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.

Ready to Waive

Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen announced today that in light of difficulties with the administration of the TNReady test, they are proposing that TNReady data NOT be included in this year’s round of teacher evaluations.

The statement comes after the Knox County Board of Education made a similar request by way of resolution in December. That resolution was followed by a statewide call for a waiver by a coalition of education advocacy groups. More recently, principals in Hamilton County weighed in on the issue.

Here’s Governor Haslam’s press release on the waiver:
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he would seek additional flexibility for teachers as the state continues its transition to the TNReady student assessment.

Under the proposal, teachers would have the choice to include or not to include student results from the 2015-2016 TNReady assessment in his or her evaluation score, which typically consists of multiple years of data. The proposal keeps student learning and accountability as factors in an educator’s evaluation while giving teachers the option to include this year’s results if the results benefit them. The governor will work with the General Assembly on specific language and a plan to move the proposal through the legislative process.

“Tennessee students are showing historic progress. The state made adjustments to teacher evaluation and accountability last year to account for the transition to an improved assessment fully aligned with Tennessee standards, which we know has involved a tremendous amount of work on the part of our educators,” Haslam said. “Given recent, unexpected changes in the administration of the new assessment, we want to provide teachers with additional flexibility for this first year’s data.”

Tennessee has led the nation with a teacher evaluation model that has played a vital role in the state’s unprecedented progress in education. Tennessee students are the fastest improving students in the country since 2011. The state’s graduation rate has increased three years in a row, standing at 88 percent. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade-level in math and nearly 60,000 more on grade-level in science.  The plan builds upon the Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act proposed by the governor and approved by the General Assembly last year. This year is the first administration of TNReady, which is fully aligned with the state’s college and career readiness benchmarks.

“Providing teachers with the flexibility to exclude first-year TNReady data from their growth score over the course of this transition will both directly address many concerns we have heard and strengthen our partnership with educators while we move forward with a new assessment,” Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “Regardless of the test medium, TNReady will measure skills that the real world will require of our students.”

Most educator evaluations have three main components: qualitative data, which includes principal observations and always counts for at least half of an educator’s evaluation; a student achievement measure that the educator chooses; and a student growth score, which usually comprises 35 percent of the overall evaluation

 

While the release mentions last year’s changes to teacher evaluation to account for TNReady, it fails to note the validity problems created by an evaluation system moving from a multiple choice (TCAP) to a constructed-response test (TNReady).

Here’s the Tennessee Education Association on the announcement:

“TEA applauds Gov. Haslam on his proposal to give teachers the flexibility to not use TNReady test data in their 2015-16 evaluations. It is encouraging to see the governor listen to the widespread calls from educators, parents and local school boards for a one-year moratorium for TNReady data in teacher evaluations.”

 

“It is important that schools are given the same leniency as students and teachers during the transition to TNReady. These test scores that Gov. Haslam is acknowledging are too unreliable for use in teacher evaluations, are the same scores that can place a school on the priority list and make it eligible for state takeover. All high-stakes decisions tied to TNReady test data need to be waived for the 2015-16 school year.”

 

“While the governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction toward decoupling standardized test scores with high-stakes decisions, these measurements have proven to be unreliable statistical estimates that are inappropriate for use in teacher evaluations at all. TEA will continue its push to eliminate all standardized test scores from annual teacher evaluations.”

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

Hamilton Principals Call for TNReady Waiver

A group of school principals in Hamilton County is joining the call for a waiver of the use of TNReady scores in teacher evaluations and accountability data in light of day one problems with the administration of the online assessment.

Here’s the resolution:

 

 

HCPA Resolution Regarding State Assessments

 

(NOT) Ready on Day One

It’s campaign season and candidate after candidate is telling voters they are the clear choice because they will be “ready on day one.”

Likewise, it’s the beginning of statewide testing season in Tennessee and districts have been told the state’s new system would be ready on day one.

Except it wasn’t.

Brian Wilson at the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reports:

A technology failure from a state vendor halted standardized testing across Tennessee on the first day that TNReady, the state’s new online exam program, was set to be administered on a widespread basis.

The state’s testing platform “experienced major outages across the state” Monday morning because of network issues with Measurement, Inc., who is contracted to administer the standardized exams, according to a memo Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent to schools directors across the state.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you …

As problems began this morning, the Department of Education sent the following notice to school districts:

At 8:25 a.m. CST the MIST platform experienced major outages across the state. These outages were caused because the network utilized by Measurement Inc. experienced a failure. We are urgently working with Measurement Inc. to identify the causes and correct the problem. At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information. However, if you have students that are successfully testing, please allow them to complete the current session.

Note, this problem affects both the MICA and MIST platforms. 

The MIST Help Desk is aware of the problem and will be not accepting additional phone calls on this issue. Please encourage your technology directors to call the department’s TNReady Focus Room.

We will provide frequent updates as information becomes available. Thank you for your patience.

It’s not clear how today’s delay will impact testing schedules across the state or whether the TNReady platforms will be ready tomorrow.

Williamson County Schools had already pushed the start of their TNReady testing back to Wednesday as a precaution against the sort of testing glitches that occurred today.

A Call for Fairness

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement from their President, Barbara Gray, calling for fair treatment of teachers in light of the TNReady problems:

TEA has long had concerns about this transition to a statewide online  assessment. We have seen problems with pilot assessments and practice tests in the past, and unfortunately the first day of TNReady resulted in more issues and frustrations for our students and teachers.

 

Leading up to today’s testing, we have heard from educators and parents statewide about concerns with the state’s capacity to handle so many students on the server at one time, as well as concerns about local districts having enough resources to complete the testing with so little funding from the state.

 

It is unacceptable to have this kind of statewide failure when the state has tied so many high-stakes decisions to  the results of this assessment. Our students and teachers have enough stress and anxiety around these assessments without adding additional worries about technical issues.

 

The state must grant a one-year waiver – at a minimum – from including TNReady scores in teacher evaluations. It is unfair and inappropriate to stake our teachers’ professional standing on flawed, unreliable test scores in any year, but there are even greater implications and uncertainty while implementing a new assessment.

School Boards Expressing Concern

Ahead of the TNReady tests, several school boards have expressed concern about the use of the results in teacher evaluations this year.

MNPS and Knox County are among those asking the state to waive the results this year.

No word on whether state officials are still perplexed about why teachers are wary having TNReady count toward this year’s evaluations.

Again, it’s not clear when we’ll actually be TNReady, just that it wasn’t on day one.

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

 

As Flexible as a Brick Wall

Grace Tatter reports that officials at the Tennessee Department of Education are “perplexed” by concerns over using TNReady data in this year’s teacher evaluations.

While a number of districts have passed resolutions asking for a waiver from including TVAAS scores in this year’s teacher evaluations due to the transition to TNReady, a department spokesperson said:

“Districts have complete discretion to choose how they want to factor that data,” Ball said Thursday. “They don’t have to use TNReady or growth data in hiring, firing, retention or promotion.”

As Tatter’s story notes, however, data from TNReady will still be a part of a teacher’s TVAAS score — 10%. And that score becomes a part of a teacher’s overall evaluation score — a ranking from 1-5 that purports to measure a teacher’s relative effectiveness.

10% is enough to move a ranking up or down a number, and that can have significant impacts on a teacher’s career, even if they are not fired and their pay is not impacted. Of course, some districts may use this year’s data for those purposes, since it is not prohibited under the evaluation changes passed last year.

Dan Lawson outlines some of the of impact faced by teachers based on that final number:

The statutorily revised “new tenure” requires five years of service (probationary period) as well as an overall score of “4” or “5” for two consecutive years preceding the recommendation to the Board of Education. Last year, no social studies assessment score was provided since it was a field tested and the teacher was compelled to select a school wide measure of growth.  He chose POORLY and his observation score of a “4.38” paired with a school wide growth score in the selected area of a “2” producing a sum teacher score of “3” thereby making him ineligible for tenure nomination.

According to TCA 49-5-503, a teacher may not be awarded tenure unless she achieves a TEAM score of 4 or 5 in two consecutive years immediately prior to being tenure eligible. That means a TVAAS score that takes a teacher from a 4 to a 3 would render her ineligible.

Further, a tenured teacher who receives a TEAM score of a 1 or 2 in two consecutive years is returned to probationary status (TCA 49-5-504). So, that tenured teacher who was a 2 last year could be impacted by a TNReady-based TVAAS score that moves a TEAM score of a 3 down to a 2.

Districts don’t have “complete discretion” to waive state law as TNDOE spokesperson Ashley Ball seems to imply.

Further, basing any part of a teacher’s evaluation on TVAAS scores based on TNReady creates problems with validity. Why include a number in a teacher’s evaluation that is fundamentally invalid?

Teachers want an evaluation process that is fair and transparent. There’s nothing perplexing about that.

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

Growth Scores and Teacher Tenure

Dan Lawson is the Director of Schools at Tullahoma City Schools. This post reflects his thoughts on the current use of TVAAS as it relates to teacher tenure.

 

The issue: “growth scores” as a determinant for teacher tenure recommendations.

 

The Background: I employ an outstanding young teacher who enjoyed three consecutive years of a level “4”+ evaluations and those scores were moved to a “5” based on the TCAP growth score. In the “old tenure” model, that teacher would have been eligible for tenure recommendation to our Board of Education upon completion of three years of services and the recommendation of their superintendent.  

 

The statutorily revised “new tenure” requires five years of service (probationary period) as well as an overall score of “4” or “5” for two consecutive years preceding the recommendation to the Board of Education. Last year, no social studies assessment score was provided since it was a field tested and the teacher was compelled to select a school wide measure of growth.  He chose POORLY and his observation score of a “4.38” paired with a school wide growth score in the selected area of a “2” producing a sum teacher score of “3” thereby making him ineligible for tenure nomination.

 

This is a very real example of an inequity in our current tenure eligibility metrics.  In the 2014-15 evaluation cycle, more than 66.6% of Tullahoma teachers did not have an individual assessment score, so were compelled to select some other measure. In this case, we have a teacher that we are happy with, who produces great student outcomes and one that we would like to recognize with tenured status but we are unable to do so.  More than anything this sends a message that the process for the majority of our teachers is little more than some arbitrary guessing game, and that guessing games does little more than erode confidence; Our teachers deserve better.

A second teacher visited with his building principal and I related to standards that are not taught aligned with the state assessment.  He went on to produce competition results, ACT scores and AP calculus scores of the students in that “pipeline” in support of his math departmental teaching practice.  His request was simple:  Allow me to teach with a focus on the end product instead of a focus on a test this May.  Within that dialogue, he was quick to share the fact that he expected his growth score to suffer that year but in the long term our students would be better served.  Furthermore, he opined that as long as his principal and superintendent were in place and understood the “big picture” he really had no concerns.  I concurred.  However, his next statement was deeply troubling.  He said “while the number doesn’t mean anything to us, when I retire, that next teacher may believe that number is the most important measure of progress.”  

I believe in accountability.  My board and I embrace expectations of high performance and I am comfortable in making personnel decisions aligned with school improvement and the best academic and developmental opportunities for our children. In this circumstance, however, we are letting the “tail” of growth scores “wag the dog” of teacher evaluations and subsequent tenure eligibility.

A Proposed Solution: We are supportive of the award of tenure returning to a local decision with eligibility determined by service and evaluations.  If, however, that change is not palatable, I believe that an amendment to the current “tenure” statute language allowing a school district to present “mitigating and compelling reason(s)” sponsored by the superintendent to the TDOE for review is warranted. We find the current system of “growth scores” serving as the overwhelming criteria to be an ineffective measure since in our school system since a majority of our teachers do not have those scores available for their use and are thereby compelled to use some school wide measure over which they may have limited influence.

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

A Simple Wish

Amanda Kail, a teacher in MNPS and a member of CAPE, has released her prepared remarks ahead of tonight’s MNPS School Board meeting.

Here’s what she plans to say:

Dear ladies and gentlemen of the board. My name is Amanda Kail. I am an EL teacher at Margaret Allen Middle Prep. And I am here to talk about my wish list for this district.
So what do I wish? How would I make things different? I wish that this district would take teaching and learning seriously. I wish that instructional time was treated as the MOST important part of the school year. I wish that no one would even dream of asking teachers to shift their schedules and lesson plans constantly to make room for assessments that give us very little useful feedback.
Why don’t these assessments give us useful feedback? Because they are riddled with confusing formats, questions that are developmentally inappropriate, and require students to navigate unfamiliar technology. Because the internet connection is slow or the laptop malfunctions, or the test kicks them out for unknown reasons. Because they do not differentiate for our vastly diverse student population. Recently, one of my students, Z, told me that he has given up on school. Z is a bright, caring EL student with significant learning disabilities. When I asked him why, he told me that none of the work that he does in the classroom matters, because he is going to fail all the tests anyway. He said, “When my teachers give me work in the classroom, I understand it. But then the tests come and I just fail. I don’t understand anything. I give up.”
Z knows that he can learn. And so do his teachers. He can’t get there by the same path as everyone else, but he can get there. But the barrage of tests, which insist on assessing everyone the same way, tell him otherwise. We have got to stop putting so much trust in these tests that tell us our students are below basic, that our teachers are ineffective, and that our schools are failures. And on behalf of Z and every student like him, I am not giving up.
At some level, the state agrees with me. The TN Department of Education has given students a grace period of a year before TN Ready counts for them. However, this test will STILL count for teacher evaluations. So I am back to wishing that the district would take teaching and learning seriously. How many teachers do you think are going to continue to commit professional suicide by getting low evaluations due to test scores? Tests that they know, and even the state knows, our students have no hope in passing? Would you stay? Are we as a district weary of the teacher retention problem?
Luckily, dear board members, there is something you can do. The Knoxville school board recently passed a resolution asking the state to not count TN Ready scores in teacher evaluations. I am asking you to do the same. The state needs to hear from district leaders as a united front on this issue. It will go a long way to show that you do take teaching and learning seriously. That is my wish.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

A Matter of Fairness

A coalition of education advocacy groups released an online petition today calling for a one year waiver from using student test scores in teacher evaluations in Tennessee.

Here’s the press release:

A coalition of groups supporting public education today launched an online petition asking the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Bill Haslam to grant teachers a grace period from the use of student test scores in their evaluations in the first year of new TNReady tests. The petition tracks language adopted unanimously by the Knox County School Board, which passed a resolution last week opposing the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation for this academic year.

“The state has granted waivers so that TNReady scores aren’t required to be counted in student grades for this year,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE). “If TNReady won’t count in student grades, it’s only fair that it shouldn’t count for teacher evaluation.” Hoyt noted that the transition to the new test means entering uncharted territory in terms of student scores and impact on teacher evaluation scores. As such, she said, there should be a one year or more grace period to allow for adjustment to the new testing regime.

“TNReady is different than the standardized tests we’ve had in the past,” Hoyt said. “Our students and teachers both deserve a reasonable transition period. We support the Knox County resolution and we are calling on the General Assembly to take notice and take action. Taking a thoughtful path transitioning to the new test can also build confidence and trust in the process.”

Hoyt also cited a recent policy statement by the American Educational Research Association that cautions against using value-added data in teacher evaluations and for high-stakes purposes. “Researchers who study value-added data are urging states to be cautious in how it is used to evaluate teachers,” Hoyt said. “The transition to TNReady is the perfect time to take a closer look at how test scores are used in teacher evaluations. Let’s take a year off, and give our students and teachers time to adjust. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness.”

Groups supporting the petition include:

Strong Schools (Sumner County)
Williamson Strong (Williamson County)
SPEAK (Students, Parents, Educators Across Knox County)
SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment)

Middle TN CAPE (Coalition Advocating for Public Education)
Momma Bears Blog
Advocates for Change in Education (Hamilton County)
Concerned Parents of Franklin County (Franklin County)
Parents of Wilson County, TN, Schools
Friends of Oak Ridge Schools (City of Oak Ridge Schools)
TNBATs (State branch of National BATs)
TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence)
TEA (Tennessee Education Association)

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

New and Not Ready

Connie Kirby and Carol Bomar-Nelson, English teachers at Warren County High School, share their frustration with the transition to TNReady and what it means for teacher evaluation.

Connie Kirby:

This is going to be long, but I don’t usually take to social media to “air my grievances.” Today I feel like there’s no better answer than to share how I feel. It’s been a long year with some of the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows. I work in a wonderful department at a great school with some of the most intelligent, hard-working people I know. As the years have progressed, we have gone through many changes together and supported each other through the good and the bad (personally and professionally). We do our best to “comply” with the demands that the state has put on us, but this year everything that we’ve been hearing about and preparing for for years has come to fruition. We’re finally getting familiar with the “real deal” test, instead of dealing with EOCs and wondering how it’s going to change. I’ve seen the posts and rants about Common Core and have refrained from jumping on the bandwagon because I have had no issues with the new standards. I do, however, see an issue with the new assessment, so I have held my hand in the hopes that I might find something worth sharing and putting my name next to. Today, I witnessed an exchange between one of my colleagues and the state, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. With her permission, I am sharing her words.

Carol Bomar-Nelson:

I don’t know how to fix the problems with the test. I agree that teachers should have accountability, and I think student test scores are one way of doing that. Having said that, if the state is going to hold teachers accountable for student test scores, then the test needs to be fair. From what I have seen, I firmly believe that is not the case. I am not just basing this conclusion on the one “Informational Test” in MICA. Other quizzes I have generated in MICA have had similar flaws. When my department and I design common assessments in our PLC’s, we all take the tests and compare answers to see which questions are perhaps ambiguous or fallacious in some way. I do not see any evidence that the state is doing this for the tests that it is manufacturing. A team of people can make a test that is perfect with respect to having good distractors, clear wording, complex passages, and all the other components that make up a “good” test, but until several people take the test, compare answers, and discuss what they missed, that test is not ready for students to take–especially not on a high stakes test that is supposed to measure teacher effectiveness. I understand that this is the first year of this test. I am sympathetic to the fact that everyone is going through a ‘learning process’ as they adapt to the new test. Students have to learn how to use the technology; teachers have to learn how to prepare their students for a new type of tests; administrators have to figure out how to administer the test; the state has to work out the kinks in the test itself…The state is asking everyone to be “patient” with the new system. But what about for the teachers? Yes, the teacher effectiveness data only counts for 10% this year, but that 10% still represents how I am as a teacher. In essence, this new tests is like a pretest, correct? A pretest to get a benchmark about where students stand at the end of the year with this new test that has so many flaws and so many unknowns. In the teaching profession, I think all would agree that it is bad practice to count a pretest AT ALL for a student’s grade. Not 35%, not 25%, not even 10%. So how is it acceptable practice to count a flawed test for 10% of a teacher’s evaluation? We can quibble all day about which practice questions…are good and which questions are flawed, but that will not fix the problem. The problem lies in the test development process. If the practice questions go through the same process as the real questions, it would stand to reason that the real test questions are just as flawed as the practice questions. My students have to take that test; I never get to see it to determine if it is a fair test or not, and yet it still counts as 10% of my evaluation that shows my effectiveness as a teacher. How is that fair in any way whatsoever? In what other profession are people evaluated on something that they never get to see? Especially when that evaluation ‘tool’ is new and not ready for use?

I know how to select complex texts. I know how to collaborate with my PLC. I can teach my students how to read, think critically, analyze, and write. When I do not know how to do something, I have no problem asking other teachers or administrators for suggestions, advice, and help. I am managing all of the things that are in my control to give my students the best possible education. Yet in the midst of all of these things, my teacher accountability is coming from a test that is generated by people who have no one holding them accountable. And at the end of the year, when those scores come back to me, I have no way to see the test to analyze its validity and object if it is flawed.

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