Shrinking TNReady

That’s the hope behind a resolution passed by the Johnson City Board of Education this week.

The Johnson City Press reports:

Some changes included shrinking testing timing back from three weeks to one week for grades 3 through 8, pushing the writing assessment back to February to give the state more time to get grades in by the end of the school year, and drawing back on pre-K and kindergarten ELA assessments to be less time-consuming for teachers.

The proposal comes after another year of testing trouble in Tennessee. In fact, a recent report noted that while most states transitioning to online testing are doing so smooth, Tennessee is the one glaring exception.

Broad Support?

Now that the Johnson City School Board has given unanimous approval to this proposal, the Director of Schools hopes to spread the message to other districts and build support for changing TNReady:

What I’d like to do if the board approves this resolution is reach out to all the other school superintendents and talk to them about the resolution and get feedback from them,” Barnett said at the meeting. “I think we’d have some support.”

It’s possible this is the beginning of a move that will see district leaders stand up to the state and say “Enough!”

The Board also referenced the problematic implementation of portfolios to evaluate teachers in Pre-K/Kindergarten:

Anderson said that the state estimated those assessments would take about 15 to 17 hours, but some teachers reported spending as many as 44 hours on the project, most of that time being spent in the English Language Arts component of the assessment.

She added that portfolio assessment is considered an appropriate avenue to track student learning in those early grades, and the portfolios can be completed with video or audio taping or with written assessment.

“I don’t think anybody has anything against the concept of portfolios for pre-K (and kindergarten),” she said. “Though the piloting process went fairly well, it ended up morphing into a process this past year that I think was just very complicated and very unwieldy.

It will be interesting to see how the state moves forward in revising those portfolios and if there is any move toward making significant change in the TNReady tests.

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


 

Give Me My Money Back

If you thought Eric’s Story was the last word in the saga that is this year’s Kindergarten portfolio evaluation, you’d be wrong.

True to form, the Tennessee Department of Education has created another mess in the ongoing quest to catch and eliminate all those “bad teachers.”

In our previous visit to Kindergarten, here’s a bit of what we saw:

Moving on to the scoring process, each teacher self-scores the submitted portfolio. Then, another teacher evaluates. If the scores are more than two levels apart, an “expert” receives the portfolio to make a determination.

What do those experts have that the initial teacher evaluating did not? First, a willingness to assess even more portfolios. Second, “guidance” from the Tennessee Department of Education.

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

Here’s the latest challenge: Portfolio evaluators were to evaluate 40 collections (10 portfolios) in order to complete their paid assignment. These teachers were paid $500 from the state for what was estimated to be 15 hours of work. Kindergarten teachers who are evaluators indicate the process takes more like 40-45 hours of work. At the end of May, as school years ended around the state, many portfolio evaluators had also completed their assessment of a minimum of 40 collections. Or so they thought.

Here’s an email a number of evaluators recently received (I have a copy of one sent June 1st):

Dear Peer Reviewer,

Based on the most current Educopia reports, you have not made progress in completing your commitment of 40 collections (=10 portfolios). Not completing this commitment may affect your stipend and/or future leadership opportunities in the portfolio work.

If you have questions and/or concerns, please let us know how we can assist you. If you are no longer able to review, you must notify your district point of contact.

Here’s an earlier email noting the expectations (sent April 25th):

Dear Peer Reviewer,

 

Thank you so much for your contribution to the peer review process! As some of you have already started live scoring, you may have noticed that you are able to keep track of the number of your scored submissions (collections). As stated in the Peer Review General Training Overview, the workload expectation is that reviewers score 40 submissions (collections). In the event that collections continue to be sent to your rater que after you have met this expectation, please know that these will be recirculated to other peer reviewers for scoring.

Here’s the problem:

Evaluators receiving the first email (indicating they had not completed the required minimum number of evaluations) were provided information via Educopia (the online platform for submitting/evaluating portfolios) saying they had completed evaluation of at least 40 collections.

Why are these same evaluators being told they have more work to do and also told the state is coming for their money?

Further investigation indicates that Educopia counted “practice” evaluations toward the initial total of 40. So, teachers conducting evaluations believed they had completed the process when some had as many as six actual portfolios remaining.

Now, the Department of Education is left with a number of unrated portfolios while evaluating teachers believe they are finished (and most likely have been paid).

Imagine that… the Tennessee Department of Education utilizing an online assessment platform that fails to deliver expected results!

Now, the question is: Will they come after teachers to claw back the meager stipends? How will the remaining portfolios be evaluated, or will they be evaluated at all?

Stay tuned…it’s still early this summer and the deadline for completion of this portfolio assessment has been extended until June 30th.

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

Keep the education news coming!


 

Do Not Standardize Art

Camilla Spadafino, an art teacher in Nashville, offers these thoughts on the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. This portfolio is used in a handful of districts across the state, and an updated version is being piloted by additional districts in the 2018-19 academic year.

Art should never become a standardized process and the TN Fine Arts Portfolio Model is pushing us toward that. When arts teachers are held accountable for checking off boxes, forcing growth, and using standardized measurements in arts classes we are interfering with the creative process. There is a great deal of evidence that despite the effort to standardize and objectify art, the portfolio model scores are wildly subjective making it an invalid, unethical assessment. The TN Arts Portfolio Model seeks to measure and weigh creativity and artistic expression which is counterproductive to the creation of art. The model places an excessive burden of time and energy on teachers that is disproportionate to the complete story of creating and growing a quality arts program.

 

Among the evidence that the scoring system is invalid: Two teachers submitted the same collection for the “create” domain and one received a five and the other a one. Another pair of visual art teachers co-taught and turned in exactly the same portfolio. One teacher received a four and the other a two. Another art teacher turned in the same portfolio two years in a row and received a four one year and a two the other.

 

Many visual art teachers have shared that they are cutting and pasting the same narrative from year to year. Many teachers have found that they can simply repeat the same collections with new pictures. This is encouraging “cookie cutter” teaching at worst and busy work for teachers at best. This does not encourage or promote creativity, experimentation, collaboration or risk taking.

 

Neither the TEAM model nor the Arts Portfolio model is an effective tool for evaluating an arts program. Being a visual art teacher includes managing inventory, advocating for and raising funds, engaging with the community, displaying student work and engaging in collaborations. It’s quite like running a nonprofit organization but without a board or any assistance. Along with all of those responsibilities arts teachers are still planning, assessing, recording, documenting, corresponding and hopefully inspiring and motivating our students. Art will always be subjective and difficult to measure, thank goodness. We need to protect creativity by demanding trust and respect for our field.

 

The TN Fine Arts Portfolio is taking advantage of teachers’ unpaid time and could be breeding unethical work practices. If testing corporations deserve to be paid millions of dollars for their work creating and measuring assessments, at least our teachers should be paid a few more thousand for their work doing the same. Arts teachers are pouring in days of unpaid time to complete the portfolio and days of unpaid time to voluntarily score other teachers. Besides, volunteer scoring practices don’t seem to be very effective based on the evidence of the large number of discrepancies. If the TN Fine Arts Portfolio System is here to stay we must compensate our teachers for the time they spend creating their portfolios. Perhaps MNPS or the State of Tennessee could make participation optional and partner with researchers from Vanderbilt or another university to study the process for several years. We need to insist that the arts not be about checking off boxes, forcing student growth, or standardized processes. We need to advocate for trust and respect in order for creativity to flourish in our students’ lives and educational experiences.

This is a list of my specific concerns about the Tennessee Portfolio Model:

– Teachers teaching the same lesson, to the same students, using similar photos and narratives got completely different scores. One of the teachers received a 1 and the other a 5

– Two art teachers co-taught the same students the same lessons and entered exactly the same portfolios. One of the teachers was scored a 4 and the other a 2. When the teacher who scored the 2 spoke to the school board he was told “don’t worry about it, it’s just a number that pretty much goes in your file.”

– An art teacher submitted the same portfolios two years in a row received a 4 one year and a 2 the next

– Some teachers are using and are being encouraged by others to use art out of order to when it was created to show manipulated growth

– The process is very time consuming taking teachers 18 or more hours to complete the submission portion of the process, there is an untold amount of time devoted to photographing and organizing the student work

– Teachers are expected and encouraged to complete this work at home, on weekends, and breaks

– The deadline was on a Sunday, further encouraging teachers to spend their weekend working off work hours

– The deadline was the day before the federal tax deadline which is disrespectful

– The new online system requires teachers to upload an unmanageable amount of documents

– The new online system requires teachers to enter a redundant amount of information

– No feedback has been given to promote growth

– No other teachers are required to spend this gross amount of extra time compiling their own assessments, using their own photography equipment and their personal time

– The training was weak and misinformation has been given over multiple years

– The first year the evaluators were told to “throw out the rubric” dissolving trust and disrespecting the teacher who had carefully studied and followed the rubric

– A middle school teacher had to wait to upload one of her collections because the site wasn’t ready. When she went to upload that collection the day it was due she saw that all of her collections had been deleted. She was told that there would not be an extension for re-entering her submission even though the error was not her fault

– The system does not offer a “landing place” where you can view and review your collections before submitting

– The process of tagging is confusing and seemingly unnecessary

– The evaluators are merely volunteers and when I was an evaluator I experienced the overwhelming volume of portfolios to review.

– Because teachers share student artwork online and other art teachers are viewing this artwork, it is easy for a peer reviewer to know whose portfolio they are reviewing making this a biased process

– Art standards are purposefully vague to encourage creative and subjective works of art. Evaluating student work is subjective, even when using specific criteria. When using specific criteria we are teaching students to check off boxes rather than to truly be creative. It is important to use criteria and to balance that multiple solution paths to solve artistic problems.

– The portfolio is measuring aesthetic rather than the process of creating art

Have a story about the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

 

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

Keep the education stories coming!


 

The State Continues to Fail

Here’s another take on “Eric’s Story” about the Kindergarten portfolio evaluation process. The bottom line: Teachers are being disrespected and students are losing valuable learning time. All in the name of assigning a number to teachers in an evaluation process that leaves much to be desired.

Here’s what this teacher had to say:

I’m a teacher that has experienced this process from the view of teacher, portfolio district lead, and portfolio reviewer. Also, being chosen for the second round of scoring. I received both the emails you discussed as well as a third stating I’d been chosen for more scoring with the “guidance document” attached.

So I begin my second round of scoring tomorrow. A process none of us knew would exist. We thought our deadline was May 15 on scoring and we would be done.

I spent two full 8 hour days trying to score submissions (pulled away from my kindergarten screening duties) only for them not to be available to me so I did not complete the task and score the number they wanted me to score. Was this my fault? No! I tried but the state wouldn’t push them out to us. So that’s why I was chosen for round two.

Now summer is beginning. Teachers need summer to recuperate mentally and prepare for our next class which we happily look forward to receiving. We don’t need to spend it stressing over continued work load.

MORE on K portfolios>

If you have a story to tell about the portfolio process or another aspect of the intersection between policy and practice, send it to: andy@tnedreport.com

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

Keep the stories alive!


 

Shining a Light

Since I published “Eric’s Story” last week on the issue of the new (and troublesome) Kindergarten portfolio, I’ve received a number of emails offering further insight.

These messages indicate that our state’s system of evaluating teachers is broken and that those making decisions are both disconnected from and indifferent to what happens each and every day in classrooms around our state. I’ll be sharing these (while protecting the names of the senders) over the next few days. If you have an evaluation or portfolio story to share, please send it to andy@tnedreport.com

Never felt more defeated in my life…

First of all, thank you for shining a light on some of the realities of this portfolio debacle. It was clear to me in August of this past year that this particular portfolio process was going to not only consume classroom time, but would take in excess of over 40 hours of uncompensated personal time.

Back in the fall, with the inconsistencies between the rubric for the portfolio and the state mandated standards glaring at me, I knew this was probably the beginning of the end of my teaching career. My colleagues and I were very concerned and decided to reach out to our local and state officials to make them aware of what we could already see was a train wreck. This was met with some mixed reactions. When I shared with a local board member that this was the type of thing that will drive good educators out of the classroom, I was told that is the ultimate goal, to see public education crumble and was somewhat dismissive of what I was saying in a way that made me believe nothing could ever be done to fix it. That tune changed once we had the attention of several people on the state level who came to our school to hear a presentation by my grade level about the problems and possible solutions.

It was through this meeting that two of us were invited to the capital to speak on the matter. While we felt this was a step in the right direction we still had to continue working on the portfolio because there was no word on what would happen. During this part of the portfolio process, members of my team reached out to “specialists” assigned to our school who responded with contradictory information, or rudeness, or not at all.

We are all still waiting to hear an answer to a question one of our colleagues sent by email 4 months ago. There has been NO support, NO encouragement, and NO input from teachers as to how this portfolio could or should even work. The very teachers who have to live these demands on top of teaching 5 and 6 year olds to read and write and a million other big and small things that no one even acknowledges are the ones who should be making decisions but that is certainly not happening. I

can honestly say I have never felt more defeated in my life. Frankly, I’m tired of feeling this way. I work hard. I go above and beyond because that’s how I was raised. I give my all in teaching because I believe the students entrusted to me deserve the best I can give.

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

Do you have a story about what’s happening in Tennessee schools? Get in touch at andy@tnedreport.com

Your support keeps the education news coming!


 

Story Time

Our story begins in the early weeks of Kindergarten with a student we’ll call Eric.

Eric is excited about starting school. He loves the new friends he’s making and he really likes his teacher.

Very early in the academic year, all the students are handed a small packet of worksheets as the teacher and a teaching assistant set up an iPad at a table in the room. The students are told to work quietly and that each of them will be called to the teacher to answer a few questions.

Eric’s name is called. His teacher explains what’s happening, that he’ll be asked a few questions and he’ll be recorded by the assistant. After the teacher establishes that Eric is comfortable with what’s about to happen, she poses a question. Eric’s mind searches, and he offers an answer. Now, he has to demonstrate his understanding. The assistant is aiming the iPad at him while attempting to watch the other 19 students in the classroom.

The interaction takes a little more than 5 minutes. The teacher and assistant make sure the event is recorded and labeled and set up for the next student. Eric returns to his desk and begins the worksheets.

Eric and his classmates (and all Kindergarten students in Tennessee) are participating in an evidence collection that is required as part of the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio. This portfolio of student work will be used to determine the effectiveness of Eric’s teacher.

At the end of the school year, another Kindergarten teacher who has been trained in the evaluation process will review the portfolio submitted by Eric’s teacher and assign a score. This score will be combined with classroom observations and an achievement measure to determine whether or not Eric’s teacher was “effective.”

The portfolio was required for all Kindergarten teachers for the first time this school year. The idea is that since Kindergarten teachers have students who don’t take TNReady, there has to be some way to evaluate their effectiveness besides classroom observation. Previously, these teachers received a “growth score” based on the school’s overall growth as determined by testing results.

Teachers submit evidence of students performing at high, middle, and low levels on standards at the beginning of the year and then at the end of the year. This requires evidence collection at various points, the most cumbersome being at the beginning of the year, when the students are largely unknown to the teachers.

Kindergarten teachers I talked to estimate the evidence collection process takes up a minimum of five instructional days. This means students aren’t actively engaged in the learning process during the evidence collection days. As in the scenario with Eric, it requires the full attention of the teacher (and if possible, an assistant) in order to collect the evidence. This doesn’t include the tagging of evidence or the uploading to an often unreliable online platform known as Educopia. Some districts report hiring subs on evidence collection days so teachers can document the evidence from their students.

One might suspect the same Department of Education that can’t coordinate a statewide test administration would also have difficulty coordinating the evaluation of Kindergarten teachers via an online portfolio system. Such a suspicion is proving to be correct as we come to the end of the first year of this mandated system.

Here’s one example. At the beginning of this school year, teachers were provided with a rubric to indicate the demonstrated skills for various performance levels. Here’s what that rubric indicated was a level 4:

Now, the submitted evidence is graded by a Kindergarten teacher who has been “trained” and who receives a very small stipend to complete the evaluation. Here’s what the evaluation rubric indicates is a Level 4:

So, is it WITH or WITHOUT prompts? Maybe we should ask U2’s Bono?

Imagine teaching all year and basing your evidence collection and tagging on one rubric only to discover that you are being evaluated on a different, more difficult standard? Oh, and this is only one of the many standards included in the portfolio evaluation.

Moving on to the scoring process, each teacher self-scores the submitted portfolio. Then, another teacher evaluates. If the scores are more than two levels apart, an “expert” receives the portfolio to make a determination.

What do those experts have that the initial teacher evaluating did not? First, a willingness to assess even more portfolios. Second, “guidance” from the Tennessee Department of Education.

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

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

Dear Educator,

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

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

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

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

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

So, no guidance YET for those scoring the second round. This despite the fact the portfolios were required for all teachers THIS year after being piloted by a few districts last year.

The Department of Education has had two full years to develop guidance for “consensus review scoring” and it is still not available. In fact, according to these two emails, the guidance is being developed right now. Was the Department of Education surprised that May 15th actually arrived this year?

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

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

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

Due to complaints at the start of this school year, legislators passed “hold harmless” legislation that will not allow this year’s portfolio results to negatively impact a teacher’s overall evaluation score. This may sound familiar, as “no adverse action” legislation was passed for those teachers impacted by TNReady scores.

Eric’s story is just one more example of a Department of Education that claims victory when the evidence suggests much improvement is needed. It’s a Department hellbent on pursuing supposedly lofty goals no matter the consequences to students or their teachers.

Lost instructional time due to portfolio evidence collection? No problem!

Days of stress and chaos because TNReady doesn’t work? Outstanding!

Teachers faced with confusing, invalid evaluations? Excellent!

Eric and his teachers and Tennessee’s schools and communities deserve better.

Do you have a portfolio story to share? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

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

Keep the education news coming!


 

No Adverse Action

After much wrangling in a day that saw the Tennessee House of Representatives hold up proceedings in order to move forward with an effort to truly hold students, teachers, and schools harmless in light of this year’s TNReady trouble, it appears a compromise of sorts has been reached.

Here’s the language just adopted by the Senate and subsequently passed by the House:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 60, is amended by adding the following language as a new section: Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, no adverse action may be taken against any student, teacher, school, or LEA based, in whole or in part, on student achievement data generated from the 2017-2018 TNReady assessments. For purposes of this section, “adverse action” includes, but is not limited to, the identification of a school as a priority school and the assignment of a school to the achievement school district.

This language does not explicitly address the issue of using TNReady for TVAAS, but it has an effect similar to legislation passed in 2016 during that year’s TNReady trouble. Yes, it seems problems with testing in Tennessee are the norm rather than the exception.

Here’s what this should mean for teachers: Yes, a TVAAS score will be calculated based on this year’s TNReady. But, if that TVAAS score lowers your overall TEAM score, it will be excluded — lowering your TEAM score would be an “adverse action.”

While not perfect, this compromise is a victory — the TNReady data from a messed up test will not harm grades or be used in the state’s A-F report card for schools or be used to give a negative growth score to a teacher via TVAAS.

Yes, TVAAS is still suspect, but there’s an election in November and a new Commissioner of Education coming after that. Heading into the November election is a great time to talk with candidates for the legislature and for Governor about the importance of evaluations that are fair and not based on voodoo math like TVAAS. Remember, even under the best of circumstances, TVAAS would not have yielded valid results this year.

While it is disappointing that Senators did not want to follow the lead of their House counterparts and explicitly deal with the TVAAS issue, there’s no doubt that persistent outreach by constituents moved the needle on this issue.

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

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Outlier

Statisticians define an outlier as an observation point that is distant from other observations in a statistical analysis. Often, this occurs by chance. Additional modeling or deeper analysis (including more data, for example, or a longer range of data) can often correct for this. Outliers that are not the result of measurement error are often excluded from analysis about a data set.

Today, the 2017 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released. This release made me think of a particular outlier.

Back in 2013, Tennessee demonstrated what some heralded as an incredible achievement on the NAEP. In fact, a press release from Governor Haslam at the time noted:

Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Tennessee had the largest academic growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of any state, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation. (emphasis added)

Those words — “fastest improving state in the nation” — have been uttered by Haslam and many political leaders in our state for years now. Often, this 2013 “success” is used as justification for “keeping our foot on the gas” and continuing an aggressive agenda of test-based accountability and teacher evaluation based on methods lacking validity.

Here’s what I wrote back in 2013 when these results were released:

Yes, Tennessee should celebrate its growth.  But policymakers should use caution when seeing the results from the last 2 years as a validation of any particular policy.  Long-term trends indicate that big gains are usually followed by steady maintenance. And, even with the improvement, Tennessee has a long way to go to be competitive with our peers. Additionally, education leaders should be concerned about the troubling widening of the rich/poor achievement gap  – an outcome at odds with stated policy goals and the fundamental principle of equal opportunity.

Two years later, when the 2015 results were released, I noted:

This year’s scores, in which Tennessee remained steady relative to the 2013 scores suggest, if anything, that the 2013 jump was likely an outlier. Had the 2013 gains been followed by gains in 2015 and again in 2017, more could be suggested. And frankly, it is my hope that we see gains (especially in reading) in 2017. But, it’s problematic to suggest that any specific reform or set of reforms caused the one-time jump we saw in 2013. Saying we are the fastest improving state in the nation over the last 4 years when we only saw a jump in 2013 is like saying we started the first quarter of a football game way behind, scored a bunch in the second quarter, (so we’re not as far behind), and then scored the same number of points in the third quarter. The result is we’re still behind and still have a long way to go.

Fast forward to today. The leveling off I suggested was likely back in 2013 has happened. In fact, take a look at this chart put out by the Tennessee Department of Education:

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. Instead, as Rep. Jeremy Faison said recently, our policies are “driving teachers crazy.”

Oh, and that new TNReady test has so far not been very ready.

But what about the good policy coming from this? You know, like Governor Haslam’s plan to make Tennessee the “fastest-improving state in teacher pay?”

About that:

Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

Surely, though, all this focus on education since the NAEP buzz has meant meaningful investment in schools, right? Well, no:

Tennessee earns a grade of F when it comes to funding effort compared to funding ability. The researchers looked at Gross State Product and Personal Income data in order to determine a state’s funding ability then looked at dollars spent per $1000 (in either GSP or Personal Income) to determine effort. Tennessee spends $29 on schools for every $1000 generated in Gross State Product. When it comes to Personal Income, Tennessee spends just $33 per $1000 of average personal income. That’s a rank of 42 in both.

Then, the report looks at wage competitiveness — how much teachers earn relative to similarly-educated professionals. I’ve written about this before, and Tennessee typically doesn’t do well in this regard.

Maybe we’ve taken a minute to get serious about investing in programs targeting struggling students? Also, no:

One possible solution would be to embed funding for school-level RTI2 specialists in the state’s funding formula for schools, the BEP. In fact, Rep. Joe Pitts offered legislation that would do just that last year. His plan would have added funding for three RTI2 specialists at each school for a total projected cost of $167 million. Commissioner McQueen was quick to shoot that idea down and came back this year with the funding proposal of $13 million, or one specialist per district. That’s only $154 million short of adopting a plan that would actually meet the needs of a program many suggest is an important way to improve educational outcomes for Tennessee students.

Maybe we are closing achievement gaps? Again, no.

Back in 2013, Tennessee students eligible for free/reduced lunch had an average NAEP reading score of 256 and scored 20 points below the non-eligible students. Now, that average score is 252 (four points worse) and 19 points below. For 4th grade, there’s a similar story, with free/reduced lunch eligible students scoring 25 points below their non-eligible peers this year. Four years ago, it was 26 points.

We’re not moving the needle. Our most vulnerable students continue to be left behind. Meanwhile, we hear nice words from top policymakers and see little actual result in terms of tangible improved investment in schools or any meaningful upgrade in teacher pay. Our testing system has yet to be proven.

Maybe now Tennessee policymakers will stop repeating the “fastest-improving” line and start doing the actual work of investing in and supporting our schools.

In any case, the next time you hear someone spout off that tired “fastest-improving” line, just yell back: OUTLIER!

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


 

Are TN Colleges Turning Out Bad Teachers?

You might think Tennessee’s public schools of education are doing a poor job of turning out effective educators if you read this story in yesterday’s Tennessean.

The article notes:

Many of Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs aren’t at the quality the state expects. A number of those underperforming are at state colleges — with none of those schools performing at the highest level.

It’s a “sobering” data point education officials are highlighting as they work toward addressing fixes in Tennessee’s teaching programs.

The article references the redesigned teacher preparation report card produced annually by the Tennessee State Board of Education.

I’ve written before about the problems with this approach.

The revamped report includes candidate profile (who is enrolling in teacher prep programs), retention (whether grads stay in teaching), and “teacher effectiveness” (which is measured primarily by the flawed TVAAS system).

TVAAS scores of graduates account for 25 of the 75 points available to rate teacher prep programs. That means the rating formula is heavily skewed toward an unreliable statistical estimate of performance.

At best, TVAAS is a rough estimate of teacher performance. A fairly solid indicator that a teacher earning a “5” is NOT a “1,” but relatively meaningless otherwise.

Now, of course, Tennessee has transitioned to new tests. TNReady has been fraught with problems, but even if it hadn’t been, the results would render TVAAS data highly suspect. So, 33% — the largest single portion — of the score attributed to teacher prep programs comes from a number that is essentially meaningless. Let me be clear: Schools receiving grades of 4 (the highest) or 1 (the lowest) on this metric are getting numbers that have no basis in statistical reality.

The next area of importance to a program’s score is the profile of the candidates enrolled in their program. Here, the state is looking for high academic achievers and overall diversity.

As noted in the article:

McQueen also has plans for a statewide tour to schools with the purpose of getting high-achieving, young students into the education profession, especially since preparation programs are having trouble getting qualified candidates in the doors.

This is predicated on the assumption that students with higher ACT scores will ultimately become better teachers. Whether or not that’s true, it ignores the underlying reality: Teaching just may not be a very attractive field. That’s not the fault of schools of education and it certainly isn’t their responsibility to fix it.

In fact, Tennessee has been looking at a coming teacher shortage for years now. Districts like MNPS are already seeing the impact.

Why might teaching be unattractive? Well, for one, the pay is not exactly great. In fact, Tennessee teachers earn about 30% less than their similarly prepared peers. Boosting pay may be one way to help make the field more attractive. Alternatively (and much cheaper), the state could send the outgoing Commissioner of Education on a tour of schools to attempt to persuade high achieving students to enter a profession where they can expect to earn significantly less than other professionals and be subjected to a testing and evaluation system that according to some is “driving teachers crazy.”

Another factor? Our state under-funds the BEP (the state’s funding formula for schools) by around $500 million. So, new teachers face low pay, a problematic evaluation system, and under-resourced schools. Is it any wonder teacher prep programs aren’t getting enough qualified applicants?

Nevertheless, teacher prep programs are being held “accountable” for fixing problems over which they have little control. Makes perfect sense.

*NOTE: An earlier version of this story indicated TVAAS accounted for 40 points on the scale. That has been corrected to accurately reflect the 25 points TVAAS scores comprise.

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


 

2018 Legislative Preview

The Tennessee General Assembly is back in session today. Here’s an overview of some education topics that are likely to be considered this year. Of course, more issues always arise, but these issues will most certainly be given attention.

Testing

Senator Bill Ketron has indicated he’s proposing legislation that will place a moratorium on any new testing until the current TNReady tests are successfully administered. Initially, it sounded like his proposal would stop all testing, but Ketron has since clarified that to indicate he wants to see the current test done right before any new tests are added.

Representative Jeremy Faison has proposed separating TNReady test scores from student grades and teacher evaluations. There have been significant problems with getting scores back in a reliable way in order to include them in student grades. Additionally, the apples to oranges comparison of TNReady to the old TCAP tests renders any teacher growth scores essentially meaningless.

Representative Matthew Hill has proposed shifting high school testing from TNReady to the ACT suite of assessments. Hill says there’s too much emphasis on testing and too many hours spent away from instruction.

Combined, these initiatives represent a shift in attitude about TNReady and testing in general that could lead to some changes in how tests impact students and teachers. Decoupling tests from student grades and teacher evaluations would likely have the effect of reducing the influence they have over instructional time.

RTI

Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTI2) has been a state mandate for several years now, but state funding to carry out the program’s demands has not been provided. This has led to some creative (and not terribly effective) implementation strategies. Districts are responding to the mandate to the best of their abilities, but due to lack of financial support, this doesn’t always lead to the best outcome for students.

In her budget presentation to Governor Haslam, Commissioner Candice McQueen indicated she’d propose dedicated funding for RTI in a BEP update. It was not immediately clear how much funding or how it would be integrated into the school funding formula. Rep. Joe Pitts offered a possible option last year, but his proposal was not embraced by the Administration.

It’s encouraging to see this item being discussed. Many districts have used the state’s salary increase funding for teachers to hire RTI teachers — which means lower or no raises for teachers across a district. Providing dedicated RTI funding would allow districts to use state salary funds to boost pay across the board, and that’s good news in a state that pays teachers 30% less than similarly educated professionals.

Teacher Pay

Following up on the RTI discussion as it relates to overall teacher pay, Governor Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has approved BEP salary fund increases of 4% per year over the past three years. Because of issues like RTI and the general inadequacy of the BEP, teachers haven’t always seen 4% raises. The average, in fact, has been just under 2% per year. Still, Governor Haslam gets some credit for maintaining investment in teacher compensation. Some speculate he’ll go a step further in his last year in office, adding 5% to teacher compensation through the BEP. If this is coupled with a significant investment in RTI, it could mean the largest raise teachers have seen in years. The cost of making this investment would be around $125 million. With revenue continuing to outpace projections, this level of investment is both possible and wise. Tennessee still has a long way to go in terms of improving teacher compensation and support, but these two steps would signal a positive trend.

Vouchers

Both the House and Senate sponsors of voucher legislation have indicated they will not pursue the idea this year. In fact, both have said they want to focus on finding ways to invest in teacher pay and RTI, signaling a level of agreement with Governor Haslam. Last year marked the fifth consecutive year vouchers were defeated. It seems, for now at least, that advocates of using public tax dollars for private schools will wait to fight another day.

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