LEAKED: Testing Task Force Reveals Secret Plan

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

From the story:

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

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

  1. Get Rid of TNReady
  2. Fire Candice McQueen

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

Stay tuned to hear more about this important meeting.

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


 

This is Fine

Amid the latest round of TNReady troubles that included both miscalculated student scores and errors in how those scores were used in some teacher evaluations, the House of Representatives held hearings last week to search for answers.

On the same day of the committee hearings, Governor Bill Haslam let everyone know that things were going well.

Chalkbeat reports:

Earlier in the day, Gov. Bill Haslam called the controversy overblown because this year’s errors were discovered as part of the state’s process for vetting scores.

“I think the one thing that’s gotten lost in all this discussion is the process worked,” Haslam told reporters. “It was during the embargo period before any of the results were sent out to students and their families that this was caught.”

Here’s the deal: If this were the only problem with TNReady so far, Governor Haslam would be right. This would be no big deal. But, you know, it’s not the only problem. At all.

Let’s start from the beginning. Which was supposed to be 2016. Except it didn’t happen. And then it kept not happening. For full disclosure, I have a child who was in 4th grade at the time of what was to be the inaugural year of TNReady. The frustration of watching her prepare for a week of testing only to be told it would happen later and then later and then maybe never was infuriating. That adults at decision-making levels think it is just fine to treat students that way is telling. It also says something that when some adults try to stand up for their students, they are smacked down by our Commissioner of Education.

As for the aforementioned Commissioner of Education, some may remember the blame shifting and finger pointing engaged in by Commissioner McQueen and then-TNReady vendor Measurement, Inc. That same attitude was on display again this year when key deadlines were missed for the return of “quick scores” to school districts.

Which brings us to the perennial issue of delivering accurate score reports to districts. This year was the fourth year in a row there have been problems delivering these results to school districts. Each year, we hear excuses and promises about how it will be better next year. Then, it isn’t.

Oh, and what if you’re a parent like me and you’re so frustrated you just want to opt your child out of testing. Well, according to Commissioner McQueen and the Governor who supports her, that’s not an option. Sadly, many districts have fallen in line with this way of thinking.

Here’s the thing: McQueen’s reasoning is missing something. Yes, she lacks credibility generally. But, specifically, she’s ignoring some key evidence. As I noted previously:

All along, the state has argued a district’s federal funds could be in jeopardy due to refusal to administer the test or a district’s inability to test at least 95% of its students.

As such, the argument goes, districts should fight back against opt-outs and test refusals by adopting policies that penalize students for taking these actions.

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.

So, you have a system that is far from perfect and based on this system (TNReady), you penalize teachers (through their evaluations) and schools (through an A-F school grading system). Oh yeah, and you generate “growth” scores and announce “reward” schools based on what can best be described as a problematic (so far) measuring stick with no true comparability to the previous measuring stick.

Anyway, Bill Haslam is probably right. This is fine.

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


 

A Lot of Words

The Murfreesboro City School Board has already expressed concern about the state’s TNReady tests and the delay in receiving results.

More recently, Board members expressed frustration with the response they received from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

The Murfreesboro Post reports:

“I felt like it was a lot of words for not really answering our questions,” said Board Member Jared Barrett. He referred to the response as having “excuses” and “dodging the question.”

“My first response when I read this letter was that there’s something in here that doesn’t add up,” said Board Member Phil King. “My fear is they haven’t solved the problem of getting the paper tests in our hands in a timely manner.”

King suggested moving away from using TNReady in teacher evaluations until the state can prove it can get results back to districts in a timely manner.

The Murfreesboro School Board meeting happened before the most recent round of TNReady troubles, with some students receiving incorrect scores and some teachers not having students properly counted in their TVAAS scores.

In response to those issues, House Speaker Beth Harwell has called for hearings on the issue of state testing.

Additionally, yesterday, the United Education Association of Shelby County called for TNReady scores for this year to be invalidated and for a moratorium on including TNReady scores in accountability measures until 2021.

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


 

 

Would You Like Some Pie?

Chalkbeat’s Laura Faith Kebede reports on how the United Education Association, which represents teachers in Shelby County, describes the current TNReady situation:

“It’s as if you had a piece of pie, and I find a piece of glass in it,” she said. “But I cut somebody else a piece of that same pie and assure you ‘You don’t have glass in yours.’ Are you going to trust me and eat that piece of pie knowing that there’s a piece of glass in mine?”

That’s how UEA President Tikela Rucker described the current state of TNReady given what she cited as years of problems:

“This is the third year in a row that we’ve experienced issues regarding TNReady, which leads us to have zero confidence in TNReady, Commissioner McQueen and the Tennessee Department of Education,” said Shelby County UEA President Tikeila Rucker on behalf of the union’s 2,000 members.

Shelby County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson also suggested the state needed to be more accountable:

“We stand in solidarity with our teachers. We know the (state) Department of Education is working very hard,” Hopson told reporters. “But given the high-stakes nature of the test, we just want to be accurate. And when they’re not accurate, it just casts a cloud of doubt over the whole process.”

Hopson stopped short of calling for test scores to be invalidated. “I wouldn’t necessarily jump to that conclusion,” he said, “but I do agree with our teaching colleagues that the results need to be accurate and timely.”

The UEA is calling for all scores from this year to be invalidated and for a moratorium on using TNReady scores in the state’s accountability system until 2021.

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


 

 

Wrong Answer

In the never ending saga that is testing in Tennessee, the latest chapter spins a familiar but frustrating tale. It seems the state’s testing vendor incorrectly scored thousands of TNReady tests, impacting student score reports and teacher evaluation scores based on those student scores.

Jennifer Pignolet and Jason Gonzales have more:

About 9,400 TNReady tests across the state were scored incorrectly, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

The scoring issue impacted about 70 schools in 33 districts. Just over 1,000 of the incorrectly scored tests were in Shelby County Schools, according to an email from Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to his board on Friday.

Approximately 1,700 of the total incorrect tests scores, once corrected, changed what scoring category that test fell into, possibly affecting whether a student passed the test.

The error also impacted value-added scores for up to 230 teachers. A separate problem could impact TVAAS scores for as many as 900 teachers.

The scope of the error means scores in nearly 25% of the state’s school districts will need to be corrected. The Department of Education says the testing vendor, Questar, is re-scoring the tests.

UPDATE — Here’s a list of districts impacted:

  • Achievement School District
  • Anderson County
  • Benton County
  • Bradley County
  • Bristol City
  • Carter County
  • Cocke County
  • Collierville City
  • Crockett County
  • Davidson County
  • Elizabethton City
  • Giles County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hardin County
  • Henry County
  • Huntingdon Special School District
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Knox County
  • Lewis County
  • Lincoln County
  • Marshall County
  • Maryville City
  • Monroe County
  • Montgomery County
  • Obion County
  • Putnam County
  • Roane County
  • Rutherford County
  • Shelby County
  • Smith County
  • Sumner County
  • Union City
  • Weakley County

The State of Tennessee has spent millions of dollars on a new testing regime supposedly better able to assess student mastery of state standards. So far, all most students, teachers, and parents have seen is problems.

The first set of problems happened on day one of the initial online administration of the test in 2016. Then, a series of missed deadlines led to the state firing then-vendor Measurement, Inc. That’s the same company that hired test scorers via ads on Craigslist.

Of course, this is the same Department of Education that has repeatedly had issues with test score data.

If only there had been warning signs or calls to take the time to phase-in TNReady so that it best serves students and educators.

You know, something like:

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.

Or, if the state is determined to use growth scores (and wants to use them with accuracy), they will wait several years and build completely new growth models based on TNReady alone. At least three years of data would be needed in order to build such a model.

That’s from an article I wrote in March of 2015 about TNReady data and the challenges of adapting to a new test using our current accountability system.

That was BEFORE the 2016 TNReady mess. It was before the state had a problem getting data back this year.

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

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

At least one school board has complained about the state’s handling of TNReady data this year. I suspect more will follow in the wake of this latest mistake.

So far, TNReady has sent one clear message: Accountability is a one way street in Tennessee and students, teachers, and districts are on the wrong end.

 

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


 

 

Seeping Scores Sour School Board

Members of the Murfreesboro City School Board are not happy with the slow pace of results coming from the state’s new TNReady test. All seven elected board members sent a letter to Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen expressing their concerns.

The Daily News Journal reports:

“However, currently those test scores seep ever-so-slowly back to their source of origin from September until January,” the letter states. “And every year, precious time is lost. We encourage you to do everything possible to get test results — all the test results — to schools in a timely manner.

“We also encourage you to try to schedule distribution of those results at one time so that months are not consumed in interpreting, explaining and responding to those results,” the letter continued.

A Department of Education spokesperson suggested the state wants the results back sooner, too:

“We know educators, families and community members want these results so they can make key decisions and improve, and we want them to be in their hands as soon as possible,” Gast said.. “We, at the department, also desire these results sooner.”

Of course, this is the same department that continues to have trouble releasing quick score data in time for schools to use it in student report cards. In fact, this marked the fourth consecutive year there’s been a problem with end of year data — either timely release of that data or clear calculation of the data.

TDOE spokesperson Sara Gast went further in distancing the department from blame, saying:

Local schools should go beyond TNReady tests in determining student placement and teacher evaluations, Gast said.

“All personnel decisions, including retaining, placing, and paying educators, are decisions that are made locally, and they are not required to be based on TNReady results,” Gast said. “We hope that local leaders use multiple sources of feedback in making those determinations, not just one source, but local officials have discretion on their processes for those decisions.”

Here’s the problem with that statement: This is THE test. It is the test that determines a school’s achievement and growth score. It is THE test used to calculate an (albeit invalid) TVAAS score for teachers. It is THE test used in student report cards (when the quick scores come back on time). This is THE test.

Teachers are being asked RIGHT NOW to make choices about the achievement measure they will be evaluated on for their 2017-18 TEAM evaluation. One choice: THE test. The TNReady test. But there aren’t results available to allow teachers and principals to make informed choices.

One possible solution to the concern expressed by the Murfreesboro School Board is to press the pause button. That is, get the testing right before using it for any type of accountability measure. Build some data in order to establish the validity of the growth scores. Administer the test, get the results back, and use the time to work out any challenges. Set a goal of 2019 to have full use of TNReady results.

Another solution is to move to a different set of assessments. Students in Tennessee spend a lot of time taking tests. Perhaps a set of assessments that was less time-consuming could allow for both more instructional time and more useful feedback. I’ve heard some educators suggest the ACT suite of assessments could be adapted in a way that’s relevant to Tennessee classrooms.

It will be interesting to see if more school districts challenge the Department of Education on the current testing situation.

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


 

Disappointing

That’s the word from Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen in response to a refusal by both Shelby County and Nashville school districts to hand over student data.

As the Data Wars continue, Chalkbeat reports on McQueen’s reaction:

“We are disappointed that these districts are choosing to withhold information from parents about the options that are available to their students while routinely saying they desire more parental engagement,” she said. “Allowing parents to be informed of their educational options is the epitome of family engagement and should be embraced by every school official.”

McQueen seemed to indicate that firmer consequences could lie ahead. “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law,” she said in the statement. McQueen told lawmakers in a conference call last month that she was not discussing withholding state funds as a penalty at the time, according to Rep. John Clemmons, who was on the call.

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


 

TC Talks Chattanooga

Nashville-based education blogger TC Weber takes some time to explain a bit more about what’s happening with Chattanooga and the state’s Achievement School District in a recent post.

Here’s how he explains what’s happening since the threat of an ASD expansion team in Hamilton County became more real:

Let’s take a quick trip down to Chattanooga where last night a historic vote took place. The Hamilton County School Board voted 7 -2 to continue the conversation about creating a partnership zone with the Tennessee Department of Education. In case you are not familiar with the Partnership Zone plan, it’s the latest quick fix scheme developed by the TNDOE because people have started to catch on to the dumpster fire that is the Achievement School District. Under the Partnership Zone plan, both the county and the state would work together to improve underperforming schools in the district.

The plan calls for the a creation of an appointed board that would oversee the Partner Zone. This creates a bit of a conundrum. Under current law, schools governing boards can only be elected entities. So this would require a change in legislation. A change that could open a virtual pandora’s box because what’s to stop other districts from switching to an all appointed board, a hybrid, or turn control over to the mayor or other appointed officials?

The term partner is a little bit of a misnomer. The state is making it perfectly clear who wears the pants in this relationship right from the out set. The HCS Board was told that they could choose not to pursue the “Partnership Zone” but if they didn’t State Superintendent Candice McQueen would take all 5 of the priority schools plus two more schools and dump them in the Achievement District. If this is in fact a threat she was prepared to follow through with, it’s a little troubling and a clear sign that she’s willing to play politics with kids. The ASD is an unmitigated failure that should be ended this legislative session not used a stick to ensure district compliance.

As Weber points out, McQueen is using the threat of aggressive state action (takeovers, fines) to attempt to get her way lately. So far, that has not resulted in yielding in Nashville or Memphis. It will be interesting to see how the Partnership Zone plays out in Chattanooga.

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


 

The Data Wars: A New Hope?

The ongoing Data Wars between the state’s two largest school districts and the Tennessee Department of Education continue, with today being the deadline set by Commissioner Candice McQueen for districts to hand over the data or face consequences.

Yesterday, Anna Shepherd and Chris Caldwell, chairs of the Boards of Education in Nashville and Memphis respectively, penned an op-ed detailing their opposition to the data demand from McQueen.

They wrote:

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has demanded that Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools surrender personal contact information for a large number of students and families in our school systems, which represent approximately 20 percent of Tennessee’s K-12 public school students.

Her argument: A new state law requires us to hand over personal information to ASD charter schools so these taxpayer-funded private schools can use the data to fill thousands of empty seats by recruiting students away from public schools.

In addition to violating student and family privacy — the right to privacy is a fundamental American principle — the problem with McQueen’s data demand is this: The ASD now is universally viewed as a failed experiment in education reform.

Shepherd and Caldwell contend that their district’s students will not be well-served by marketing efforts from charter schools operating under the banner of the Achievement School District:

Instead, McQueen proposes to shift the cost burden of the failing ASD to local taxpayers in Memphis and Nashville. She wants to confiscate our student data and information in order to stage marketing raids on our schools — which would redirect local taxpayer funds to the ASD and its charter operators at the expense of our school systems.

With today’s deadline looming, it appears school leaders in Memphis and Nashville are locked down against releasing the data demanded by McQueen. Should that position hold, the question will be: What will McQueen do about it? Will she unleash her ultimate weapon and withhold state funds from these districts as punishment?

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


 

The Data Wars: Herb Strikes Back

Yes, the Data Wars continue. Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) gained new hope recently when 33 members of Nashville’s Metro Council penned a letter supporting resistance to the Achievement School District’s request for student data.

Now, Tennessee’s Attorney General has weighed-in and says the alliance of MNPS and Shelby County must comply with the ASD’s request. What happens if they don’t? Nate Rau notes in the Tennessean:

McQueen’s warning leaves open the possibility the state would dock education dollars from Metro and Shelby schools if they continue to deny her request.

It wouldn’t be the first time for Nashville, as the Haslam administration withheld $3.4 million in state funds in 2012 after the school board refused to approve controversial Great Hearts charter school.

Withholding state BEP funds is a favorite “ultimate weapon,” used in the Great Hearts controversy and also threatened during the TNReady debacle in year one of that test that wasn’t.

During the debate that ultimately saw Nashville schools lose funds in a BEP penalty, Commissioner Kevin Huffman and the Department of Education had an ally in then-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. Joey Garrison reported in the (now defunct) City Paper at the time:

By this point, Huffman had already facilitated a July 26 meeting to discuss Great Hearts’ next move, a gathering that took place just hours before Great Hearts’ revised application would go before the Metro board for second consideration. The meeting site: the office of Mayor Karl Dean, also a Great Hearts backer. In attendance, among others, were Huffman, Dean, Barbic, Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote, Great Hearts officials Dan Scoggin and Peter Bezanson, and Bill DeLoache, a wealthy Nashville investor and one of the state’s leading charter school proponents.

As Rau points out, the current controversy stems from a newly-passed state law giving charter schools the opportunity to request student data from district schools. It seems, however, that there is some dispute over the intent of that law. Rau explains:

Slatery’s opinion also said that the student data may be used for the ASD to promote its schools to prospective students. State Rep. John Forgety, who chairs a House education committee and supported the legislation, told The Tennessean the intent was not to create a law that allowed districts to market to each other’s students.

So it seems the legislature may need to revisit the issue to clear things up.

Also unclear: Where do the current candidates for Governor stand on protecting student data vs. providing marketing information to competing districts and schools?

Stay tuned for more. Will the Shelby-MNPS alliance continue their resistance? Will Commissioner McQueen unleash the power of BEP fund withholding? Will this issue end up in court?

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