Questar Picked as New Testing Vendor

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced a new testing vendor, Questar, for the 2016 – 2017 school year. The announcement comes after an important testing deadline was passed over with no announcement of a vendor.

What’s new?

  • Paper assessments for grades 3-8 for the 2016 – 2017 school year
  • The department will try to have an online option for high school EOCs
  • Testing will be reduced and streamlined
  • Costs were not disclosed

What is Questar?

  • Develops and administers assessments in Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and New York
  • Has partnered with Indiana on End of Course exams for 14 years and with Missouri for five years
  • Also recently named as the state’s vendor for an optional second-grade assessment.

See below for the full release:

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today that the department intends to award Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessment, a contract to develop and administer Tennessee’s annual state assessments for the 2016-17 school year.

In addition, McQueen announced that Tennessee will phase in online administration over multiple years to ensure state, district, and vendor technology readiness. For the upcoming school year, the state assessment for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school End of Course exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for their high school students.

Questar will develop and administer the 2016-17 assessments as part of the state’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Similar to the design of the 2015-16 assessments, next year’s tests will continue to feature multiple types of questions that measure the depth of our state academic standards, specifically students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills. The department also plans to reduce and streamline state tests and will communicate additional specifics in the comings weeks.

“Students, teachers, and parents deserve a better testing experience in Tennessee, and we believe today’s announcement is another step in the right direction,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are excited to move forward in partnership with Tennessee teachers, schools, and districts to measure student learning in a meaningful way and reset the conversation around assessment. Educators across the state have shared how having an assessment aligned to what students are learning every day has improved their instruction. It’s also critical that we continue to look for ways to streamline and reduce testing in our state.”

Questar currently develops and administers large-scale annual assessments for other states, including Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and New York. Questar has partnered with Indiana on End of Course exams for 14 years and with Missouri for five years. The department issued the official letter of intent to Questar today. Pursuant to state contract procedures, after a minimum seven-day period, the contract will be finalized and fully executed.

During the vendor selection process, the department surveyed industry leaders in large-scale assessments, vetting vendors that have successfully developed and administered large-scale assessments across the country. After researching multiple vendors, the department determined that Questar has a proven track record of excellence in statewide testing, administering large-scale assessments via paper and online, and developing a high quality test quickly, which makes it particularly well suited for Tennessee at this crucial time. This past school year, Questar administered the New York grade 3–8 assessments to more than 1.3 million students. In 2015, Questar also developed the Mississippi annual assessment on a timeline similar to Tennessee’s.

“Questar has recent experience developing a large-scale test thoughtfully and urgently,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We believe it is the right partner to collaborate with as we continue to develop assessments that are meaningful and measure what our students truly know and understand.”

Questar was also recently named as the state’s vendor for an optional second-grade assessment. This assessment will replace the state’s previously administered optional K–2 (SAT-10) assessment.

More information about next year’s test will be available after the department finalizes the remaining details with Questar. After the contract is executed, the department will share final details about the structure for next year’s state assessments, including administration time and dates.

Following that, the department will work with Questar to refine and finalize the assessment blueprints, which outline the number of questions devoted to various groups of standards. Those will be released later this summer. Additional resources, including sample test questions and resources that will help educators, parents, and students to become more familiar with the assessment, will be available this fall.

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

 


 

Candice is Listening

Or, she will be. The Commissioner of Education is going on a statewide tour to talk about testing in light of new flexibility offered to the states under the federal ESSA law, which replaced No Child Left Behind.

From the DOE’s press release:

Commissioner Candice McQueen and senior department leaders are launching a statewide listening tour to gather input from educators, key advocates, parents, students, and the public to determine how to implement specific components of the nation’s new federal education law: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The feedback will inform a Tennessee-specific ESSA plan that will guide the department’s work over the coming years and help the state capitalize on the new law’s empowerment of local leadership. These conversations will also build off feedback the commissioner has received on her Classroom Chronicles tour, during which she has met with more than 10,000 Tennessee teachers to learn how policies impact the classroom.

 

“We need to continue to elevate educators’ ideas to strengthen our education system, and the new federal law provides an opportunity to do that,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “We look forward to hearing from a variety of educators – from classroom teachers to directors of schools – as well as advocates, parents, and students as we craft a plan for Tennessee to transition to ESSA.”

The release notes that some policy changes might be in order:

Over the summer and fall, department leadership will draft a plan for transitioning to ESSA based on stakeholder and public feedback. Stakeholders and the general public will have another opportunity to provide input on the draft plan later this fall. In spring 2017, the department will work with stakeholder groups, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly as needed to recommend changes to state law and policy, as well as develop further guidance for school districts.

 

In addition to the various feedback loops and meetings across the state, the department will also be guided by its strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which was developed with input from thousands of stakeholders over the course of several months to establish a clear vision for the future of Tennessee’s schools. It also has established a solid foundation in preparing to transition to ESSA.

Interestingly, the strategic plan referenced includes this under the category of Accountability:

Pilot first grade and career and technical education portfolio models in 2016, and continue to develop additional portfolio options for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects

Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them

Perhaps one improvement that will be suggested is that in addition to developing portfolio models for teacher evaluation (they already exist for related-arts teachers), the state should also provide funding to districts to support their implementation. Few districts use the state’s approved portfolio model for non-tested related arts teachers, likely because the cost of doing so is not covered by the state. Assessment includes both additional staff time and compensation for those performing the portfolio assessments.

The second item of note is: Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them.

This statement assumes that current methods of evaluating student growth (TVAAS) are valid and reliable. To put it simply, they’re not. Additionally, the most common method of assessing student growth is through standardized testing. This raises the possibility that additional tests will be provided for subjects not currently tested. After this year’s TNReady failure, it seems to me we should be exploring other options.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that this summer’s listening tour will lead to a new dialogue about Tennessee’s direction in education in light of ESSA. States like Hawaii are already taking student test scores out of the teacher evaluation process and moving toward new measures of evaluation.

Out of the chaos of TNReady, there is opportunity. Educators, parents, and students should attend these summer meetings and share their views on a new path forward for our state’s schools.

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

 

 

Ready for a Fight

Yesterday, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney issued a statement saying his district would not be administering the high school end of course tests in addition to the suspension of the grades 3-8 TNReady tests.

Commissioner McQueen is not very happy about that. She served notice to Looney and all other directors that refusing to administer the EOC would be considered a violation of state law.

Here’s the email she sent to Directors of Schools:

First, I want to thank you for your partnership and support as we have worked together to implement and administer the first year of a new assessment. I know you share my disappointment and frustration with the inability of our vendor to deliver on this higher quality assessment in grades 3-8, and I truly appreciate your patience and leadership.

 

I want to reiterate that the state’s termination of its contract with the testing vendor Measurement Incorporated (MI) and the related suspension of grades 3-8 testing does not apply to high school and End of Course (EOC) exams, and, therefore, all school districts are required to administer these assessments.

 

The state of Tennessee and local districts are under an obligation under both federal and state law, as well as state board of education rules and regulations, to administer annual assessments to our students. My decision to suspend grade 3-8 testing was based on the impossibility of testing and made in close consultation with the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). Based on the fact that testing in grades 3-8 was not feasible due to the failure of MI to meet its contractual obligations, the USDOE has acknowledged that the department made a good faith effort to administer the assessments to all students in grades 3-8. Unlike grades 3-8, districts are in receipt of EOC exams and the challenges associated with the delivery of grades 3-8 do not exist.

 

Because EOC exams have been delivered, students should have the opportunity to show what they know to measure their progress toward postsecondary and the workforce. Failure to administer the high school assessments will adversely impact students who will not only lose the experience of an improved, high quality test aligned to our higher standards but also the information we plan to provide to students, parents and educators relative to student performance. In addition, districts will eliminate the option for their teachers to use this year’s student achievement data as part of their teacher evaluation if the data results in a higher score.

 

Because of these factors and because state or district action to cancel high school testing would willfully violate the laws that have been set forth relative to state assessment, neither the state nor districts have the authority to cancel EOC exams. Districts that have taken action to cancel EOC exams or communicated such action are in violation of the law and should rescind this action or communication.

What Does This Mean?

In response to the Murfreesboro City School Board considering refusing to administer Phase II of TNReady, the Department of Education issued a statement noting that doing so would be considered a major violation of state law and that withholding state funds was a possible penalty.

McQueen doesn’t say what the penalty would be if districts like Williamson proceed with their refusal to administer the EOCs, but she may well attempt to impose a financial penalty.

In her email, McQueen says:

Failure to administer the high school assessments will adversely impact students who will not only lose the experience of an improved, high quality test aligned to our higher standards but also the information we plan to provide to students, parents and educators relative to student performance.

Just what students want and need: Another test. Some have proposed using the ACT battery of tests as the high school testing measure rather than the current EOC structure.

McQueen also says:

In addition, districts will eliminate the option for their teachers to use this year’s student achievement data as part of their teacher evaluation if the data results in a higher score. 

While the idea of flexibility seems nice, I want to reiterate that any data gleaned from this year’s test is invalid as a value-added indicator of teacher performance. As such, there’s no useful information to be gained relative to teacher performance from this year’s EOCs. Put another way, McQueen’s argument about depriving teachers of an opportunity is invalid.

While the use of value-added data to assess teacher performance is of limited usefulness under optimum conditions, under this year’s transition, it is clearly and plainly invalid. If the goal of using such data is to improve teacher performance, why use data that yields essentially no information?

I have not yet seen a response from Dr. Looney or any other directors. But a fight could be brewing.

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

 

Ready for What’s Next?

Following yesterday’s announcement that Measurement Inc. had been fired and TNReady testing suspended, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent an email to teachers explaining the decision and providing information for what’s next.

The email included a line with a bit of an apology: You were ready, and I am sorry that we were unable to provide all students with a consistent and complete testing experience this year.

Because, of course, all students want a consistent and complete testing experience.

Here’s the email in it’s entirety:

Earlier today, I announced that the department is terminating its statewide assessment contract with Measurement Inc., effective immediately. The state awarded Measurement Inc. a contract in November 2014 to provide an online testing platform with a paper and pencil backup. Not only did Measurement Inc. fail to deliver a reliable online platform for students across the state, it has also failed to print and ship paper tests by deadlines the company had set. Terminating our contract with Measurement Inc. was a challenging decision because we’ve been working to honor the effort and investment of Tennessee teachers and students, but we’ve exhausted every option in problem solving with this vendor to get these tests delivered. TNReady was designed to provide Tennessee students, teachers, and families with better information about what students know and understand, and the failure of this vendor has let down the educators and students of our state.

As a result of repeated failures from this vendor, we are suspending Part II of TNReady for grades 3-8 this year. However, because districts have already received all high school testing materials, high school testing will move forward as planned.

While Measurement Inc. had previously assured us it would have all grade 3-8 materials delivered by April 27, the third deadline the company had set and missed this month, 100 percent of districts are still waiting on some 3-8 materials to arrive, and few districts have complete sets of tests for any grade or subject. Last week, the department told districts that we would not ask them to continue to change schedules and extend the testing window beyond May 10. We know the transition to TNReady has presented unexpected challenges for educators, schools, and districts, and we will not ask you to further disrupt your end of year schedule.

Many of you have shared with me that, despite the challenges with implementation this year, you were excited for your students to show what they were able to do on a new assessment. I understand that many of you will share in my disappointment that we won’t have detailed score reports from this year’s assessment for students in grades 3-8. We will provide as much information to schools and students as possible related to results from Part I testing for grades 3-8. This will be used for informational purposes only, and no score will be associated with Part I for grades 3-8. High school tests will be scored, and these results will be shared in the fall.

The transition to a new assessment this year has been challenging, but aligned assessments are critical to ensure that all students are making progress on their path to postsecondary opportunities and the workforce. I have seen first-hand how hard you have worked to align your instruction to our newer, more rigorous standards. You and your students have risen to higher expectations, and I hope you are encouraged by the growth in critical thinking and problem solving that you have seen in your classrooms every day. You have been flexible and patient beyond what we should expect, especially as you planned for Part II amid important field trips and end-of-year celebrations. You were ready, and I am sorry that we were unable to provide all students with a consistent and complete testing experience this year.

I recognize that our apology is not enough. You also deserve clear guidance as we look ahead to next year. We know teachers’ jobs don’t stop when the final bell rings in May. You spend a great deal of time in the summer months planning for the following year. We’ll share updated math and ELA blueprints in May, which will help you plan for the coming year.

While navigating the challenges of this year’s administration of TNReady, we’ve also been working to improve our assessments for next year. Earlier this month, we shared with districts several changes to TNReady for next year. We’re eliminating Part I for the math assessment, and we will include one to three math problems on Part II called integrated tasks that will maintain the rigor of the performance tasks. As a result of eliminating Part I for math, we will be able to reduce overall testing time for math in grades 3-11. Additionally, we’re adding multiple choice items to ELA Part I, which will encourage students to closely engage with reading passages before they write their constructed response. This will reduce the number of items on ELA Part II and decrease the overall testing time for ELA. These changes were made in response to feedback we received from teachers, as well as school and district leaders, and we’re dedicated to continuously improving our assessments as we move forward with a new assessment vendor.

The department is currently working with the state’s Central Procurement Office to expedite the selection of a vendor for both the scoring of this year’s high school assessment and the administration of next year’s test. In the meantime, I encourage you to read our new frequently asked questions document (here), which offers more detailed information about how this latest announcement will affect you, your schools, and your districts. We will continue to update this resource. It’s also important to note that today’s announcement doesn’t change the flexibility that has already been provided on teacher evaluation. If a teacher has 2015-16 TNReady data, in this case high school teachers, TNReady data will only be used if it helps the teacher.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication to your students. I appreciate your patience and understanding as we look ahead to the 2016-17 school year.


 

 

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

McQueen: We Are Listening

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen published a letter to parents and families about the TNReady roll out. The letter discusses how the Department of Education is also disappointed in the roll out. I’m going to break down her letter with my thoughts. The letter was posted with the attached bolded sentences.

You have probably heard a lot about testing recently as schools have started the annual TCAP assessments, including the new TNReady in math and English. I want to thank you for your patience and support during this transition. As we always see in education, parents and teachers have gone the extra mile to put students first.

As you know, our goal was to administer TNReady online this year. However, due to unexpected issues with our test vendor, students are instead taking the exam on paper. While this is not how we had hoped students would first take TNReady, the paper version of TNReady was created alongside the online version, so it is reliable with questions that have been reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers. 

As you can see, Commissioner McQueen is using this letter to literally highlight the talking points on TNReady. It is a good reminder that all TNReady questions were reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers.

We know the shift has brought challenges for our schools. We too are frustrated and disappointed by our inability to provide students with an online test this year and by the logistical difficulties. We have been working tirelessly to provide a positive testing experience as much as is within our control and to reduce anxiety. Districts already have the option to exclude TNReady and TCAP scores from students’ grades. In addition, the governor proposed to give teachers the flexibility to only include scores from this year’s TNReady and TCAP tests within their evaluation if it benefits them. If you want to learn more about the paper test transition, please visit our website and our blog.

We fully believe that our students are more than test scores. TNReady provides one – but just one – way to help parents and teachers make sure students are ready for the next step by showing how they are progressing. It will give you better information about what your student is learning and retaining because it includes more complex questions that look for how students think and analyze problems.

Yes, the rollout of TNReady has caused a lot of challenges. It was a nightmare for many schools to have to keep updating their testing schedule to prepare for TNReady (plus everything the schools did up until that point to get ready for a computer assessment). Our school had to change the schedule multiple times before testing began. While our testing went very smoothly, there were times when we did not have enough answer sheets for our students. We also had to postpone one grade level’s test because we lacked testing materials.

I know teachers across the state cheered when they heard that Governor Haslam is offering flexibility in regards to using scores in our evaluations. MNPS has already emailed all teachers about this proposed changed to keep the teachers updated. TNEdReport will keep you updated on this proposed legislation.

As we all know and agree with, students are not just data points. But the data provided can be helpful.

Parents should be able to clearly understand what their students know, how they are meeting grade-level expectations, and how they are performing compared to their peers. In the past, parent reports were often difficult to interpret and offered little guidance on how you could support your child, but TNReady allows us to provide parents with more specific and thorough information.

To assure we are creating parent reports that will best inform you, we ask for your feedback as we finalize the design of these reports. You can provide your thoughts on specific pieces of the proposed parent reports through this online form.

While we have not see the scores for TNReady, I am excited to hear from parents once they receive this information. I am cautiously optimistic that the state will provide better information for our parents and teachers. We have been let down before, and I hope it doesn’t happen with the scores.

We are fortunate to have incredible leaders in our communities: parents, principals, and teachers who face challenges every day while leading remarkable work on behalf of kids. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed firsthand the character, focus, and teamwork in so many communities across the state. Thank you again for leading the team in your own household and working in partnership with our schools to seek continuous improvement even in the midst of challenges.

I think the best thing Commissioner McQueen can do is to communicate with teachers, parents, and the public as often as she can. Teachers need to know that the state cares about what is happening in schools across the state. I like how the state has provided a way for citizens to ask questions of the state. I have submitted a question to the state, and I hope there is follow through from the state.

What are your thoughts on McQueen’s letter? Have you submitted a question to the state? If so, have you heard back? Tell us below in the comments.


 

Flexible Validity

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen today provided additional information on how teacher evaluations would be handled in light of the flexibility the department is granting educators in light of TNReady troubles.

First, the email from McQueen, then some thoughts:

Dear educators,

Thank you for all of your thoughtful questions in response to Gov. Haslam’s proposal to create evaluation flexibility during our transition to TNReady. Last month, we shared an overview of the governor’s proposal (here). Earlier this week, the legislation began moving through the legislative process, so I’m writing to share more detailed information regarding the proposal, specifically how it is designed to create evaluation flexibility for you.

The department has developed an FAQ document on Evaluation Flexibility for Teachers (here) which provides detailed information regarding how this flexibility will affect teachers in different subjects and grades. I encourage you to closely read this document to learn how the flexibility applies to your unique situation.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share a few highlights. The governor’s proposal would provide you the option to include or not include results from the 2015-16 TNReady and TCAP tests within the student growth component of your evaluation, depending on which scenario benefits you the most. In other words, if student growth scores from this year help you earn a higher evaluation score, they will be used. If they do not help you earn a higher score, they will not be used. The option that helps your score the most will automatically be incorporated into your evaluation. This applies to all grades and subjects, including science and social studies.

Because Tennessee teachers will meet over this spring and summer to establish scoring guidelines and cut scores for the new assessment, achievement scores will not be available until the fall. TVAAS scores, however, will be available this summer because cut scores for proficiency levels are not required to calculate growth scores.

You can follow the progress of the governor’s proposal as it moves through the legislative process at the Tennessee General Assembly website (here). If you have additional questions about how this may apply to you, please contact TEAM.Questions@tn.gov.

We hope this evaluation flexibility eases concerns as we transition to a new, more rigorous assessment that is fully aligned to our Tennessee Academic Standards, as well as navigate the challenge of moving to a paper-based test this year. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to Tennessee students, as well as your continued flexibility as we transition to an assessment that will provide us with better information about our students’ progress on the path to college and career readiness.

My thoughts:

While flexibility is good, and the TVAAS waiver is needed, this sentence is troubling:

TVAAS scores, however, will be available this summer because cut scores for proficiency levels are not required to calculate growth scores.

The plan is to allow teachers to include TNReady TVAAS scores if they improve the teacher’s overall 1-5 TEAM rating. That’s all well and good, except that there can be no valid TVAAS score generated from this year’s TNReady data. This fact seems to have escaped the data gurus at the Department of Education.

Here’s what I wrote after analyzing studies of value-added data and teacher performance when using different types of assessments:

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.

This year’s TNReady-based TVAAS scores will be invalid. So will next year’s, for that matter. There’s not enough comparative data to make a predictive inference regarding past TCAP performance as it relates to current TNReady performance. In other words, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Or, pulling a number out of your ass.

IT’S WRONG!

But, there’s also the fact that in states with both paper-based and online testing, students score significantly higher on the paper tests. No one is talking about how this year’s mixed approach (some 20,000 students completed a portion of the test online on day one) will impact any supposed TVAAS number.

How about we simply don’t count test scores in teacher evaluations at all this year? Or for the next three years? We don’t even have a valid administration of TNReady – there have been errors, delays, and there still are graders hired from Craigslist.

Let’s take a step back and get it right – even if that means not counting TNReady at all this year — not for teachers, not for students, not for schools or districts. If this 11 hour test is really the best thing since sliced bread, let’s take the time to get it right. Or, here’s an idea, let’s stop TNReady for this year and allow students and teachers to go about the business of teaching and learning.

Back to the Future

After yesterday’s opening day fiasco with the new TNReady test, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that all TNReady tests for this year will now shift to paper and pencil tests and a new testing window will be created. No testing will happen before February 22nd.

Here’s the letter Commissioner McQueen sent to Directors of Schools about the shift:

Thank you for your patience as we faced technical challenges with the MIST platform this morning. At 8:25 a.m. CST the state’s vendor for TNReady, Measurement Incorporated, experienced a severe network outage, causing significant problems with the MIST platform. Like you, we are incredibly disappointed that the MIST platform was not accessible to schools across the state as the Part I testing window opened.

 

Shortly after learning about the issue, we advised that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes.

 

Throughout the 2015-16 school year, the department has continuously worked with Measurement Incorporated to strengthen the online testing platform. As a result of district feedback and through our efforts to collaborate, we have mitigated and eliminated many technical issues. The online platform has undergone many capacity tests, yielding actionable information to drive improvements. Following Break MIST Day last October, we’ve made significant investments in server capacity. As a follow up to our Jan. 12 capacity test, the department’s technology team also spent multiple weeks in the field visiting select districts around the state to reproduce system errors in a real-world, real-time situation to gather better diagnostic information. As a result of this continued analysis, we offered districts the option to move to paper testing as we saw continuing issues with how the platform interacted with districts’ infrastructure.

 

Unfortunately, issues have continued to arise with the online platform. The new nature of the issue this morning has highlighted the uncertainly around the stability of Measurement Inc.’s testing platform, MIST. Despite the many improvements the department has helped to make to the system in recent months and based on the events of this morning, we are not confident in the system’s ability to perform consistently. In the best interest of our students and to protect instructional time, we cannot continue with Measurement Incoporated’s online testing platform in its current state. Moving forward, during the 2015-16 school year TNReady will be administered via paper and pencil (both Part I and Part II).

 

We thank districts, schools, and teachers for their commitment and perseverance to move our students to a 21st century learning environment. We know this is what the real world requires. We understand and appreciate the investment of time, money, and effort it has taken to attain readiness.

 

As a result of a statewide shift to paper and pencil, we will delay and extend the Part I testing window. Measurement Incorporated is currently scheduling the printing and shipping of the paper tests, and the department will share the revised testing window with districts by Thursday of this week. We understand that the shift to paper and pencil testing has many scheduling implications for your schools, teachers, and students. We thank you for your patience and cooperation as we transition to a test medium that we are confident will allow all students to show what they know.

 

TNReady is designed to assess true student understanding and problem-solving abilities, not just basic memorization skills. Regardless of the medium of assessment, this new and improved test will provide schools, teachers, and parents with valuable information about our students college and career readiness.

 

Warning Signs

Prior to Monday’s scheduled test administration, some educators across the state were raising concerns about the testing system and its ability to handle the load of student all across the state.

Amanda Haggard reports:

In a letter sent to the Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen on Jan. 31, RePublic CEO Ravi Gupta outlines exactly what happened when the school made its attempt at the test. From the letter:

Our experience on January 28, however, raised substantial concerns about the technical capacity of MIST [Measurement Incorporated Secure Testing platform] to support state-wide testing. RePublic has only 1,200 kids — a tiny fraction of the State’s 500,000. On January 28, we attempted to administer the Math practice test on MIST as a step toward preparing kids for the first round of state exams. More than half of our kids were unable to log on, were kicked off the platform after logging on, or could not submit a completed test. The critical issue, confirmed by MIST representatives, was an error or series of errors on MIST’s own servers.

Haggard goes on to detail other concerns raised ahead of Monday’s test administration.

A Call for a Pause

In response to the challenges presented by the TNReady test administration, some legislators are now calling for a pause on test-based accountability for students, teachers, and schools. The tests would still be administered, and results reported, but they would not impact student grades, teacher evaluations, or the state’s priority schools list.

What Happens Now?

The state now has asked its vendor, Measurement, Inc. to provide paper and pencil tests. These will not start before February 22nd. Districts and schools will have to reschedule testing based on the availability of tests and guidance from the Department of Education.

Now that the tests have shifted to pencil and paper, some are asking how they will be graded. Human graders were always a part of the equation due to the constructed-response nature of the tests, but they will now be assessing handwritten responses.

A Pattern?

This is the third consecutive year the state has had problems with its testing regimen. In 2014, quick scores were not ready in time to be factored into student grades. Last year, there was a change in quick score calculation that was not clearly communicated to districts and which resulted in confusion when results were posted.

 

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

 

 

Quickly Inflated

Jon Alfuth has a piece over at Bluff City Ed that answers the question: Did this year’s method of calculating quick scores on TCAP result in grade inflation? The short answer is yes.

The post is complete with math and graphs that explain the two different methods for calculating quick scores and the possible grade inflation that resulted this year when the TN Department of Education switched to the cubed root method.

Here’s an excerpt that explains the point difference that would be expected based on the different methods for calculation:

The cube root method yielded on average a quick score, the score that goes for a grade, of 4.46 points higher. In other words, a student scoring basic with a raw score of 30 or higher would, on average, receive an extra 4.46% on their final quick score grade, which goes on their report card. A student who scored a 70 last year could expect to receive a 74 under the new quick score calculation.

The additional points do drop as one goes up the raw score scale, however. For the average basic student grades 3-8 with a raw score between 30 and 47, they would receive an extra 5.41 extra points under the new method.

The average proficient student grades 3-8 with a raw score between 48 and 60 would get 4.32 extra points under the new method.

The average advanced student grades 3-8 with a raw score of between 61 and 67 would receive an extra 1.97 extra points under the new method.

The difference varies much more widely for below basic students, but the difference can be as much as 25 points in some cases.

In short, final grades in subjects required to factor in TCAP scores were higher this year than they have been in the past. In some cases, these “extra points” would have moved a student up a full letter grade.

Commissioner McQueen has indicated that this method will be used going forward as the state transitions to the TNReady test, starting next year. Of course, that test is entirely different from TCAP, so comparisons between the two are of limited value — at least until there are multiple years of TNReady data to use for comparative analysis.

More on Quick Scores:

A Call for Testing Transparency

That Was Quick

Quick and Confusing

 

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

 

When 4=2

In preparation for next year’s TNReady exams, it seems the Department of Education is already using some new math. While the General Assembly appropriated a $100 million increase in teacher compensation, an amount equivalent to a 4% raise, the Department is recommending that the State Board of Education adjust the state’s minimum salary schedule by only 2%.

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen revealed the proposed recommendation in an email to Directors of Schools:

Directors,

Tennessee law requires the commissioner of education to present annually to the State Board of Education a state minimum salary schedule for the upcoming school year. Historically, the board has adopted the schedule at its regular July meeting after the conclusion of the legislative session and the adoption of the state budget. This year, in response to district communication and feedback, the board will consider the issue at a specially called meeting set for June 9.

The FY 16 state budget includes more than $100 million in improvements for teacher salaries and represents a four percent improvement to the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP). Because the BEP is a funding plan and not a spending plan, the $100 million represents a pool of resources from which each district will utilize its portion to meet its unique needs. The structural change in the state salary schedule in July 2013 recognized this inherent flexibility in the BEP by lessening the rigid and strict emphasis on years of experience and degrees and providing more opportunity for districts to design compensation plans based on a number of factors. At the same time, while recognizing the value, appeal and need for maximum flexibility, the state board has stressed the desire to improve teacher compensation, particularly minimum salaries, and Gov. Haslam has outlined his goal for Tennessee to be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation.

Considering this background information as well as feedback from districts and in an effort to provide districts with as much information as possible as early as possible, we want to inform you today that the department will propose increasing the base salary identified in the state minimum salary schedule from $30,876 to $31,500. This represents a two percent adjustment and will impact the other six cells on the state schedule accordingly. For example, the current minimum for a Bachelor’s Degree and 6-10 years of experience is the BASE SALARY + $3,190 or $34,066 (BASE of $30,876 + $3,190). The proposed minimum for the 2014-15 school year for this same cell will be $34,690, which represents the new recommended BASE SALARY of $31,500 + $3,190.

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

The current state salary schedule can be viewed here for a determination as to how your particular district may be impacted.

Two years ago, the state adopted a new salary schedule at the recommendation of then-Commissioner Kevin Huffman. This schedule gutted the previous 20 step schedule that rewarded teachers for their years of experience and acknowledged the work of earning advanced degrees. Historically, when the General Assembly appropriated funds for a raise, the Commissioner of Education recommended the state minimum salary schedule be adjusted by the percentage represented by the appropriation. So, if the General Assembly increased BEP salary appropriations by 2%, the State Board would raise the state minimum salary schedule by 2%.

This adjustment did not necessarily mean a 2% raise on teacher’s total compensation, because many local districts supplemented teacher salaries beyond the state required minimum. The 2% increase, then, was on the state portion of salaries. Some districts would add funds in some years to ensure their teachers got a full 2%, for example. And in other cases, they’d only get the increase on the state portion. Still, under the old pay scale, teacher salary increases roughly tracked the appropriation by the General Assembly.

Here’s a breakdown of average teacher salary increases compared with BEP increases in years prior to the new salary schedule:

FY                     BEP Salary Increase                     Actual Avg. Pay Increase

2011                  1.6%                                                 1.4%

2012                 2.0%                                                2.0%

2013                2.5%                                                 2.2%

These numbers indicate a trend of average teacher pay increases tracking the state’s BEP increase. In FY 2014, however, immediately after the state adopted a new pay scale designed to build in flexibility and promote merit pay, the General Assembly appropriated funds for a 1.5% salary increase and average teacher pay increased 0.5% — teachers saw 1/3 of the raise, on average, that was intended by the General Assembly.

Why did this happen?

First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. These add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP. And, under the old pay scale, the local district was responsible for meeting the obligation of the pay raise for these teachers on their own. The BEP funds sent to the district only covered the BEP generated teachers. And then, only at 70% of the salary. Now, the district was free to use BEP salary funds to cover compensation expenses previously picked up by local funds.

Instead of addressing the underlying problem and either 1) increasing the base salary used to calculate BEP teacher salary funds or 2) increasing the state match from 70% to 75% or 3) doing both, the state decided to add local “flexibility.”

To be clear, increasing the base salary for BEP funds to the state average would cost $500 million and increasing the state BEP salary match would cost $150 million — neither is a cheap option.

But because every single system operates at a funding level beyond the BEP generated dollar amount, it seems clear that an improvement to the BEP is needed. Changing the BEP allocation to more accurately reflect the number of teachers systems need to operate would improve the financial position of districts, allowing them to direct salary increase monies to salaries.

An additional challenge can be found in Response to Intervention and Instruction — RTI2. While the state mandates that districts provide this enrichment service to students, the state provides no funds for RTI2’s implementation. Done well, RTI2 can have positive impacts on students and on the overall educational environment in a school. Because there is no state funding dedicated to RTI2, however, districts are using their new BEP funds for salary to hire specialists focused on this program.

Here’s the deal: 19 Tennessee school districts pay teachers at levels that mean they’ll have to raise teacher pay if the State Board makes the recommended 2% adjustment. To be clear, the minimum salary a first year teacher can make anywhere in Tennessee is currently $30,876. That will increase to $31,500 if the Board adopts McQueen’s recommendation. Because the 2% only applies to the base number and the other steps increase by a flat amount, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years of experience will go from a mandated minimum of $37,461 to $38,085.  That’s only 1.67%.

And let’s look at that again: The minimum mandated salary for a teacher in Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years experience will now be $38,085.

That’s unacceptable.

Instead, policymakers should:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

The policy reality is those districts at or near the state minimum are the poorest and least able to stretch beyond state funds. Following the proposed recommendation may well serve to exacerbate an already inequitable funding situation.

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

Candice Clarifies

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen issued an email to teachers today clarifying an email she sent Monday regarding Tennessee standards and the upcoming TNReady tests.

It seems there was some confusion about what standards to teach in the 2015-16 academic year and what Tennessee standards may look like going forward.

Below is today’s email followed by the one sent Monday:

Teachers,

I’m writing to clarify information I shared on Monday about the standards review and development process. We have received several questions about which standards teachers should use during the 2015-16 school year. We want to make sure that your questions are answered quickly, so you can move into summer with clear expectations for the upcoming school year.

Tennessee teachers should continue to use the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not the previous SPI’s. The current state standards are available on our website.

TNReady, the state’s new and improved TCAP test in English language arts and math, will assess the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not SPI’s.

As we shared on Monday, the standards review and development process that Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education established last fall will continue. Teams of educators will work to review public input and will then recommend new sets of math and English language arts standards to the State Board of Education to be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year. TNReady will evolve as our math and English language arts standards do, ensuring that our state assessment will continue to match what is being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

Please feel free to reach out with additional questions or clarifications. We look forward to sharing more information about TNReady and the standards review and development process in the coming weeks.

Best,
Candice

_________________________________________________________________
From: Commissioner.McQueen@tn.gov
Date: Monday, May 11, 2015 3:20 PM
To: Tennessee teachers
Subject: Update on Standards Review Process

Teachers,

The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted to support our administration’s efforts to ensure that Tennessee students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or the workforce.

The vote complements the academic standards review and development process established by Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education last October, and it will maintain the participation of Tennessee educators and parents in the process.

At the conclusion of the review process, Tennessee’s new academic standards, which will include public input and are established by Tennessee educators, will replace the existing set of standards in English language arts and math. These standards will be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year.

In addition to the teams of educators established by the State Board of Education that will review the existing standards, the adopted legislation also provides for a 10-member standards recommendation committee appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House. This committee will review the recommendations of our educator groups and will then make a final recommendation to the State Board of Education for consideration and approval.

In addition, the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts will also inform and help guide the state’s new assessment, TNReady. TNReady begins during the 2015-16 school year, and it will be aligned to the state’s existing academic standards in math and English language arts. TNReady will then evolve as the standards do, ensuring that our state assessment matches what is actually being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

As I travel around the state listening to teachers, I continue to hear teachers’ confidence in Tennessee’s higher standards and the positive impact they are having on students. I also continue to hear your desire for stability and alignment, so teachers and school leaders can make informed decisions about what works best for your students. We hope this process encourages you to continue on the path that you boldly started – great teaching to high expectations every day – as we all continue to work together to improve the standards during the review process.

We are proud that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement, and your work this year to ensure that Tennessee stays on a path of high academic standards to help continue that success has been critical. Thank you to those that commented on the math and English language arts standards on the review website, www.tn.gov/standardsreview.

I am confident that the process that the General Assembly has now adopted will only enhance our efforts to improve outcomes for all of our students.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you as the standards review and development process continues this summer. Thank you again for all you do in support of Tennessee families and students.

Best,
Candice

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