Shielding our Teacher and Student Data

This article was submitted by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

Since the passage of First to the Top legislation in 2010, as our organization has travelled across the state, we have heard from both parents and educators with concerns about the collection, use and potential misuse of student and teacher data.  While it is correct that the newly adopted PARCC exams will not collect any more additional data than TCAP that is not the concern of Tennessee parents or educators.

 

In 2009 an audit raised concerns about the state education department vendor Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) using prisoners to count, inventory and shred various materials in bulk quantities. According to the audit, included in the files were students’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and test performance data, all of which was handed over without prior consent from parents. The access of highly sensitive information to maximum security prison inmates is a significant security risk according to the report.  We must take steps to make sure this never happens again.

 

Therefore, those who are trying to make this debate about Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are misinformed and misleading policymakers and stakeholders about the issue.  The public has sent a very strong message that policymakers must make individual student data-mining in Tennessee illegal.   Schools and schools systems need better policies in regard to school personnel having access to an educator’s personal summative and evaluation scores.  Any legislation adopted must clearly set out the conditions and restrictions on the use of confidential student and teacher data.  We must prohibit intrusive data tracking, which is an invasion of the rights of students and their families.  Any data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking the academic progress and needs of students by education officials at the local and state level.

 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)[1] is a Federal privacy law that gives parents certain rights with regard to their children’s education records, such as the right to inspect and review your child’s education records.  In December, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education revised its regulations governing the implementation of FERPA by schools, districts, and States. These revisions change several of the exceptions to FERPA’s consent rule.  What parents and educators are seeking is a guarantee from the state that they are putting additional measures in place to protect students and educators.   Some legal experts believe that according to FERPA, the district, not the state, is the controlling party for the use of personal student data.

 

The 2011 changes permitted schools to disclose information on students if it has been properly designated as directory information. By law, directory information includes things that would generally not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed, such as name, address, photograph, and date of birth. Directory information may not include things such a student’s social security number or grades. State policymakers may wish to go further than federal law in protecting student information. Why would a 3rd Party need photographs of children for example?   Why any individual, personalized student data is necessary is questionable, since comparisons are commonly done and are already widely available through de-identified aggregated student data.

 

Before a single child’s information is turned over to any 3rd party, policymakers should give assurance to parents and educators that no harm will come to Tennessee school children by adopting the following principles:  The state and districts should be required to publish any and all existing data sharing agreements in printed and electronic form, and include a thorough explanation of its purpose and provisions, and make it available to parents and local school authorities statewide;  The Department of Education should hold hearings throughout the state or testify before the legislature to explain any existing data agreement, and answer questions from the public or their representatives, obtain informed comment, and gauge public reaction;  All parents should have the right to be notified of the impending disclosure of their children’s data, and provide them with a right to consent or have the right to withhold their children’s information from being shared;  The state should have to define what rights families or individuals will have to obtain relief if harmed by improper use or release of their child’s private information, including how claims can be made; and finally, any legislation must ensure that the privacy interest of public school children and their families are put above the interests of any 3rd Party and its agents and subsidiaries.

 

We must be committed to protecting student and teacher data.  There are several pieces of pending legislation being considered by the General Assembly that can be used to accomplish this task.  Representatives Kevin Brooks, Bill Dunn, Vance Dennis, Jeremy Faison and Senators Dolores Gresham and Farrell Haile have been leading on this issue.  We strongly support these efforts, and encourage passage of legislation to address parent and educator’s concerns.

 

 

Footnote:  [1] For more information about FERPA, please see “FERPA General Guidance for Parents” on the Family Policy Compliance Office Web site: www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/parents.html. If you have a question or wish to report a potential FERPA violation, contact FPCO at: 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327).

 

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

 

MNPS Defers Plan to Pay Teachers Based on Test Scores

Joey Garrison has the story on MNPS deferring previously stated plans to base future pay raises for teachers on test scores and the TEAM evaluation model.

District officials suggest they need more time to determine how best to incorporate the TEAM evaluations into a pay plan for teachers.  TEAM includes both TVAAS scores and teacher observations to create a 1-5 ranking for teachers (1 being the lowest ranking, 5 the highest).

Some have suggested teacher resistance to the proposal played a role in the delay, but MNPS says they simply want to take the time needed to develop the best plan.

MNPS also offered no timeline for revisiting the TEAM-based portion of the pay plan.

For now, there’s more work to be done to devise a pay plan that meets new state requirements.

The MNPS decision may foreshadow similar action by other districts as teachers express concerns about pay being tied to student test scores, especially TVAAS data.

 

 

TREE to Host Testing Forum

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) will host a community forum on the use of testing in Tennessee schools this Saturday, March 1st at 2:00 PM at New Song Church in Nashville.

The forum will feature speakers Dr. Jim Horn and Dr. Denise Wilburn, scholars who have been critical of TVAAS and the overuse of testing in schools.

The forum comes at the end of a week that so far has seen the TEA call for a moratorium on the use of the PARCC tests for Common Core at the same time legislative committees put off key votes on legislation dealing with Common Core implementation.

Metro Nashville School Board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering have also raised concerns about the amount of testing in schools and the cost of that testing to the school system.

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

TEA Calls for Moratorium on PARCC

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) issued a statement today calling on the State of Tennessee to reconsider participation in PARCC – a consortium of states administering a Pearson-designed test to assess Common Core skills.

The statement indicated that TEA supports the Common Core State Standards but has concerns about the PARCC test.  Neighboring Kentucky, an early Common Core and PARCC adopter, recently chose to stop using PARCC.

Here’s the TEA Release:

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement today calling for the state to put the brakes on its plans to use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards.

 

“TEA believes Tennessee needs to reconsider the use of the PARCC assessment,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “First and foremost, we object to our students being set up to fail. Any assessments aligned with the Common Core standards should ensure no harm is done to Tennessee students, schools or educators. Though PARCC supporters speak of an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement, Tennessee students will be measured against states that invest thousands of dollars more per pupil.”

 

“TEA supports the more rigorous standards that are included in Common Core, but the implementation must provide adequate time and resources to be effective. Tennessee teacher involvement in standards development and implementation is critical to ensure the standards are developmentally appropriate for all students,” added Summerford.

 

“While thousands of teachers and administrators have received training, more support and resources are needed,” the TEA president said. “Many school districts lack the necessary technology for student access to the PARCC.”

 

“Teachers do not oppose testing and accountability. Teachers do oppose an over-reliance on summative standardized test results above all other indicators of student learning, particularly on a test that has not been properly vetted,”  emphasized Summerford.

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

Cameras in the Classroom?

Schools Matter has a series of posts up on the Measuring Effectiveness in Teaching project sponsored by the Gates Foundation.

Of note is the use of video cameras to record Tennessee classrooms and transmit the data for use in analyzing teaching behavior.  According to information obtained by Schools Matter, 120 schools in TN are using or have used the cameras to record classrooms.

The cameras were obtained and installed thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation in the amount of $3.2 million.

The goal of the project is to take into account various measures of teaching practice and then use that information to determine what makes an “effective teacher.”

While not explicitly stated, it seems likely that the project will ultimately match up teachers with high value-added scores and their videotapes so as to determine which practices are most effective.  Teachers will then be encouraged to adopt the model practices as captured on video.

While this in itself is not bad practice, it is important that any data collected in this way is put to good use.  That is, it’s not enough to tape the lessons.  Will the TNDOE use the information to help coach struggling teachers? Will the TNDOE invest funds to provide early career mentoring, a method proven to increase teacher retention and improve teacher performance?

And, while at the outset, the idea behind the project seems to have some merit, the folks at Schools Matter raise some serious concerns.

Do teachers consent to have their classes taped? Are parents informed when a camera is used to tape their student in class? Is the use of this data made clear to both teachers and parents?

According to this piece, the cameras are turned on and off by the teacher and uploaded to the teacher’s account for sharing to appropriate parties. Certainly, that would include an administrator and also the data collection group.  So, it seems the teacher does have some control over when or whether the camera is on — unless there is a district or building policy dictating otherwise.

While the MET project may yet yield some interesting information, it’s not clear what will be done with that information.  And it’s not clear that the implementation of this project in Tennessee has been carried out with full disclosure to both teachers and parents.

If the basis of the project is to match teaching practices to value-added scores, I’d urge at least some caution.

Districts participating should inform parents about the collection of this data and how it may be used.

And, if the project DOES yield useful information, Tennessee should dispatch that information with an investment in training and support of its teachers.

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

 

Silencing the Opposition

Joey Garrison has the story about some legislators who wish that local school boards didn’t hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature.

To that end, they’ve filed legislation that would allow County Commissions to revise a School Board’s budget as it relates to lobbying expenses (HB 229/SB 2525).

Many school boards in the state are members of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which hires a lobbyist to represent the interests of school boards at the General Assembly. Additionally, some local boards hire contract firms and/or in-house government relations specialists to monitor state policy.

Of course, many County Commissioners are members of the Tennessee County Commissioners Organization, which employs a lobbyist to represent the interests of County Commissions at the General Assembly.  And many local government bodies also contract for or hire government relations specialists.

And of course, if local citizens don’t like how their School Board spends money, they can speak out at public meetings, talk to Board members directly, or even vote in new Board members.

None of this seems to matter to sponsors Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.

This legislation would give County Commissions unprecedented authority over School Board budgets.  In districts that hire in-house lobbyists, the Commission would theoretically have staffing authority over that position.

In Tennessee, School Boards propose budgets and determine how funds are spent, County Commissions either fund all or part of the proposed budget.  But, Commissions have no authority over how school dollars are spent.  Their only recourse is to reject a budget and suggest amendments or improvements – which the School Board can adopt or not.

However, it seems likely that resistance to recent reform efforts by School Boards is at the root of this issue.  Recently, groups like TSBA and some prominent local School Boards have been vocally opposed to school vouchers, a state charter authorizer, and even portions of the state’s new teacher evaluation plan.

And, outside groups like StudentsFirst and the deceptively-named Tennessee Federation for Children have been spending significantly to push a pro-reform agenda.

From Garrison’s story:

Out-of-state organizations StudentsFirst and the Tennessee Federation for Children — both of which want a voucher system to let public dollars go toward private schooling — have ramped up lobbying again this fiscal yearafter spending some $235,000 to $455,000 in lobbying-related efforts the year before. The Tennessee Charter School Center is armed with eight lobbyists this session.

So it seems that rather than looking out for local taxpayers, Durham and Bell are looking out for outside special interest groups seeking to influence how local tax dollars are spent in Tennessee.

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

Haslam Appoints BEP Task Force

Governor Bill Haslam yesterday announced he’s appointed a task force to study the state’s education funding formula, known as the Basic Education Program (BEP). This is likely a response to some school districts, like Nashville, complaining that the current formula is unfair.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who will chair the group,  says the plan may need revision and updating and that this task force will provide recommendations about how to “distribute available resources in a responsible manner.”

Neither Haslam nor Huffman mentioned providing more resources to the formula as a means of further investing in Tennessee’s schools.

Someone probably ought to tell the Governor that there’s a group of people (school directors, city and county representatives, school board members, and other education stakeholders) that meet regularly to review and study the BEP.  It’s called the BEP Review Committee and it is required by law, specifically: Tennessee Code Annotated 49-1-302(4)(a).

This task force meets 4 times a year and makes recommendations annually for upgrades or improvements to the BEP.  Here’s the latest report, issued November 1, 2013.

The top recommendation of the task force is to continue the phase-in of BEP 2.0 — a revision to the formula developed by Governor Bredesen and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in 2007. The projected remaining cost of full implementation is $146 million.  The Committee is recommending a phase-in approach, so something along the lines of $50 million a year each year for the next three years could meet this goal.

Other recommendations of the BEP Review Committee include:

  • Reducing the class size ratio used to generate teachers for grades 7-12. This would have the impact of sending more dollars to districts for hiring teachers. The Committee recommends a reduction of 2-3 students at a projected cost of $81 million.
  • Providing funds for professional development of teachers at a rate of 1% of the total dollars spent on instructional salaries. This would cost $22 million.
  • Providing funding for a comprehensive mentoring program for all new teachers and principals with a  1:12 mentor/teacher ratio.  The mentoring program would cost $14 million.

The Committee makes recommendations about changing the ratio for funding school nurses and improving technology, including creating a funding element for technology coordinators.

The bottom line is, there’s already a BEP task force, it’s been doing it’s work for some time now, and it has made solid recommendations for improving the formula.

I suppose the first assignment of the task force could be to review the work of the BEP Review Committee.

Of course, one might expect legislative Democrats to take up the cause and fight for improvements to the BEP by way of legislative proposal or budget amendment.  Perhaps proposing a BEP 2.0 phase-in or championing mentoring for new teachers?

However, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh tells us that’s not going to happen. In an interview we published yesterday, he said:

There are a few proposals before the General Assembly that deal with BEP, primarily with the state’s portion of funding. At this time, I’m not aware of any other Democratic proposals that will change the BEP, especially in light of a tight budget cycle.

So, the task force will meet and report and the BEP might (or might not) be improved.  And the BEP Review Committee will continue to meet and issue reports that go largely ignored on Capitol Hill. Ignored so routinely, apparently, that the Governor forgot the Committee even existed.

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

 

A Broader, Bolder SCORE Report

Today, newly-formed education advocacy group TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) hosted a presentation by Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality.  She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.

Later in the day, SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) released its annual State of Education in Tennessee Report.

Both reports indicate Tennessee has much work to do to improve educational outcomes.  There were some similarities and some differences in the approaches presented, however.

The SCORE report outlined five specific priorities for Tennessee education policy in 2014.  I’ll examine those and note where the Broader, Bolder Approach supported by Weiss matches up and where there are differences.

Here are the SCORE priorities:

  • Maintaining a commitment to rigorous standards and assessments. The report says Tennessee must push forward with the continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards. It also points out that measuring student success with higher standards is needed for effective instruction, so Tennessee must continue its commitment to implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.
  • Strengthening schools through effective leadership. As Tennessee continues to implement student-centered initiatives it is crucial to have strong instructional leadership in every school, the report concludes. To build a pipeline of strong leaders, the state focus should be on creating an aligned, rigorous system for recruiting, training, evaluating and providing ongoing support to school leaders.
  • Expanding student access to great teaching. The report specifically calls for providing teachers with the tools and resources – including instructional coaching, collaborative planning time, and targeted professional learning – that will enable them to be experts in their profession. The report also calls for helping teacher preparation programs implement more selective admissions processes and rigorous curriculum requirements that prioritize the skills and knowledge teachers need to support students in the classroom.
  • Investing in technology to enhance instruction. The report says that although the upcoming online PARCC assessments are a catalyst for increasing technological capabilities in schools and school districts, investing in technology must be an ongoing priority and not just a one-time purchase. Students and teachers need daily access to technology and must be trained on using it, the report says.
  • Supporting students from kindergarten to career. The report points out that in today’s economy most careers require training after high school. It specifically calls for creating a data-rich environment that equips leaders, educators, and parents with the information and tools they need and a data-driven approach to making decisions about policy and practice that will advance student success. It also recommends expanded opportunities for more students to take AP, International Baccalaureate, dual-credit, and dual-enrollment courses and to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.

And here is some analysis in light of the Broader, Bolder presentation:

Standards/Assessment: Weiss suggests that higher standards alone do not improve student achievement.  She points to persistent achievement gaps over time in spite of increasing standards, particularly in the NCLB era.  She also notes the stress caused to students and parents due to increased testing.  She notes that in some cases, as much as 30 instructional days are lost to testing and test prep. She suggests that raising student achievement over time must not simply be a function of high standards but also must include a commitment to supporting students and families outside of school.

Strengthening Schools Through Effective Leadership: Here, SCORE focuses on providing support for the development of effective school principals.  Weiss also suggests the importance of providing support and development to teachers and school leaders.  She would note that having an effective leader alone won’t close the gap, but that having supported leaders along with strong community supports can make a difference.

Expanding Student Access to Great Teaching: Weiss notes that Tennessee’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.  SCORE does not specifically address teacher pay in its report.  SCORE does call for improved professional development and additional collaboration with teachers going forward.  SCORE also calls for continued use of TVAAS to identify quality teachers.  Weiss is clear that value-added modeling is inconsistent and unreliable as a tool for evaluating teachers.  At the same time, SCORE calls for adding growth measures to additional teachers (these may or may not be in the form of tests that feed into the TVAAS formula).

Access to Technology: While Weiss might also place value on technology, she’d also suggest that access to summer learning opportunities and enriching extended learning is important.  She points to research suggesting that low-income students tend to proceed at a rate comparable to their peers but lose significant ground over the summer.  That is, what teachers are doing is working, but outside supports are lacking.  Adding meaningful time to the school calendar is one way to address this.

Supporting Kids from Kindergarten to Career:  Weiss absolutely states that kids need a variety of supports throughout school to ensure their success.  She’d likely expand this recommendation to include supporting kids from Pre-Kindergarten through career.  In fact, Weiss notes that while Tennessee was once moving quickly to grow a high-quality Pre-K program, the state has not added a single Pre-K seat since winning Race to the Top. Weiss explicitly recommends continuing the growth of the state’s Pre-K program in order to provide a proven intervention that closes opportunity gaps.

With the exception of TVAAS, it seems the Broader, Bolder Approach outlined by Weiss would generally be in agreement with the SCORE recommendations.  However, as the name indicates, the approach favored by Weiss would be broader and more expansive.  It would include expanded access to Pre-K. It would provide both targeted support to teachers AND significantly better pay for teachers.  It would examine ways to add valuable learning time to the school calendar.  And it would seek a more balanced approach to administering tests in order to avoid an over-reliance on test-based assessments.

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

 

 

Education Monday

Monday will see two events focused on the state of education policy in Tennessee.

The first is sponsored by newly-launched TREE and will be held at 9:30 AM in Legislative Plaza Room 31.

The event features Elaine Weiss discussing Race to the Top, Poverty, NAEP Scores, and the state of Tennessee schools.  Weiss is the National Coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

The next event is hosted by SCORE. At 11 AM SCORE will release and discuss its “State of Education” Report highlighting Tennessee’s education status and listing priorities for 2014.

SCORE has released such reports in the past. They have focused on student achievement, educator quality, teacher evaluation, and teacher preparation among other topics.

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

Sen. Kelsey Offers Limited Voucher Plan

After watching competing voucher plans stall last year, Governor Haslam and Senator Brian Kelsey have both made statements this year that they’ll work together to pass a voucher plan.

Perhaps to that end, Sen. Kelsey filed a bill that proposes a limited voucher plan, initially allowing for 5,000 “opportunity scholarships” in the first year of the program.

Post Politics has the full story.

And Jon Alfuth in Memphis makes a case against vouchers here.

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