools also rely heavily upon the state to administer a test that measures what it says it will measure and to provide timely results that can be acted upon. As long as both of these things remain in question, I must question both the importance of TNReady and the competence of those who insist upon any standardized test as a means of determining whether or not educators are doing their jobs.

Check out the entire post and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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


 

Tight Deadline

Trouble with the timeline for returning TNReady quick scores to school districts has lead to some unpleasant exchanges between districts and the Tennessee Department of Education. The latest reporting indicates that more than 75% of districts won’t have scores back in a fashion that allows them to be factored into report cards before the school year ends (which for most districts, is this week).

One question that has been asked is when did districts know there might be a problem?

A pair of emails from Commissioner Candice McQueen to directors of schools indicates it was pretty late in the game.

Here’s one sent on the evening of May 3rd. Here’s the portion of that email dedicated to TNReady and the timeline to return tests so they can be scored and returned to districts:

In order to receive TNReady raw score data back by late May, we need your support in shipping completed testing materials to our vendor in a timely fashion. We know that 75 percent of districts have shipped back some materials, and we need your help in ensuring all completed materials—particularly ELA subpart 1, which will be hand-scored—are returned quickly.

Testing coordinators should send completed subparts to Questar as soon as possible. System and building testing coordinators should follow the guidance they have received from our team as well as Questar. Our goal is to share your raw scores the week of May 22, which would be in time for TNReady results to be included in students’ grades at the 10 percent weighting for this year.

So, it’s May 3rd in the evening. You get this email that night or read it in the office the next day. The testing window ends May 5th. It looks like most districts have returned some materials and that raw scores will be back for most districts the week of May 22nd, plenty of time to use the data for student report cards.

Then, tucked inside the May 10th update (not even the top item) is this important information about deadlines for receipt of TNReady materials:

In order to receive TNReady raw score data back by late May, we need your support in shipping all completed testing materials to our vendor in a timely fashion. Testing coordinators should send completed subparts to Questar as soon as possible. System and building testing coordinators should follow the guidance they have received from our team as well as Questar. We have been working with our vendor to provide raw scores as early as the week of May 22, which would be in time for TNReady results to be included in students’ grades at the reduced 10 percent weighting for this year.

We have worked with Questar to determine the following timeline for when you can expect to have raw scores based on when they receive materials:

Subpart 1 (ELA 3–8, ENG I-III and USH) received by Questar All other test materials received by Questar Anticipated raw score file delivery date
On or before April 28 Wednesday, May 10 Monday, May 22*
April 29–May 5 Friday, May 12 Tuesday, May 30*
May 6–May 19 Friday, May 19 Monday, June 5*

*The raw score file dates are projected based on Questar’s anticipated timeline for scoring and processing.

That’s a pretty tight turnaround. The email I have on this has a time stamp of 8:45 PM — so, most people got this pretty late in the evening or read it on the 11th at the office.

But, reading it on the 11th was pretty useless since the deadline was the 10th. Oh, and getting the email on May 10th in the evening (or even during the day) was also pretty worthless.

Of course, if you acted quickly, you could get everything to Questar by May 12th and get scores back the week of May 30th. Sure, that’s after school’s out, but it would likely only mean a brief delay in report cards. But that would also mean you spent all of May 11th coordinating the logistics of getting scores to Questar the NEXT DAY.

Telling someone about a deadline that has already passed is not helpful.

Also odd is this wording about the three timelines released in response to Clarksville-Montgomery County’s results:

“We provide three different timelines for a reason, and all are equally fine and acceptable for districts to be on. We are neutral on which deadlines districts meet, and it is reasonable that larger districts would need additional time to ship materials back and may use the entire window to do so. We have always fully expected that we will have districts on all three tracks based on their local decisions.” Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Towns confirmed that with this comment: “We emphasized that there was no “miss” of deadlines. We just provided three timelines.”

On May 3rd, the word from the Department of Education was that most districts were on track and that most districts would have scores back by the week of May 22nd. Then, on May 10th, it turns out May 10th is the deadline for getting scores back the week of May 22nd. Want scores the week of May 30th? Better get them together by May 12th — essentially a one day notice.

So, now we end up with more than 75% of districts NOT getting raw scores back by the end of May.

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


 

 

 

 

Finally 4=4

Over the past three years, Governor Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has approved significant increases in funds for teacher compensation. Unfortunately, those dollars haven’t always made it into teacher paychecks. There are a number of reasons for this. One of those is the State Board of Education’s decision in the past two years to approve smaller adjustments to the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers.

Today, the State Board of Education met and voted on the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers for 2017-18. This year, the Board approved a 4% increase in the minimum salary and also adjusted each step on the scale by 4%. This matches the appropriation of the General Assembly, which passed a budget that included a 4% increase in BEP funds for teacher compensation.

According to the state’s analysis, this change will require 46 of the state’s 141 districts to raise teacher pay. These are mostly rural districts on the low end of the state’s teacher pay range. This will mean a number of teachers across the state should see meaningful increases in their paychecks in the coming year.

The new minimum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $33,745. The top of the scale for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 years of experience (the scale includes only 4 steps for teachers with bachelor’s degrees, just three if you have an advanced degree) is $40,595. For advanced degrees, salaries must start at $37,300 and step three (11 years experience or more) requires a minimum of $45,075.

That $40,595 figure after 11 years of teaching seems disturbingly low. In fact, I’ve argued before that Tennessee should aim for a starting pay for teachers of at least $40,000.

That said, this year’s State Board of Education represents real progress that will result in significant pay increases for teachers in nearly a third of the state’s districts. Perhaps the upward pressure will also encourage other districts to push their pay up. We’ve already seen Metro Nashville move toward a 3% raise, as one example.

Here’s how the Tennessee Education Association viewed today’s salary move:

For the first time in four years, the Tennessee State Board of Education voted Wednesday to apply the full raise budgeted by the General Assembly for teachers to the State Minimum Salary Schedule. TEA has pushed the legislature and the state board for years to reinstate the practice of applying the full amount to the salary schedule as it is the best way to ensure all Tennessee teachers receive the raise promised to them by the governor and their legislators.

“When the board moved away from applying the entire raise percentage to the salary schedule, disparities in teacher pay and stagnant wages increased statewide,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “While Governor Haslam and the state legislature have done their part to increase teacher salaries, only a fraction of the budgeted raises were actually trickling down into teacher paychecks. The state board action this week should begin to remedy that problem.”

The recommendation by the Department of Education and the vote by the state board to increase the salary schedule and each step by 4 percent are in direct response to TEA’s advocacy efforts. Hundreds of TEA members have contacted legislators to let them know their teachers back home were not receiving the raises passed in the General Assembly. Members and TEA staff worked closely with the administration and legislators to find a way to correct the issue.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” Gray said. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college. The pressure applied by state elected officials was critical to reversing the State Board’s pattern of diminishing the raise passed by the General Assembly, a move which should finally make our teachers whole and help them support their families.”

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


 

 

Not Exactly Helpful

In a story yesterday about TNReady scores not being ready in time to be counted in student final grades, I noted a statement published in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle and attributed to Tennessee Department of Education spokesperson Sara Gast. Here’s that statement again:

But Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said school districts would receive their scores based on how quickly they returned their materials.

This was the first week school districts could receive data back, and districts across the state will get their scores on a rolling basis over the next couple of week through the week of June 5, she said.

She said some districts will not get their scores in time to be counted in final grades “because they did not meet the deadlines.”

Since then, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools has posted an update on their Facebook page:

The state department of Education has clarified that CMCSS did NOT miss any deadlines. According to Sara Gast from the Tennessee Department of Education, “We provide three different timelines for a reason, and all are equally fine and acceptable for districts to be on. We are neutral on which deadlines districts meet, and it is reasonable that larger districts would need additional time to ship materials back and may use the entire window to do so. We have always fully expected that we will have districts on all three tracks based on their local decisions.” Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Towns confirmed that with this comment: “We emphasized that there was no “miss” of deadlines. We just provided three timelines.”

What’s not clear from this statement is whether it was anticipated that scores would not be ready by the end of school depending on the track chosen by districts.

It’s also interesting how the DOE’s explanation has shifted from blaming districts for missing deadlines to now saying that having more than 75% of districts not getting scores back before the end of the year was the plan all along.

I offered a solution yesterday. It’s simple, really.

Stop using this single test as the primary indicator of student performance, teacher effectiveness, and school accountability.

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


 

 

The Buck Stops Nowhere

By now it is clear that TNReady simply didn’t go as planned this year. Sure, the tests were administered and students completed them — largely on pencil and paper. But, the raw data from the tests used to generate the “quick scores” for student grades isn’t getting back to districts on time. At least not in time to include it in report cards.

The Department of Education says that’s the fault of districts. Here’s how a TN DOE spokesperson explained it to the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle:

But Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said school districts would receive their scores based on how quickly they returned their materials.

This was the first week school districts could receive data back, and districts across the state will get their scores on a rolling basis over the next couple of week through the week of June 5, she said.

She said some districts will not get their scores in time to be counted in final grades “because they did not meet the deadlines.”

The district says that’s simply not the case and that they met the established timeline:

Shelton said tests from all Clarksville-Montgomery County schools were definitely turned in according to the state’s timeline to have them back before schools let out Wednesday, and the school district was not at fault.

All of this may sound a bit familiar to those who watched the blame game play out last year during the total meltdown of TNReady.

Then, neither testing vendor Measurement, Inc. nor the Department of Education took responsibility for a test that clearly failed.

Here’s what’s interesting this year. The state admits that more than 75% of districts will not get scores back on time. This, they claim, is because of missed deadlines. Districts dispute that claim.

Educators will tell you that if more than 75% of students miss a test question or fail a test, there’s a problem – and the problem is with the question or the test, not the students. More than 75% of districts supposedly missed established deadlines. It seems clear the Department of Education has a problem. It’s also clear that adults are failing kids.

Students are told the tests matter. They are told the tests factor into grades. Schools are held accountable based on results. Despite statistical validity issues, the test is used to evaluate teachers — so, those teachers reinforce the importance of the test to their students.

Then, after the answer sheets have been bubbled in and the test booklets sent to the vendor for grading, students are told the tests won’t count. Or, they may count, but report cards will be late. But it’s okay. The adults got it wrong. Just keep showing up and taking the test seriously. No big deal.

If you want the students to take testing seriously, you should take your job seriously. This is the fourth year in a row that there have been challenges with testing and/or returning results. When district leaders have stood up and spoken out, Commissioner McQueen has threatened to withhold funding.

Here’s a crazy idea: Stop using this single test as the primary indicator of student performance, teacher effectiveness, and school accountability.

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


 

 

Rhetoric vs. Reality: TNReady 2017 Edition

Here’s what Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen had to say about this year’s TNReady tests in an email sent to educators on May 16th:

This year’s administration of TNReady was a success, both online and on paper, in schools across Tennessee. Thank you for you partnership and for preparing students with strong instruction every day. Stay tuned as we continue to share updates and resources.

Since then, it’s become clear that TNReady results won’t actually be ready for most districts in a timely fashion — meaning they’ll either be excluded from student grades or report cards will be held until results are available.

WPLN’s Blake Farmer reports on the scope of the problem:

The state department of education says less than a quarter of districts finished testing in time to get the results by the end of May. For those that did wrap up early, they started getting results back this week.

Yes, that’s right. More than 75% of districts won’t have results back before the end of May.

That’s an odd definition of success.

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


 

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