Battle Lines Being Drawn

Last week, the School Superintendents in Memphis and Nashville wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen calling for a pause in TNReady. The letter indicated the leaders had “no confidence” in TNReady. Following the letter, the Knox County School Board voted 8-1 to send a letter to Governor Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in the Department of Education. Later that week, the Director of Schools in Maury County said he agreed with the idea of pausing TNReady and suggested moving to the ACT suite of assessments.

Today, Commissioner McQueen issued a response. According to Chalkbeat, her response indicates that pausing TNReady would be “illegal and inconsistent with our values as a state.”

McQueen cites federal and state law requiring test administration. Here’s the deal: The entity that determines the penalty for violating state law regarding testing is the Department of Education. The penalty they can use is withholding BEP funds. This is the threat they used back in 2016 to force districts to back down on threats to halt testing then.

Let’s be clear: The Tennessee Department of Education is the enforcer of the state testing mandate. The DOE could refuse to penalize districts who paused testing OR the DOE could take the suggestion made by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville and just hit the pause button for this year and work toward an effective administration of testing for 2019-20.

Next, McQueen cites federal law. I’ve written about why this is misguided. Here’s more:

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

That’s right, the federal government tends to leave decisions regarding punishment up to the states. Of course, Tennessee could also request a 1-year waiver of ESSA requirements in order to further clarify the need to get testing right. In short, the only problem now is McQueen’s unwillingness to admit failure and take aggressive steps to make improvement.

McQueen also says that halting testing is “inconsistent” with Tennessee values.

While in McQueen’s world, halting testing is inconsistent with our state’s values, lying about why testing isn’t working is apparently perfectly fine. Oh, and playing a game with testing vendors? No problem!

McQueen claims that we need the tests to help identify gaps in education delivery in traditionally under-served students. Yes, having a working annual assessment can be a helpful tool in identifying those gaps. But, when the test doesn’t work — when students get the wrong test, when the testing climate is not consistent — then we get results that are unreliable. That helps no one.

What should be consistent with Tennessee values is taking the time to get testing right. That means ensuring it’s not disruptive to the instruction process and the results are useful and returned to students, teachers, and parents in a timely fashion.

Will McQueen’s letter deter other district leaders from speaking out on TNReady? Will there be additional fallout from the DOE’s failure to effectively administer Pre-K/K portfolios?

Stay tuned.

 

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


 

The State Backs Down

Just one day after the Knox County School Board voted 8-1 to indicate they had “no confidence” in last year’s Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio evaluation by the TDOE, Commissioner Candice McQueen issued a reprieve of sorts for teachers impacted by what her department has deemed “user error.”

In a communication to district leaders today, McQueen states:

while we will not allow resubmissions, we will re-review educators’ collections in select cases. If a district reviews its submission error cases with impacted teachers and believes it has identified a case in which there was not in fact a submission error, the district can request to have those collections re-reviewed.

 

By Aug. 27, districts will be asked to submit one form with the names of the teacher(s) whom you believe do not have a submission error but were noted as having one, along with their portfolio collection. Those collections will be peer reviewed again. If it is confirmed there is a submission error, the educator will still receive a 1 on that collection and have the opportunity to vacate his or her overall portfolio score. They will also receive feedback on what error they made. If the peer reviewer determines there was no submission error, the collection will be scored and the department will review and post the new score in TNCompass.

Finally, the DOE is beginning to work to correct a process that was time-consuming, disruptive, and not at all helpful to improving instruction.

I was recently able to listen to a group of more than 20 Kindergarten teachers describe their experience with the portfolio process in the 2017-18 school year. All 20 indicated they had at least one collection that received a score of “1.” While this may not have resulted in an overall score below a three for that teacher, it does seem problematic that every single teacher I heard had the exact same experience. At least one collection was given a “1” and there was no explanation — no feedback as to whether it was a submission error or the teacher simply didn’t meet the expected standard.

As someone who has taught college courses for 20 years, if I gave an assignment or test and ALL my students made the same error, I’d think the problem was with the test — either my instructions or the question weren’t clear. My default response would not be that it must be student error, but instead, to ask what can I do to make this item more clear in the future.

Let’s think about this issue some more. McQueen says teachers will get feedback about submission errors if those existed. Shouldn’t these teachers be getting clear, constructive feedback if this evaluation process is actually intended to help improve instruction?

McQueen indicates the scores will be re-reviewed if a district believes there was no submission error. That’s a step in the right direction. However, it raises the question: Who will do the reviewing? Last year ended with questions about whether or not the state had enough reviewers to complete the work. Now, questions have been raised about reviewers not being paid for the many hours they spent assessing portfolios. Will the state be offering additional compensation for those portfolios requiring additional review? Where will they find these reviewers? Will the checks actually arrive?

For now, at least, Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers know their organized, focused action has gotten some result. I know many have been communicating with both district leaders and their legislators. Next, we’ll see if the “new” process for 2018-19 takes into account teacher and district leader feedback and actually creates a reasonable, usable portfolio process.

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


 

Blood in the Water

The Director of Schools in Maury County has joined those in Memphis and Nashville in calling for a pause in TNReady as a result of repeated problems with the testing platform.

The Columbia Daily Herald reports Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak said he agrees with the letter sent by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville. Marczak offered an alternative:

“I believe it would be best for us to focus solely on the ACT and align ourselves with outcomes that can affect students’ college acceptance and scholarship ability,” Marczak said.

Maury County district leadership has indicated the results from this year’s botched test administration are of limited value:

“Due to the issues with testing, we will not be adding TNReady/EOC data to the Keys’ scorecards for either the district or the school levels when they eventually come in,” Marczak said in an email sent to staff in July. “In light of the numerous testing issues, please know that the results of the assessments will be used to inform conversation only. These are the conversations we will have with principals and the principals will have with teachers/staffs.”

In response to the ongoing testing issues, Marczak shared accounts of students completing 75-minute long examinations in 10 minutes. When reviewing the examinations, Marczak said the district had over 600 missing scores. Questar, the contractor hired by the state to administer the test, reported that 600 individual assessments were incomplete.

Despite the growing concern over the inability to effectively administer the TNReady test, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen has said the test is still an important tool:

TNReady serves as a vital feedback loop for teachers, parents, and administrators to tell us where we are, and the results inform what steps we need to take to help all students and schools succeed.”

TNReady might be an important feedback loop if it ever worked the way it was intended. But it hasn’t. Instead, it’s been fraught with problems since the beginning. Now, education leaders are standing up and speaking out.

The push to pause TNReady and possibly move forward with a different measure comes at the same time the TDOE is being taken to task for a failure to properly execute Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolios. Knox County’s School Board last night voted to send a message that they have “no confidence” in the portfolio process or in the TDOE.

The push against TNReady from key district leaders figures to make the test and overall administration of the Department of Education a key issue in the 2018 gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

 

 

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


 

Stand Up, Fight Back

Just days after the state’s two largest school districts sent a letter to Governor Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressing “no confidence in TNReady, the school board in the third largest district (Knox County) voted 8-1 to have their Director of Schools send a letter expressing “no confidence” in the Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio process and in the Tennessee Department of Education as a whole.

The move comes after a study session last week in which board members characterized the TN DOE’s administration of portfolios and of teacher evaluation as an “abject failure.”

While the DOE blames the problems with scores on this year’s Pre-K/K portfolios on teachers, individual teachers continue to provide evidence they followed every instruction and guideline from DOE and yet still faced sections of their portfolio submissions that were not scored at all. When a section was not scored, teachers saw their score for that section default to a “1”, the lowest possible score.

I’ve reported before on the discrepancies between rubrics provided to teachers and those provided reviewers. Reviewers received rubrics reflecting more difficult standards, meaning teachers who complied with the rubrics they were given likely lost ground in the final scoring.

I’ve since talked with teachers who indicated they received scores of “5” on three sections and a score of “1” on another. While this created a composite score of “4,” it’s not a logical outcome. It’s highly unlikely that a teacher who receives the top score in three categories would then receive the lowest possible score on the fourth.

As I learn more about this issue, it seems clear that many teachers had submissions that simply weren’t scored at all. The problems in May and June with submission review indicate the state was ill-prepared to execute the scoring of this year’s portfolios.

Now, the TDOE faces significant criticism from the state’s three largest districts in terms of how it handles both student assessment and teacher evaluation. It will be interesting to see if additional districts follow suit.

 

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


 

“No Confidence” in TNReady

Just days after members of the Knox County School Board took the Tennessee Department of Education to task for “incompetence” and an “abject failure” to measure student achievement or teacher performance, the Directors of the state’s two largest school districts, Nashville and Memphis, sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Governor Bill Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in TNReady and asking the state to pause the test.

The letter, signed by Nashville’s Shawn Joseph and Shelby County’s Dorsey Hopson, says in part:

“We respectfully ask the State to hit the pause button on TNReady in order to allow the next Governor and Commissioner to convene a statewide working group of educators to sort out the myriad challenges in a statewide, collaborative conversation.”

The two leaders, whose districts represent 20 percent of all students in Tennessee, note:

“We are challenged to explain to teachers, parents, and students why they must accept the results of a test that has not been effectively deployed.”

The language from these two directors is the strongest yet from any district and the first to call for an outright stop to administration of the TNReady test while the state explores other options. Johnson City’s school board sent a proposal asking for a significant reduction in testing while Wilson County is exploring the possibility of administering a different test altogether. At the same time, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney expressed concern about the poor administration of this year’s test.

It seems clear there is growing concern among educators about the continued use of TNReady. As Joseph and Hopson note, taxpayer resources have been invested in a test that is poorly implemented and yields suspect results. Taking their suggestion of a pause could give the state and a new Governor and Education Commissioner time to actually develop a process for administering an aligned assessment that does not disrupt instruction and does return useful, meaningful results to teachers, parents, and students.

Here’s the letter:

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User Error

Dear Teachers,

It’s your fault.

It always is.

That’s essentially the sentiment expressed by the Tennessee Department of Education led by Candice McQueen after the latest round of problems, this time with portfolio evaluation of Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers.

The Tennessean has more:

Tennessee’s teacher union is blaming a vendor glitch for issues with some teachers’ low kindergarten and prekindergarten portfolio scores. But the state says the problems are due to user error.

“There was no error by our vendor. The vendor has double-checked all of the peer review scores and everything has been correctly and accurately reported,” according to a statement from Sara Gast, Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman.

But Gast said Monday that portfolios are reviewed and scored by peers through a rubric. In some cases, Gast said, an educator mismatched students or standards, which made it impossible to score. In that case, she said, educators were given a score of 1.

The Department of Education, an entity with a serious allergy to the truth, is blaming teachers instead of accepting responsibility.

This is the same DOE that seemed surprised when May 15th arrived this year and portfolio reviewers hadn’t been provided guidance:

The initial portfolios were to be evaluated by May 15th. Then, the portfolios with score disputes go on to the “experts.”

Here’s the text of an email about that sent on May 15th:

Dear Educator,

Thank you for all your hard work! The portfolio scoring in the general pool concludes at 11:59pm tonight. The consensus review scoring begins tomorrow, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

In the event that you were unable to meet your 10 portfolio review requirement (the same as 40 collections) AND you have demonstrated competence during the certification process and/or general pool scoring, you may receive additional portfolios to score. Reviewers who will receive additional portfolio submissions in this next phase and Expert Reviewers will be provided additional guidance to support the scoring process.

Thanks for all that you do! Please look for our next communication in 24 hours.

Here’s a follow-up email sent on May 16th:

Thanks again for your patience and support. We are still developing the guidance documents for the next phase of peer review. Our goal is to make sure you have the most comprehensive and best information to be successful. We appreciate your understanding and will communicate in the next 24-48 hours with updates.

This is also the same DOE that gave teachers one rubric for preparing their portfolios while providing reviewers with a rubric with significantly more difficult standards by which to assess those same portfolios.

Teachers received:

Reviewers were given:

This is the same DOE that set a June 15th deadline for returning scores, then moved it to June 30th, then released the scores last week — in late July.

By all means, let’s give Commissioner McQueen and her department the benefit of the doubt despite all the mishaps during her tenure at the helm.

In Candice McQueen’s world, it’s blame everyone all the time and it’s NEVER her fault or her responsibility.

Never fear, though, the state is now switching to a new platform for portfolio submissions. This means rolling out new training for teachers well after the academic year has started. For teachers in the few districts using Fine Arts Portfolios, this will be the third platform for submission in the last three years. Yes, each year is spent preparing for the portfolio collection and submission AND learning a new platform well into the school year.

If one wonders what Governor Haslam thinks of Tennessee’s teachers, let’s be clear: He’s been standing steadfastly behind Commissioner McQueen. In short, he doesn’t respect our teachers or the work they do.

Frankly, any lawmaker not demanding McQueen be held to account is complicit in this mistreatment of our teachers. The message is and has been clear: Everyone is accountable and responsible EXCEPT the Commissioner of Education. Teachers will continue to pay the price and must go along because no one with authority will stand up and make this stop.

I’d caution those sitting silently to note the teacher uprisings in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. We may be inviting just this sort of direct action here.

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


 

Eric Goes Back to School

As the 2017-18 school year came to a close, we reviewed the Kindergarten experience of a student named Eric and his teacher. Eric’s teacher was participating in an exciting new mandate from the Tennessee Department of Education known as a portfolio. The idea was to assess that teacher’s ability to impart knowledge by looking at her ability to move Eric and other students from Point A to Point B according to state standards.

Here’s how Eric’s year ended:

Eric has now just about completed Kindergarten. He knows no other “normal” environment for school. Complete the task, be recorded, do it again at the end of the year.

The story doesn’t note the hours his teacher spent tagging evidence and uploading it instead of (or in addition to) preparing for learning activities for her class. The story also isn’t over. The results of the first year of statewide, mandatory Kindergarten portfolios have not been recorded.

Now that the 2018-19 school year is about to start, we return to the questions posed as teachers waited on portfolio review and scoring:

How many parents are aware that their child is spending time in Kindergarten working as evidence collection specimens for a system used to assign a 1-5 number for their child’s teacher? How many know just how much instructional time is lost to this process?

Results?

Teachers were initially told by the Department of Education that results would be back by June 15th. Then, they were told it would be June 30th. Since the TN DOE has never met a deadline it could find ways to miss, June 30th came and went with no scores available to teachers. Also missing: Any clear explanation or accountability from the state.

Finally, on July 26th, the Department of Education sent a memo that included these lines teachers across the state had been waiting for:

The department is excited to announce that early grades portfolio scores (pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade) are now available. TNCompass displays the Teacher Effectiveness Indicator, which will be used as the 35 percent student growth measure in calculating the level of overall effectiveness (LOE);

Finally, after a frustrating year of jumping through hoops and losing instructional time, teachers could see the results. According to the state’s propaganda, these results would help teachers improve future instruction, so all that lost time helping kids would be worth it in the long haul. Plus, all that frustration was just because the system was new, it would get better with time.

But wait, this is the Tennessee Department of Education we’re talking about. It’s not like they have a track record of treating teachers fairly or getting evaluation and assessment right.

So, you’re saying there were problems?

Yes!

Initially, teachers noted relatively low scores. That might be expected in the first year of a new evaluation. However, closer examination revealed the low scores were the result of a grading error. For many teachers, entire sections were not reviewed. When a section was not reviewed, that section’s assessment score defaulted to a 1 – the lowest possible score. Because of this default to a low score, a teacher’s entire portfolio score was impacted.

A number of teachers shared score reports that had one or more sections that had not been reviewed.

What’s going on?

Well, it’s time for another memo from the Department of Education. Here’s what they say happened:

Portfolios are designed to demonstrate student growth across time and for standards which teachers select and are assessed through student work. In cases where evidence of student growth is significantly below expectations, these collections would receive a score of 1.

Collections could also receive a score of 1 because of a mismatch either between samples of students or between the standards that were chosen at Point A and the standards that were chosen at Point B. When the standards are mismatched in either of these ways, those portfolio collections/submissions were both flagged by a peer reviewer and autoscored as a 1. • It’s important to note that, for teachers who used all standards consistently from Point A to Point B for all three samples of students, no autoscore was generated, and the collection was scored by a peer reviewer and an expert reviewer if needed. If the difference between these two scores is more than one performance level, an expert reviewer scores the collection/submission, providing an additional level of review. If an expert reviewer scores a collection/submission, those scores are considered final.

So, a teacher who has the highest possible score on three sections and a 1 on a single section either demonstrated below expectations growth OR mismatched the collection and the standard — in other words, it was the teacher’s fault.

An analysis of department guidance by staffers at the Tennessee Education Association noted:

Based on the TDOE’s initial guidance, the cause of the debacle is a glitch in the Educopia platform that allowed a “mismatch” to occur between the two data collection points.  According to TDOE, this mismatch could result in one of two ways, either from a lack of continuity in the student sample or in the standard selected.  Apparently, the Educopia platform allowed erroneous mismatched data to be submitted without alerting the submitter to the apparent mismatch.  When that happened, the platform proceeded to “autoscore” the mismatched collections assigning a default score of “1” rather than flagging such collections for further human review and possible correction. This procedure was not in accordance with the TDOE’s published guidance.

 

The Hotline reviewed all of the TDOE guidance prior to the release of the portfolio scores and it appears there was nothing to advise teachers that errant mismatched data submissions were possible, or that such mismatches could result in an autoscore of “1” for the collection.  To the contrary, TDOE’s guidance repeatedly suggests all collections would be subjected to a progressive human review process in response to any discrepancies greater than one performance level.  So not only does it appear there was no way teachers reasonably could have known these mismatch errors could occur, there was nothing to alert teachers to the possibility such mismatched collections could receive an autoscore of 1 without later being reviewed.

Look at that again: The Tennessee Department of Education — the same department that blamed this year’s TNReady problems on non-existent hackers and incredibly powerful dump trucks — is now blaming the Pre-K/K portfolio problems on a computer glitch. Boy, we sure do have bad luck with testing and evaluation vendors. I’m sure glad our DOE is not to blame, that’d be terrible if they were held accountable for all these crazy coincidences.

A New Approach

Thankfully, Eric has been happily enjoying his summer, blissfully ignorant of the challenges his teacher is having with all that portfolio madness. Now, though, he’s ready to go back to school and the teachers are feeling defeated as their Commissioner of Education and the department she leads continue to disrespect them.

Good news! Now, the DOE is going to provide a new portfolio vendor — one without all those pesky glitches! Here’s more on that:

One way that we plan to reduce the amount of time for portfolio development and provide enhanced support is through a partnership with Portfolium, Inc. to give educators a new e-portfolio platform: TNPortfolio. TNPortfolio will house TEAM portfolios in 2018-19, and in the future, it will support educator micro-credentialing and Work-Based Learning Student ePortfolio systems. In supporting the TEAM student growth portfolios, the platform provides functionality that will automate and improve several processes associated with portfolio development. The improved platform will allow schools to track student work samples longitudinally across multiple years. The TEAM Portfolio element of the platform will be available for teacher use on Aug. 24. On that date, you will receive an email from portfolium.com to access the system for the first time. All portfolio scoring guides and other resources will be available on that date.

YAY! A new, better vendor. Where have we heard this before? This is coming from the same Department of Education that fired Measurement, Inc. from TNReady and hired Questar. Both of them flopped. Then, in an attempt at trickery, the DOE announced Questar was being replaced by the company that owns Questar?!?

Still, there’s hope, right? I mean, this new vendor, Portfolium, is a tried and true teacher evaluation provider ready for the task, right? Well, maybe…

Here’s a bit more about the new company taking over the portfolio process — not just for Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, but for all teachers submitting portfolios:

SAN DIEGOJuly 26, 2018 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded the contract for its TEAM student growth portfolio, student Work-Based Learning, and educator micro-credential ePortfolio systems to Portfolium, Inc., the only Student Success Network.

Portfolium’s TNPortfolio platform, which can accommodate up to 500,000 users, will allow Tennessee teachers to demonstrate the impact of classroom instruction on student growth through the TEAM student growth portfolio, allow students to demonstrate the value of the education they’re receiving through work-based learning, and allow educators to acquire and maintain micro-credentials earned through personalized professional learning. The TEAM Portfolio element of the platform will be available for teacher use starting August 24; other elements of the platform will be available for use during the 2019-20 school year.

Note that the Portfolium press release announcing the awarding of the State of Tennessee contract came on July 26th, the same day as the state’s memo to teachers regarding this year’s portfolio scores.

Who is Portfolium?

Portfolium is a startup company designed to provide college students with a way to highlight accomplishments and work samples for future employers. Yes, you read that right: The new evaluation platform is a startup company that was founded in 2013 and just three years ago, began raising a small amount of capital to launch:

Portfolium, a Web-based social network for students preparing to start their careers, said it has closed on $1.2 million in new venture funding, bringing its total funding to $2.1 million since 2013, when the San Diego-based startup was founded.

I mean, sure, this could work out great. But let’s be cautious — this is a partnership between a Department of Education with a record of failed testing ventures and a startup company seeking to expand market share. What could go wrong?

Oh, and all that time and energy teachers spent learning how to use Educopia? Gone out the window. Time to learn a new platform and see if it works.

In fact, the DOE plans to roll out training for the new platform via webinar on August 23rd. Teachers will have login credentials for Portfolium on August 24th.

Parents, you should be aware that your child’s Pre-K/K teachers may be just a tad frustrated as the year starts — it’s probably not your kid (I mean, it might be). It’s most likely the poor treatment they are receiving at the hands of the Tennessee Department of Education.

How much longer must we tell Eric’s story before policymakers in Nashville make changes that support rather than deflate our teachers?

Have a portfolio experience you’d like to share? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

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


 

 

 

Haslam’s TNReady Pit

Chalkbeat has a story demonstrating just how out of touch outgoing Governor Bill Haslam is. The story details Haslam’s belief that tying teacher evaluation to TNReady results is a key element in Tennessee’s recent education success.

Here’s some truth: Over the past few years, Tennessee has seen high school graduation rates and average ACT scores climb while also seeing the number of students requiring remediation at state schools decline. All of that is encouraging. All of it happened in a climate where the TNReady test was unreliable and poorly administered. In other words, Tennessee’s testing system had nothing to do with student performance. All other indicators point to teachers getting the job done and students hitting ever higher marks.

Here’s more truth:

Does basing teacher evaluation on student test scores get results that impact student outcomes?

No.

That’s the conclusion from a years-long study funded by the Gates Foundation that included Memphis/Shelby County Schools.

It’s also worth noting that while Haslam touts the “fastest-improving” NAEP results from back in 2013, further evidence suggests the results then were likely an outlier.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

Gov. Bill Haslam says he had a “pit” in his stomach every day of Tennessee’s testing season this spring when a parade of technical problems vexed students and teachers in the bumpy transition to computerized exams.

He also worries that three straight years of frustrations with the state’s 3-year-old standardized assessment, TNReady, could unravel policies that he believes led to students’ gains on national tests.

“Do we really want to go back? Do we really want to go back to when Tennessee was in the 40s out of the states ranked 1 to 50?”  the outgoing Republican governor asked recently in an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat.

First, no serious policymaker is suggesting Tennessee adopt weaker or lower standards for students.

Second, as noted above, other significant indicators demonstrate Tennessee students are improving — even without a reliable annual test.

Third, Haslam’s “beliefs” about policies have not been tested on a statewide level – in part due to the failure of his own Administration to execute the tests. Haslam has allowed Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen to keep her job despite multiple testing failures with different vendors. In fact, Haslam joined McQueen in touting a “new” testing vendor that turned out to actually be the parent company of the current vendor.

More from Chalkbeat:

“Hopefully Tennessee and the new administration won’t have the same struggles we’ve had this year with testing. But there will be some struggles; there just are by the very nature of it,” he said. “I worry that the struggles will cause us to say, ‘OK, we give. We’re no longer going to have an evaluation that’s tied to an assessment.’

To this, I’d note that experts suggest no state has had a more tumultuous transition to online testing than Tennessee:

“I’m not aware of a state that has had a more troubled transition” to online testing, said Douglas A. Levin of the consulting group EdTech Strategies.

In terms of an evaluation tied to an assessment, even if TNReady had gone well, the results in the initial years would not be in any way valid for use in teacher evaluation. That’s because the nature of value-added assessment requires multiple years of similar testing in order to produce results that are even vaguely reliable predictors of teacher performance. Here’s a bit more on that:

Here’s what Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) had to say in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

And they concluded:

Our results provide a clear example that caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects because there is the potential for teacher performance to depend on the skills that are measured by the achievement tests.

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

But, TNReady hasn’t gone well. At all. It’s been so bad, the Department of Education has been unveiling a bunch of pie charts to demonstrate how they are attempting to correlate test scores and teacher evaluation. First, it went like this:

Second, this chart is crazy. A teacher’s growth score is factored on tests from three different years and three types of tests.

15% of the growth score comes from the old TCAP (the test given in 2014-15, b/c the 2015-16 test had some problems). Then, 10% comes from last year’s TNReady, which was given on paper and pencil. Last year was the first year of a full administration of TNReady, and there were a few problems with the data calculation. A final 10% comes from this year’s TNReady, given online.

So, you have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.

There is no way this creates any kind of valid score related to teacher performance. At all.

After teachers expressed outrage that the DOE was going to count this year’s scores in their evaluations, the legislature finally took action and passed legislation that said teachers could face “no adverse action” based on this year’s test results.

So, now the Department of Education has more pie charts and a lot of explanations:

What is included in teacher evaluation generally?

There are many factors that go into a teacher’s overall evaluation. One of those, the individual growth component (in gray in the charts in this document), is typically based on a three-year TVAAS measure if data is available. However, for the phase-in period there are two key items to note for the growth component:

• If the current single-year year growth score – in this case, 2017-18 data – provides the educator with a higher overall composite, it will be used as the full growth score.

• Additionally, if a teacher has 2017-18 TNReady data included in any part of their evaluation, they will be able to nullify their entire LOE this year.

What is included in teacher evaluation in 2017-18 for a teacher with 3 years of TVAAS data?

There are three composite options for this teacher:

• Option 1: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 10%, TVAAS data from 2016-17 will be factored in at 10% and TVAAS data from 2015-16 will be factored in at 15% if it benefits the teacher.

• Option 2: TVAAS data from 2017-18 and 2016-17 will be factored in at 35%.

• Option 3: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 35%. The option that results in the highest LOE for the teacher will be automatically applied. Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

And if you only have one or two years of TVAAS data or if you teach in a non-tested subject? Well, the key line continues to apply: Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

What does this mean? Well, it means you’d have a year with no evaluation score. Sounds fine, right? No. It’s not fine. In order to achieve tenure, a teacher must have consecutive years of evaluation scores at Level 4 or 5. But a year with no score at all means that teacher would then need to have TWO MORE YEARS of high scores in order to be tenure eligible. While it seems unlikely a teacher would choose to nullify their entire score if they achieved a high rank, it also seems only fair to allow that teacher to simply exclude the TNReady data and receive their LOE rating based on all the other factors that go into a TEAM rating.

But wait, excluding 2017-18 TNReady data is NOT an option provided. It’s either count it as 10%, count it as 35%, or nullify your entire LOE score. Doing so could certainly have an adverse impact on a teacher.

In short, the TNReady mess has made teacher evaluation a mess. Still, a host of indicators suggest Tennessee’s teachers are hitting the mark. One might conclude that tying a suspect teacher evaluation model to an unreliable test is, in fact, not the key to educational progress in our state. Unfortunately, Governor Bill Haslam has concluded the opposite.

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Meaningless Scores Make Big Splash

The Tennessee Department of Education today released results from this year’s troubled administration of TNReady testing.

This Tennessean story indicates Commissioner McQueen is taking the results seriously in spite of what has become an annual inability to get the job done right:

“We see reason to be encouraged, but we also have a lot of work to do to meet our higher expectations for all students,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. “While we’ve focused extensively on early grades reading and are starting to see a shift in the right direction, we know middle school remains a statewide challenge across the board. TNReady serves as a vital feedback loop for teachers, parents, and administrators to tell us where we are, and the results inform what steps we need to take to help all students and schools succeed.”

Umm…what?? Are you even serious, Candice? THE TESTS DIDN’T WORK! Also, you were caught lying time and again about WHY they didn’t work.

The legislature passed legislation at the end of session, during testing to account for the failure of TNReady.

This isn’t even the first year the tests didn’t work. It happens EVERY year.

Here’s the deal: These scores can’t credibly be used to tell us ANYTHING. Students in schools all across the state faced disruptions caused by dump trucks and hacking (also known as the ineptitude of DOE leadership). Some kids got the wrong test and the extent of that problem is not totally known.

Note to district leaders: If you use these results to say your district or a given school are “doing well,” you have ZERO credibility. Treating these results as anything other than the complete trash that they are is unacceptable.

Some districts have already begun pushing for change in either how TNReady happens next year or even a totally different type of test.

Oh, and note that the DOE makes it sound like they are making improvements:

The Tennessee Department of Education also announced changes after this year’s problems, including searching for a new vendor. It also adjusted how fast it will phase-in online testing.

That sounds great, but the truth is, the DOE and Governor Haslam are treating Tennesseans like we’re stupid:

Let’s get this straight: Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen think no one in Tennessee understands Google? They are “firing” the company that messed up this year’s testing and hiring a new company that owns the old one and that also has a reputation for messing up statewide testing.

So, we had a testing season full of lies, deception, disruption, and mixed-up tests but we’re supposed to look at the “results” of those tests and take them seriously? No thanks.

 

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It’s All Been a Pack of Lies

By now, it should come as no surprise that our Commissioner of Education and the department she leads has a troubled relationship with the truth. That said, today’s revelation at a legislative hearing that an alleged hack of the state’s TNReady test didn’t actually happen again raises the question: Why does Candice McQueen still have a job?

Back on April 17th, the day after TNReady failed to work on day one of this year’s testing, the Tennessee Department of Education noted that the Day 2 failures were related to someone hacking the vendor:

At a legislative hearing today, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) indicated there was no evidence of a hack.

Additionally, the Department of Education issued this statement, which notes:

  • It appears, thankfully, that there was not an outside actor who attacked Questar’s data system. No student data was breached.
  • It is now clear that the event that Questar initially thought presented like a denial of service attack on Tuesday, April 17 was not created by an external actor with malicious intent, but, rather, can be traced in large part to the caching issues connected to how text-to-speech was configured by Questar.
  • Questar implemented a significant and unauthorized change to text-to-speech, which had previously operated successfully during the state’s fall administration. We now know this decision led to the severity of other issues we experienced during online testing.
  • Questar continues their internal investigation and is cooperating with additional external audits to make sure we have all of the facts.

Questar’s Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner has provided this statement: “Questar’s internal and external investigations indicate that the source of the anomalous data pattern is believed to be the result of a configuration with the cache server. We have applied a configuration change and believe to have resolved the issue. We will continue to work with our internal technology team and external partners to validate this.”

The text-to-speech feature was also blamed for students receiving the wrong tests.

While at the time, the hacking excuse sounded pretty far-fetched, today’s hearing confirms that the Department advanced a lie offered by the state’s testing vendor. Of course, later on in the testing cycle, a dump truck was blamed for disrupting testing. That excuse was also later proven untrue.

All of this may explain why at least one school district is calling for a significant reduction in TNReady testing next year.

If this year had been the first time our state had faced testing challenges, one might understand (and forgive) the excuse-making. However, this is now the fifth consecutive year of some sort of problem and the fourth year testing administration has been, to say the least, a challenge.

One may recall the saga of Measurement, Inc. The company that hired test graders from Craigslist and was ultimately fired in 2016 after that year’s TNReady test failed.

The bottom line: If TNEdu tells you something about testing, you should question it. The track record shows that to our state’s Department of Education, truth is a relative concept.

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


 

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