Affirmed

The Maury County School Board by a 10-1 vote affirmed the position of Director of Schools Chris Marczak who has called for a halt to TNReady this year and a move to replace the state exam with the ACT suite of assessments.

The Columbia Daily Herald reports:

During the board’s regular meeting this week, representatives voted 10-1 to send a letter calling for the halt of TNReady testing. Former school board chairman David Bates cast the sole dissenting vote.

The letter, penned by Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Marczak, asks the state to end TNReady testing, requests schools be held harmless in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVASS) and calls for the ACT to be made the standardized testing tool for high school juniors and seniors by the year 2020.

Marczak called the vote an answer to an ongoing rally cry in Maury County.

“This is a huge affirmation for our educators who are working to do the best for our students,” Marczak told The Daily Herald. “To me, it is an affirmation for the community and the families and the students. I want to commend the school board for being forward thinking. They really took a stance and I am really impressed with their leadership.”

The School Board’s position drew immediate praise from the Maury County Education Association, the local affiliate of the Tennessee Education Association:

“After years of failure, confidence and trust in the state testing system is at an all-time low,” the statement reads. “There are calls to suspend testing completely and allow a reset, recognizing an entire generation of students have known nothing but glitches and disappointment.”

The TNReady failures have recently been the subject of an exchange of letters among directors, lawmakers, and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen.

Additionally, Governor Bill Haslam and McQueen are currently on a statewide tour talking to invited guests about TNReady.

Stay tuned to see if additional districts join Maury County in pushing for a reset on testing and, ultimately, a move to a different test altogether.

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


 

When Gov Comes to Town

The first stop on Governor Bill Haslam’s TNReady “listening tour” is today at 3:00 PM local time at Halls Elementary School in Knoxville.

In the press release announcing the tour, the goals were stated as:

1. Engage in an open conversation about assessment and ways to improve administration;
2. Gather feedback that can inform a smooth delivery of state assessments this school year and beyond, including feedback on the selection of the state’s next assessment partner to be chosen later this school year;
3. Discuss how to better provide schools, educators, parents and students with meaningful and timely results from assessments; and
4. Distinguish assessment content from delivery in an effort to focus on the value assessments can provide.

Sounds great, right? An open conversation, gathering feedback, hearing from educators and parents about what’s needed to improve?

It might be of some value IF it were truly an open conversation. Here’s the problem: The event is at 3:00 PM when school is in session for many teachers in Knox County. That means, unless you teach at Halls, you likely can’t get there in time (it ends at 4:30) to weigh-in with your feedback.

At least the teachers and staff at Halls will be able to have a voice, right?

Nope. The principal at Halls and teachers there were told the event was “invitation only.” The Governor and Commissioner of Education have already decided who will be doing the talking.

Here’s more from a report on the ground describing what’s going down ahead of the PR event:

This is what my principal had to do today:

1)Spend his time going through the building with the Governor’s security detail instead of dealing with students.
2) Tell his teachers that they could not attend the TN Ready event.
3)Tell his teachers how to dress tomorrow
4) Have teachers….. who can’t attend (neither can he, evidently) set up tables and chairs for the attendees after school
5) Tell teachers that students could not use the library all day tomorrow (there goes effective plan time for 6 teachers)
6) Figure out a plan that would disrupt our dismissal as little as possible, since they insist on parking in the lot where parents circle around for the car rider line

So, Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen are coming to town with a pre-approved guest list and not, in fact, engaging in “an open conversation about assessment.”

 

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

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Kindergarten is Important

Apparently, before the use of the disastrous Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio evaluation, Kindergarten teachers didn’t realize their own importance. That’s the takeaway from a memo sent by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to Tennessee School Superintendents. In the memo, McQueen explains the rationale behind the portfolios, discusses this year’s challenges with implementation, and looks ahead to proposed improvements.

Here’s a line where McQueen describes what she learned from listening to a small group of Directors of Schools:

The portfolio process increased the importance of kindergarten. Our teachers were saying “It starts with us.” Teachers wanted to show what they could do.

So, before portfolios, Kindergarten teachers didn’t know school started with them? None of them realized Kindergarten was important? It took an oppressive evaluation process requiring 40+ hours of time outside of school in order for Kindergarten teachers to realize they mattered?

Here’s more from the email McQueen sent to Directors highlighting what she learned:

On Friday of last week, I asked a group of your fellow superintendents from across the state to join me for a discussion about portfolios. We have summarized the listening session and feedback loop in the attached document. I am appreciative of the opportunity to have an authentic conversation about the purpose of the portfolios, the process in the inaugural year of statewide implementation, and the changes that are being put in place. Here is a brief summary of what we heard:

  • Teachers’ practice improved as a result of the portfolio process.
  • Teachers welcomed the accountability and started the year excited about portfolio.
  • Portfolios improved teacher collaboration.
  • The submission process and platform (Educopia) caused unnecessary challenges.
  • There was inconsistent feedback and communication statewide.
  • Peer reviewers need additional support and training.

What’s missing from this conversation is that teachers who piloted the portfolio in Knox County in 2016-17 had a relatively good experience. This included a relatively small number of collections and an internet interface that was user-friendly. Then, in 2017-18, teachers were provided with information requiring double the amount of collections and given a platform (Educopia) that was fraught with problems.

Here’s what else is missing: McQueen held a meeting with 11 school superintendents in order to hear about the experience of Pre-K/K portfolios. There were ZERO Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers in the meeting. No peer reviewers were present to share their experiences. Sure, Directors of Schools may have spoken with their teachers prior to meeting McQueen, but McQueen didn’t hear directly from those impacted by her failed policy.

Why are Pre-K/K teachers even doing portfolios? Here’s what McQueen says in that memo:

Vanderbilt Pre-K study showed that gains students had in pre-K were not sustained year over year and had been lost by third grade.

I’ve written about this before:

And here’s the secret: Both studies come to the same conclusion — Pre-K works.

That is, the state’s voluntary Pre-K program sends students to Kindergarten better prepared. And the effects of the program last through first grade. That’s right, one year of intervention yields two years of results as demonstrated by two different Tennessee-specific, longitudinal studies.

Here’s another secret: There are no silver bullets in education. Pre-K is one specific, targeted intervention. But Pre-K alone can’t solve the challenges faced by Tennessee’s low income students.

Two different studies of the state’s Pre-K program suggest that at best, the positive impacts of Pre-K last through second grade. That is, the students who meet the criteria for voluntary Pre-K (at-risk as defined by qualifying for free/reduced lunch) and gain access to the program perform better in early grades than students from the same population who don’t receive the intervention. At worst, the effect lasts only through first grade.

YES — one year of intervention yields at least two years of positive results. That’s a tremendous return on investment. Also not shocking: At-risk students who receive no other intervention besides Pre-K eventually will struggle in school. Having had Pre-K does not ensure that these students will have access to adequate nutrition or healthcare and so over time, that will certainly impact academic performance.

Instead of addressing the underlying challenges, though, McQueen and her policy team seem intent on blaming teachers and adding ever more onerous requirements on them. Maybe adding portfolio evaluation to Kindergarten teaching requirements will ensure kids have access to food, shelter, and basic health care?

Finally, McQueen points to proposed improvements for 2018-19. In addition to a new platform provided by a new vendor, here’s what teachers can expect:

It will still be important that teachers understand what the standard calls for. It will still be possible for a teacher to upload student work that does not align to the standards, which would still result in an error.

Moving forward the department will ensure that all educators get feedback on every collection in their portfolio.

Updated scoring rubrics that include greater specificity will be provided to further clarify expectations.

In June 2019, the department will convene peer reviewers in-person regionally after the year ends to have technical expertise and teacher collaboration onsite. That will turn scores around faster, allow us to address issues with everyone together, and answer peer reviewers’ questions in real time and in person.

Did you see that? “moving forward, all educators will get feedback on every collection.” You mean in the first year of a new evaluation system, the plan wasn’t to give every educator feedback on every collection? I’ve seen teacher portfolios where none of the collections received any feedback except for a numerical score. It’s somewhat understandable that there may be minimal feedback at the top end of the scoring range, but teachers whose collections receive a 1 or 2 (the lowest rankings) deserve to know how they can improve.

Also, in June of 2019, peer reviewers will be convened in-person. Again, that is a step that should have been taken in the first year of the program.

Finally, about that new vendor with a new platform:

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.

When will teachers learn more about Portfolium? Supposedly, on August 24th.

At any rate, now Kindergarten teachers know they are important and Tennesseans know that if we have both Pre-K and early grades portfolios, all our education problems will be solved.

Try again, Candice.

 

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport


 

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