Key Driver

Much is being made of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system as a “key driver” in recent “success” in the state’s schools.

A closer look, however, reveals there’s more to the story.

Here’s a key piece of information in a recent story in the Commercial Appeal:

The report admits an inability to draw a direct, causal link from the changes in teacher evaluations, implemented during the 2011-12 school year, and the subsequent growth in classrooms across the state.

Over the same years, the state has also raised its education standards, overhauled its assessment and teacher preparation programs and implemented new turnaround programs for struggling schools.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that BEFORE any of these changes, Tennessee students were scoring well on the state’s TCAP test — teachers were given a mark and were consistently hitting the mark, no matter the evaluation style.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that “growth” as it relates to the current TNReady test is difficult to measure due to the unreliable test administration, including this year’s problems with hackers and dump trucks.

While the TEAM evaluation rubric is certainly more comprehensive than those used in the past, the classroom observation piece becomes difficult to capture in a single observation and the TVAAS-based growth component is fraught with problems even under the best circumstances.

Let’s look again, though, at the claim of sustained “success” since the implementation of these evaluation measures as well as other changes.

We’ll turn to the oft-lauded NAEP results for a closer look:

First, notice that between 2009 and 2011, Tennessee saw drops in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math. That helps explain the “big gains” seen in 2013. Next, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math, our 2017 scores are lower than the 2013 scores. There’s that leveling off I suggested was likely. Finally, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading, the 2017 scores are very close to the 2009 scores. So much for “fastest-improving.”

Tennessee is four points below the national average in both 4th and 8th grade math. When it comes to reading, we are 3 points behind the national average in 4th grade and 5 points behind in 8th grade.

All of this to say: You can’t say you’re the fastest-improving state on NAEP based on one testing cycle. You also shouldn’t make long-term policy decisions based on seemingly fabulous results in one testing cycle. Since 2013, Tennessee has doubled down on reforms with what now appears to be little positive result.

In other words, in terms of a national comparison of education “success,” Tennessee still has a long way to go.

That may well be because we have yet to actually meaningfully improve investment in schools:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving (Since Bill Haslam became Governor). At least not faster than other states.

We ranked 44th in the country for investment in public schools back in 2010 — just before these reforms — and we rank 44th now.

Next, let’s turn to the issue of assessing growth. Even in good years, that’s problematic using value-added data:

And so perhaps we shouldn’t be using value-added modeling for more than informing teachers about their students and their own performance. Using it as one small tool as they seek to continuously improve practice. One might even mention a VAM score on an evaluation — but one certainly wouldn’t base 35-50% of a teacher’s entire evaluation on such data. In light of these numbers from the Harvard researchers, that seems entirely irresponsible.

Then, there’s the issue of fairness when it comes to using TVAAS. Two different studies have shown notable discrepancies in the value-added scores of middle school teachers at various levels:

Last year, I wrote about a study of Tennessee TVAAS scores conducted by Jessica Holloway-Libell. She examined 10 Tennessee school districts and their TVAAS score distribution. Her findings suggest that ELA teachers are less likely than Math teachers to receive positive TVAAS scores, and that middle school teachers generally, and middle school ELA teachers in particular, are more likely to receive lower TVAAS scores.

A second, more comprehensive study indicates a similar challenge:

The study used TVAAS scores alone to determine a student’s access to “effective teaching.” A teacher receiving a TVAAS score of a 4 or 5 was determined to be “highly effective” for the purposes of the study. The findings indicate that Math teachers are more likely to be rated effective by TVAAS than ELA teachers and that ELA teachers in grades 4-8 (mostly middle school grades) were the least likely to be rated effective. These findings offer support for the similar findings made by Holloway-Libell in a sample of districts. They are particularly noteworthy because they are more comprehensive, including most districts in the state.

These studies are based on TVAAS when everything else is going well. But, testing hasn’t been going well and testing is what generates TVAAS scores. So, the Tennessee Department of Education has generated a handy sheet explaining all the exceptions to the rules regarding TVAAS and teacher evaluation:

However, to comply with the Legislation and ensure no adverse action based on 2017-18 TNReady data, teachers and principals who have 2017-18 TNReady data included in their LOE (school-wide TVAAS, individual TVAAS, or achievement measure) may choose to nullify their entire evaluation score (LOE) for the 2017-18 school year at their discretion. No adverse action may be taken against a teacher or principal based on their decision to nullify his or her LOE. Nullifying an LOE will occur in TNCompass through the evaluation summative conference.

Then, there’s the guidance document which includes all the percentage options for using TVAAS:

What is included in teacher evaluation in 2017-18 for a teacher with 3 years of TVAAS data? There are three composite options for this teacher:

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

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

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

That’s just one of several scenarios described to make up for the fact that the State of Tennessee simply cannot reliably deliver a test.

Let’s be clear: Using TVAAS to evaluate a teacher AT ALL in this climate is educational malpractice. But, Commissioner McQueen and Governor Haslam have already demonstrated they have a low opinion of Tennesseans:

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

To summarize, Tennessee is claiming success off of one particularly positive year on NAEP and on TNReady scores that are consistently unreliable. Then, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner is suggesting the “key driver” to all this success is a highly flawed evaluation system a significant portion of which is based on junk science.

The entire basis of this spurious claim is that two things happened around the same time. Also happened since Tennessee implemented new teacher evaluation and TNReady? Really successful seasons for the Nashville Predators.

Correlation does NOT equal causation. Claiming teacher evaluations are a “key driver” of some fairly limited success story is highly problematic, though typical of this Administration.

Take a basic stats class, Dr. McQueen.

 

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Building a Table

Teachers in Shelby County are seeking to build a negotiating table with the school district, according to a story from Chalkbeat:

The district’s two organizations, which represent teachers and other licensed educators, say their priorities are restoring automatic pay increases and higher pay for educators with advanced degrees, and giving more flexibility to teachers in the classroom.

Despite evidence that pay schemes based on TVAAS aren’t impacting student achievement, district superintendent Dorsey Hopson continues to push merit pay schemes:

Hopson has tried for several years to switch teacher pay to a merit system based on evaluation scores that include student test scores. That would mean only teachers with high evaluation scores would be eligible for raises.

A report based on a Gates Foundation-funded experiment in a number of districts across the country, including Memphis/Shelby County, found:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s multi-million-dollar, multi-year effort aimed at making teachers more effective largely fell short of its goal to increase student achievement—including among low-income and minority students, a new study found.

Should teachers win the right to negotiate, this issue will surely be a hot-button and the evidence directly from Memphis should certainly weigh-in to the discussions.

If the groups representing teachers successfully win the first phase, a final vote will be taken in November to determine which organization teachers want to represent them. Then, seats at the negotiating table will be divided among the two groups according to the percentage of votes received.

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


 

Deleted

In the wake of last year’s TNReady troubles, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation saying “no adverse action” could be taken against teachers, students, or schools based on the results. While legislators passed the bill late in the session, the Tennessee Department of Education was left to implement policy.

As this school year is up and running, teachers and administrators are asking what to do with data from 2017-18. Helpfully, the TDOE released this handy guidance document. The document lets teachers know they can choose to nullify their entire Level of Effectiveness (LOE) score from 2017-18 if TNReady scores were included in any part of a teacher’s overall TEAM evaluation score.

But nullifying your score could lead to unintended “adverse actions,” couldn’t it? Well, maybe. But, the always thoughtful TDOE is ahead of the game. They also have a guide to nullification.

This guide makes clear that even if a teacher chooses to nullify his or her entire LOE for 2017-18, no adverse action will impact that teacher.

Here are a couple key points:

Educators who choose to nullify their 2017-18 LOE may still be able to earn Professional Development Points (PDPs). Educators who choose to nullify their 2017-18 LOE may use their 2016-17 score to earn applicable PDPs;

So, PDPs are covered if you nullify. Great.

For educators who nullify their 2017-18 LOE, the number of observations required in 2018- 19 will be calculated based on 2016-17 data in conjunction with the educator’s current license type.

Looks like classroom observations have also been covered.

If a teacher chooses to nullify his or her 2017-18, LOE he or she may still become eligible for tenure this year. Pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-5-503(4), “a teacher who has met all other requirements for tenure eligibility but has not acquired an official evaluation score during the last one (1) or two (2) years of the probationary period due to an approved extended leave; transfer to another school or position within the school district; or invalidated data due to a successful local level evaluation grievance pursuant to § 49-1-302(d)(2)(A) may utilize the most recent two (2) years of available evaluation scores achieved during the probationary period.”

Worried about tenure? TDOE has you covered!

So far, so good, right?

Well, then there was an email sent by the Education Value-Added Assessment System (the vendor that calculates TVAAS).

Here’s what teachers saw in their inboxes this week:

Due to the upcoming release of TVAAS reports for the 2017-18 school year, some of the data from the 2016-17 reporting will no longer be available.

*    The current student projections will be removed and replaced with new projections based on the most recent year of assessment data.
*    Current Custom Student reports will be removed.
*    District administrators will lose access to Teacher Value-Added reports and composites for teachers who do not receive a Teacher Value-Added report in their district in 2017-18.
*    School administrators will lose access to Teacher Value-Added reports and composites for teachers in their school who do not receive a Value-Added report in 2017-18.

If you would like to save value-added and student projection data from the 2016-17 reporting, you must print or export that data by September 26. TVAAS users are reminded to follow all local data policies when exporting or printing confidential data.

But wait, the 2016-17 data is crucial for teachers who choose to nullify their 2017-18 LOE. Why is a significant portion of this data being deleted?

Also, note that student projections are being updated based on the 2017-18 scores.

What?

The 2017-18 test was plagued by hackers, dump trucks, and mixed up tests. Still, the TDOE plans to use that data to update student projections. These projections will then be used to assign value-added scores going forward.

That’s one hell of an adverse impact. Or, it could be. It really depends on how the 2017-18 scores impact the projected performance of given students.

The legislation in plain language indicated teachers and schools would face “no adverse action” based on the 2017-18 TNReady administration. Now, teachers are being told that future student growth projections will be based on data from this test. It’s possible that could have a positive impact on a teacher’s future growth score. It certainly could also have a rather negative impact.

The potentially adverse action of allowing the 2017-18 TNReady scores to impact future growth scores for teachers and schools has not been addressed.

By the way, we now have the following set of apples, oranges, and bananas from which we are determining student growth:

2015 — TCAP

2016 — NO TNReady

2017 — pencil and paper TNReady

2018 — Hacker and Dump Truck TNReady

It’s difficult to see how any reliable growth score can be achieved using these results.

 

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Edu-Dystopia

One might think that the problems with the state’s Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio evaluation couldn’t get any worse. But, we are dealing with the Tennessee Department of Education and failed leader Candice McQueen. These are the same people who brought us fake hacking and a monstrous TNReady dump truck.

Anyway, after this year’s blame the teachers portfolio event, the state finally agreed to review portfolios and re-score them. In fact, the state offered $500 each to reviewers who would meet at centralized locations and on a single day (September 8th) to assess the portfolios in question. This would allow for immediate feedback and assistance should problems arise.

The good news: No assistance was necessary because problems didn’t arise during the scoring.

The bad news: That’s because there was no scoring as the state’s vendor, Educopia, could not provide access to the portfolios in order for them to be graded.

To be fair, some portfolios were graded in certain locations before the infrastructure was overloaded and all grading stopped.

This means trained reviewers sat in rooms around the state looking at blank screens instead of assessing portfolios. It means they were fed sandwiches and then told to go home. It means they were promised $500 for the lost day.

Now, those same reviewers are awaiting further guidance. Ostensibly, they will be provided access to Educopia on Monday and have one full week to grade the portfolios. Additionally, Educopia has promised to pay each reviewer an additional $250.

Here’s how the situation was described in a letter from the Tennessee Department of Education:

Thank you for your willingness to partner with us yesterday to review portfolio collections.  We understand that you gave up your time to work with us, so your gracious attitude while we navigated Educopia’s technology issues is greatly appreciated.  Our intention was for you to have an enjoyable, collaborative opportunity to engage in a streamlined review process.  While Educopia was aware that we would be reviewing across the state and was on call to provide support, the architecture they put into place to provide us access to the collections was flawed.  Therefore, our connectivity was hit and miss.  The CEO has issued an apology

If you’re a Pre-K/K teacher waiting for your portfolio to be reviewed (again), you’ll have to keep waiting.

Of course, you’ll also soon be introduced to the new Portfolium platform. Maybe it will work. Maybe not.

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


 

And Then There Were Ten

I wrote recently about Tipton County opting out of portfolio evaluation for Fine Arts teachers after participating the past four years. The move came in response to a letter a group of teachers sent to the Tipton County School Board.

Now, Nashville has also decided to opt out of Fine Arts portfolios for the 2018-19 academic year. While this had been raised as a possibility toward the end of last year, it wasn’t clear MNPS would move away from the portfolio model this year.

MNPS took the time to survey Fine Arts teachers and then used that feedback to inform their decision. The largest number of teachers responding voted to stop participating in the Fine Arts portfolio now and in future years. Another significant group wanted to at least pause the portfolio for a year and evaluate options going forward.

As a result, MNPS will now hold focus groups with Fine Arts teachers in the Spring to determine evaluation options for 2019-20 and beyond.

The move in Nashville comes as the portfolio evaluation model is losing favor around the state due to both poor implementation and lack of beneficial impact on instruction.

Prior to the start of this school year, five of sixteen districts participating in the Fine Arts portfolio indicated they would drop it for 2018-19. Now, Tipton and Nashville have opted out. This leaves nine districts who were previous participants plus Sumner County, a district that added portfolio evaluation over the objections of Fine Arts teachers there.

A line from the letter Tipton County teachers sent to their School Board explains why so many districts are moving away from this evaluation model:

While we appreciate the theory behind it, in real practice the portfolio process is not an effective one. What has occurred over the past several years is that portfolio has changed our lesson structures, negatively impacted our students’ classroom experience, and it has failed to provide feedback to help us improve as teachers.

It will be interesting to see if any other districts move away from this model ahead of the roll-out of the new portfolio evaluation platform from new (the third in three years) vendor Portfolium.

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

Portfolio Opt Out

Earlier this year, I posted a piece by Camilla Spadafino, an art teacher in Nashville, about her experience with the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. At the time, there was some discussion in Nashville about the district moving away from portfolio evaluation for Fine Arts teachers. While that did not happen this year in Nashville, five districts did drop portfolio evaluation for Fine Arts prior to the start of this school year.

For those following the Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio story, the Fine Arts and other optional portfolios experienced similar challenges with platform vendor Educopia last year. Now, those few districts using the Fine Arts portfolio in 2018-19 will shift to the third platform vendor in three years.

In 2017-18, sixteen districts participated in the Fine Arts portfolio. As of July, five districts had dropped and one, Sumner County, added. That left twelve districts to move forward this year.

Now, Tipton County has announced they are dropping the Fine Arts portfolio this year. The move comes after a group of Fine Arts teachers sent a letter to school board members citing numerous challenges with the portfolio.

Here are some key excerpts explaining why Tipton County Fine Arts teachers did not want to continue with portfolio evaluation after having used it for four years:

While we appreciate the theory behind it, in real practice the portfolio process is not an effective one. What has occurred over the past several years is that portfolio has changed our lesson structures, negatively impacted our students’ classroom experience, and it has failed to provide feedback to help us improve as teachers.

There is extensive time spent on putting all the collections together in order to submit. Teachers have attested to spending anywhere from 40-100 hours of their own time outside of school on preparing their portfolio.

It has not positively impacted our students, or our school’s arts programs. Many counties in the state have opted out because of these issues. Our goal is to support classroom teachers through collaboration in order to help students reach their specific target areas. Portfolio detracts from this goal and should be removed. Our belief is that we should opt out of the portfolio process…

The concerns mentioned here echo many of those raised by Nashville teachers. They are also similar to concerns expressed by Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers after their first year of portfolio evaluation.

The process, according to teachers, takes up valuable instructional time and yields no real benefits for students. Teachers spend countless hours of their own time without compensation and receive little or no meaningful feedback on how to improve practice.

It will be interesting to see how the process goes this year with yet another new vendor. Will more districts opt out next year?

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


 

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


 

Arts Teacher Alert

The ongoing saga that is the portfolio scoring process for teachers includes those submitting Fine Arts portfolios. While Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers received their scores in late July, well after the Department of Education’s stated deadline, Fine Arts portfolio scores have yet to be returned to teachers.

Yes, those teachers completed their portfolios by April 15th, but the results are still not back yet. That means Fine Arts teachers submitted portfolios 124 days BEFORE they will receive any feedback.

Here’s more from an email sent by one district about the portfolio process:

We got more guidance last night from the State Department on reporting these portfolio submissions…heads up, the fines arts comes out Friday, August 17th and has the same issues but the deadline is the same for early grades and fine arts so we will have to work fast to get this done. Please let your music/art people know to be looking in Educopia for submission errors such as mismatch standards, etc. on Friday the 17th.

The “submission errors” this email references are those the TDOE is blaming on teachers in what has been a huge headache of a process.

Now, the state is offering to provide further review IF a district requests it on behalf of certain teachers:

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.

This means Fine Arts teachers will only have a few days to review their graded portfolios and ask the district to submit the form requesting further review. If the portfolio score ends up being vacated, teachers will then receive the school score (from TNReady) for 35% of their TEAM evaluation score. Of course, this year’s TNReady administration was a complete disaster. As a result of the DOE’s interpretation of legislation passed in April, teachers who have a TEAM score based in any part on TNReady may choose to vacate their score for this year entirely.

It is still unclear what the long-term consequences are for a teacher who does not have a TEAM score for a year of service. These scores are used to apply for tenure and to renew a teaching license, so it seems there may well be an “adverse impact” if the score ends up being vacated altogether. Perhaps the 2019 Commissioner of Education will have some idea of what this all means.

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


 

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.

 

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