TNReady and TVAAS: A Teacher’s Perspective

Nashville teacher Amanda Kail talks about the connection between TNReady and TVAAS and the importance of legislation moving TODAY that could actually hold teachers harmless.

QUESTION: I thought the legislature said the tests wouldn’t count. What’s going on?
ANSWER: The state legislature was moved by all the horror stories surrounding testing problems to tack a bunch of amendments on to the only remaining education bill of the session (HB1109/SB0987) which attempted to “hold harmless” students, teachers, and schools for the results of the test. What this technically means is that local boards of education can vote on how much they want the students’ scores to count towards their grades (0-15%), and that the data cannot be used to issue a letter grade to schools (A-F, another asinine idea designed to find new ways to punish schools that serve mostly poor kids, but I digress).
However, for teachers the bill specified only that the results of the testing could not be used for decisions regarding employment and compensation. It does not say anything about the scores not being used for EVALUATIONS. Because of this, many teachers across the state pushed TEA to go back to the legislature and demand that the legislation be amended to exclude this year’s scores from TVAAS. You can read more about the particulars of that in Andy Spears’ excellent article for the Tennessee Education Report.
As a result, the House Finance Committee voted to strip all the amendments from HB1109 and start over again with the “hold harmless” language. That needs to happen TOMORROW (4/24/18 — TODAY).
QUESTION: What is TVAAS?
ANSWER: Teachers in Tennessee have evaluations based partly on value-added measures (we called it “TVAAS” here). What this means is that the Tennessee Department of Education uses some sort of mystical secret algorithm (based on cattle propagation– REALLY!) to calculate how much growth each student will generate on statewide tests. If a student scores less growth (because, like, maybe their test crashed 10 times and they weren’t really concentrating so much anymore) than predicted, that student’s teacher receives a negative number that is factored into their yearly effectiveness score. Generally, TVAAS has been decried by everyone from our state teacher union to the American Statistical Association (and when you upset the statisticians, you have really gone too far), but the state continues to defend its use.
QUESTION: What if I am a teacher who didn’t experience any problems, and I think my students did great on the test? Why would I want to oppose using this year’s data for TVAAS?
ANSWER: Thousands of your colleagues around the state don’t have that luxury, because they DID have problems, and their students’ scores suffered as a result. In fact, even in a good year, thousands of your colleagues have effectiveness scores based on subjects they don’t even teach, because TVAAS is only based on tested subjects (math, ELA, and depending on the year science and social studies). The fact is that TVAAS is a rotten system. If it benefits you individually as a teacher, that’s great for you. But too many of your colleagues are driven out of the classroom by the absurdity of being held accountable for things completely beyond their control. As a fellow professional, I hope you see the wisdom in advocating for a sane system over one that just benefits you personally.
QUESTION: Okay. So what do we do now?
ANSWER: Contact your state house and senate representatives! TODAY! These are the last days of the legislative session, so it is IMPERATIVE that you contact them now and tell them to support amendments to HB1109 and SB0987 that will stop the use of this year’s testing data towards TVAAS. You can find your legislators here.
Don’t leave teachers holding the bag for the state’s mistakes. AGAIN.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

A TNReady Letter

An educator in Campbell County sent this letter to legislators about Tennessee’s TNReady trouble:

I am an educator. My husband is an educator as well. We have each been teaching for 17 years and hold master’s degrees in our fields. We are also both history teachers who uphold democratic principles and stress the importance of fulfilling our civic duty.

I am contacting you regarding the issues educators and students are dealing with when it comes to testing and the education system in general. First and foremost, why are we expected to give our kids a standardized test when our students are not standardized kids? We differentiate our instruction every day, we change and adapt to our students needs, we support and scaffold and encourage, but these tests leave no room for that.

As the only social studies teacher in my school at my grade level, I see 165 students a day. I get them for 45 minutes. I teach from the highest high to the lowest low sometimes in the same class period. I have students reading at a 12th grade level with students who literally can spell 2 words due to cognitive delays, yet every kid takes the same test. They may have accommodations such as read aloud or extended time, but someone who is functioning on a third grade level really shouldn’t be expected to take an 8th grade test. That makes that student feel like a failure. No kid should feel like a failure.

I understand the need for assessment, but it should only be used as a measurement tool to gauge growth of the individual students. It should never be used as a weapon to punish the child or the teacher. I don’t like the term accountability because it turns into blame. I promise you that on any given day, you can come into my class and my students are engaged in high order thought processes. We have deep intense discussions about the subject matter, we hold round table talks as historical figures, we participate in congressional hearings where a guest panel fires questions at them, we have simulations, we have csi cases, we examine historical evidence to make a determination, we really dig into history. I teach my butt off. Every day. I love what I do and I am passionate about it, but I am also frustrated because what if I didn’t cover tested material and I look ineffective on paper.

This brings me to my next point. The standards are impossible to truly teach in the timeframe. I don’t believe education comes from doing vocabulary or listening to a teacher lecture. I think true understanding comes from discovery and having the time to explore the topics. In 8th grade, I am responsible for 98 separate standards. There will be a few less in 2020, but right now I have 98 separate standards. Some of those standards only cover one subtopic, but those are few and far between. I put a standard on the board today that included 18 different subtopics. I have counted my subtopics. There are 582 of them. 582 new terms and phrases and concepts. It is impossible to teach all of those well. So I focus on what is most important: Settlement, slavery, conflict, government, native Americans, foreign relations. I would like to invite any legislators to come into our school and sit in our classes and take the 8th grade test that our students, our 13-14 year old children are expected to take. It would prove to be very difficult.

These standards are not age appropriate. I understand why legislators have latched onto the word rigor. It sounds like something is being done. The only thing that has happened is we are setting these kids up for failure. We have jumped on board with this terminology and thrown out the buzzwords, but everyone has lost their common sense. We need to ask ourselves, does an 8th grader, 7th, 6th…etc. really need to know this? Why would someone besides a historian need this? Where are the geography and map reading skills? Why are we trying to push these kids beyond what they are capable of understanding at their age? It’s insanity and it is getting worse with every new change.

The testing debacle has been at the forefront the past few days. TN ready has consistently proven to be not ready. Every year a plague of problems hits the news circuit concerning the system. Why don’t we just let it go? Too much of our tax money has gone into this program. If you ask educators, most will tell you these tests do not accurately measure student growth or achievement. There are too many variables. Why can’t we change the testing structure? It would make sense to test our students on all grade level skills upon entrance in the fall to gain a baseline, test again in the winter to determine growth, and test a final time the last week of school to see what the student did that year. The standards and the tests should be created by current educators. No one knows better than the teachers how to help the students.

Teachers are not lazy. We spend years becoming experts in our fields. We plan lessons, spend money, give our time for free, worry and counsel these kids to make sure they make it. For the majority of us, this isn’t an 8-3 job. From August 1st until June 1st, we are 100% devoted to our schools and our students. Many of us do extra training in the summer to stay current. When we voice concerns, it isn’t because we want our jobs to be easier. It’s because the system is broken, and more times than not we are treated like the villain. We just want professional courtesy.

Please vote to keep tests from counting against our teachers and our students. But do even better. Try to find a solution so our students get the quality of education they deserve. Think what could happen if we funneled some of the millions away from testing and test prep, and sent it directly into the classes. We could hire more teachers and get rid of overcrowding, we could finance field trips so the kids could experience things first hand, we could have materials for science experiments for every kid. Learning could be something kids looked forward to again. It would not be drill and kill test prep.

I get passionate about this subject. Our kids are too important to not get passionate about. I truly want education to be better. I want to see big changes. Get out and talk to teachers. Talk to students. Talk to parents.

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


 

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Teacher Voice Tuesday

A couple excerpts from blogs featuring teachers on this Tuesday.

First, from former (and now current) teacher Mary Holden, who blogs about her experience teaching and offers thoughts on her return in her most recent post:

I know what to expect. MNPS is struggling, as usual. We have some frustrating leadership issues, in my opinion. We have some scripted curriculum we are being directed to teach. We are being told there isn’t time to teach whole novels in English classes. We are being reminded frequently of the importance of the tests. We still have a culture of fear, where many teachers are afraid to speak out about issues. We still have an unhealthy obsession with data, data, data. We still have a HUGE over-reliance on tests and test data that is supposed to be used to inform our instruction.

READ MORE from Mary

Next, Scott Bennett offered a post on TC Weber’s blog about his experiences as an MNPS teacher. Here’s how it started:

When I left my teaching position there was no exit interview. No survey. No request for feedback from the district.* At the very least I was anticipating an email from H.R. I gave my notice and letter of resignation roughly 115 days ago, and I left my classroom on February 9th. So my departure wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Either they assume to know my professional opinions or they don’t want to hear them. Both are deeply troubling to me as teacher, a tax payer, a voter, and a parent. I’m not sure what kind of leadership doesn’t want feedback, but I’ve never met any great leaders who have insisted that they knew everything. Additionally, this district has difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, support staff, and bus drivers. Some of that stems from the low pay, and some of it stems from the culture. If I’m a district leader and I can’t do much about the one, I’m sure as heck going to try and improve the other. As a teacher I’ve found that when students don’t care about the feedback I give, it is because they didn’t care about the assignment whether that is an essay or a presentation or a project. I end each semester asking about my teaching practices and how they can better align to student needs. I’m not sure what it says about an institution that doesn’t want feedback from it’s employees, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t good.

READ MORE of what Scott has to say about his time in MNPS and the challenges teachers face.

If you’re a teacher who’d like to share a story about your experience, email me at andy AT tnedreport.com — If you’d like to share anonymously, that can be arranged.

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


 

Don’t Tread on Mike

Educator and blogger Mike Stein writes about being an education activist in the age of Trump and DeVos.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

The bleak reality is that there’s little we can do right now to defend public education against the federal government. I kept thinking of a yellow flag with a snake coiled in the middle and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” printed in all caps at the top. How ironic that many of the same people who proudly boast that motto are the very ones who voted for President Trump, who then appointed DeVos to her post. As a public school teacher and as a parent of two girls in public schools, I am sick and tired of being tread on. I’m exasperated, and “fighting the good fight” takes time and energy that I often don’t have after a mentally and physically exhausting day at work.

Of course, parents and educators can come together and influence state policy, as they’ve done in recent years in resisting the privatization movement that would use public funds to pay for private school tuition.

In 2018, there will be opportunities to influence the testing that goes on in our schools.

And, of course, there are local School Board and County Commission elections — opportunities to vote for candidates who are strong supporters of good public schools.

But, Stein has a point about federal education policy. He also offers a bit of hope. READ MORE>

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


 

Teachers Need Support

Teacher Josh Rogen writes about the support young teachers need to succeed.

While I’ve written some about teacher attrition in Nashville and noted that teachers in Nashville — and across Tennessee, for that matter – need a raise, Josh offers some perspective on the type of support new teachers need.

Here’s what he has to say:

  • Every single school needs a school-wide behavior program, created and trained in the summer, and implemented in the year. The lack of SWBS is crushing for new teachers. Doesn’t need to be the same plan, but there needs to be a plan.
  • End the idea of 1-3 time district-wide PD on behavior management and push management to school-sites. Context across the district vary too widely for district-wide PD on behavior management to matter. Plus, good grief, one day in central office is obviously not going to make a difference for a first year teacher; it’s just convenient.
  • Assign and really pay a mentor teacher to observe weekly and coach all 1st and 2nd year teachers. Maybe this teacher’s only role is to coach other teachers. I loved the MCL model for that reason, and I’m concerned when I hear schools moving away from it. Why?
  • Train coaches on TLAC techniques at the district level, using the skills sequence found in Get Better Faster.
  • Create district partnerships with Relay and similar programs with experience in training teachers in behavior management. They also really ought to reach out to the old NTF crew. I want to underscore that there are people in Nashville, and within MNPS right now, who know how to train new teachers. Pay them. Use them differently.
  • Random, unannounced, but formative district-level culture walkthroughs of all buildings with a real culture rubric.
  • Stop punishing or judging teachers for writing referrals. That’s a school problem and needs to be solved at the school level.

There’s more, and it’s worth checking out.

More on MNPS and teacher retention:

Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati

Computers Replace Teachers

 

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


 

Holden: Trust Teachers

Former teacher and current education blogger Mary Holden offers her thoughts on how to address the teacher shortage. Of course, even if there wasn’t a teacher shortage, this is the right way to treat teachers. Here’s some of what she has to say:

Trusting teachers to do their job – BECAUSE THEY ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS – should be commonplace practice in every school district. But it’s not.

An article from last year in The Atlantic discussed what happened when some Finnish teachers taught here in the U.S. Guess what they noticed? The lack of autonomy. And that’s a very bad thing: “According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, teacher autonomy is positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and retention. And while most U.S. public-school teachers report a moderate amount of control in the classroom, many say they have little autonomy.”

Let me repeat that in a different way: We have a teacher shortage. Want to retain teachers and attract new ones? Then trust them to do their jobs. Ask them what they need, and then give them the support they need. (Oh, and paying them more would help, too!)

Holden also offers this suggestion:

I wish more districts would recognize what teachers have been saying for years – stop focusing on the data and the test scores and all the punitive measures that have been in place since the dawn of the accountability movement, and instead, focus on what matters: People. Relationships. Community. Developing the joy of learning. And trust our teachers to teach the subjects for which they are trained to teach.

This (and the rest of her article) offer sound advice on how to support and nurture teachers. I hear people say all the time that decisions in education should be made based on what’s good for kids instead of what’s good for adults — as if the two are mutually exclusive. Guess what? Supported teachers who are given autonomy are happy teachers. Which means they are better teachers. Which is GREAT for kids.

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


 

What Happens When Public/Private/Charter Teachers Work Together?

This is a guest post by Alecia Ford. Ms. Ford is a teacher in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

It’s so easy to demonize others: people on the other side of political issues, borders, the railroad tracks.

Each summer I choose a 1 – 2 week long professional development opportunity. This year, I applied to The Educators’ Cooperative because Greg O’Loughlin at University School of Nashville was purposefully getting us “others” together. The Cooperative is a public/private/charter educator group in its second year that exists for “creating, supporting and sharing best practices in teaching and learning”, @Ed_Cooperative #forteachersbyteachers on Twitter. Greg is the Director and founder of the Cooperative.

Ideally, 30 teachers are selected from the applicants: 10 each from public, charter and private/independent schools according to the website. While our cohort didn’t hit that mark exactly, we had educators representing grades K through 12, a variety of content areas and years of experience, from magnet, zoned, charter, private and religious schools in Nashville. I have taught 12 years in Metro zoned and magnet schools, my last 7 years at J. T. Moore Middle.

Nashville has struggled to have civil dialogue about charters, public education and ed policy. The whole country is struggling with civil dialogue. In all honesty, I didn’t just want to learn more about my craft. I also wanted to get in there and meet these teachers from the “other” schools (not zoned public schools) and understand where they were coming from – no loaded words or posturing, no middlemen/women between us. I guess I was wondering… how could they?

Here’s what I learned:

  • I still and always love being a student and learning from and with others.
  • All of us are interested in professional growth and improving our craft.
  • All of us are interested in providing excellent educational opportunities for our students, in both academics and in social/emotional growth.
  • All of us chose teaching. Some of us came from non-traditional pathways, some as second career teachers, some always knew they wanted to be teachers. WE BELIEVE IN THIS MISSION.

We practiced a Critical Friends Protocol that uses small groups to generate ideas and solve problems. We explored design thinking with stoke.d one afternoon. We had a panel of mindfulness coaches answering questions. In between, we got to know each other and liked each other. We built trust all week. No time was wasted. And I wondered, what would it be like to talk about equity with this cross-section of inspired, talented, open-minded educators from across the city?

Toward the end of the week, Greg orchestrated an Ed Camp. Edcamp is a structure where participants suggest topics which are then organized into common themes and scheduled into time slots. Also called un-conference, it’s a way to catch anything you didn’t get to talk about yet and network around common interests. There is no leader in each session, just interested participants who can discuss and share ideas.

I put up post-its with EQUITY, Systemic Racism, Vouchers and Ed Policy written on them, assuring myself I wasn’t being divisive or political just for the sake of it. I reminded myself of a Brittany Packnett tweet, ‘Calling out racism isn’t divisive – racism is divisive.’ We need to be able to talk about tough topics.

Ten minutes later I was in a room with like-minded educators from all types of schools who are also interested in equity and systemic injustices. We all know some schools simply have greater needs while other schools have greater resources, financially and socially. We worry about public tax money going to private, religious and for-profit schools. We wonder why and how schools with such high concentrations of poverty still exist in Nashville. We worry vouchers will only subsidize middle class and affluent families already attending private schools, and accessibility will keep out families without transportation. We wonder whether these ideas will help or harm our most vulnerable students. We want there to be excellent choices for every family, no matter your zip code.

I saw a dedicated teacher at a new charter school working to create opportunities for her students. I heard zoned school teachers wondering if a single pot of money split by a larger number of schools would automatically mean less resources for their students and schools. I saw a private and public school teacher start talking about a shared garden space. But I didn’t see “other” anymore, not in that classroom.

We all want what’s best for OUR kids. What if we (Nashville) valued ALL kids as OUR kids? What if every student could get what they needed to thrive? We need to keep this conversation going, keep practicing civil discourse, keep reaching across the lines of other. Thank you, Greg, for bringing us together. We have work to do.

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


 

Stein vs. Slatery

Educator and blogger Mike Stein takes on Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery over Slatery’s opposition to the federal DACA program.

Interestingly, Stein cites a study from the conservative Cato Institute to support his case:

The Cato Institute describes itself as “a public policy research organization–a think tank–dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.” On January of this year, they released a report on their website titled “The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Repealing DACA.” Cato Institute’s research indicates that “working and earning a higher level of income in the formal sector means that the DACA workers pay more taxes, both through payroll, income, and sales as a result of greater consumption associated with higher incomes.” Additionally, “59 percent of DACA recipients reported getting their first job, 45 percent received a pay increase, 49 percent opened their first bank account, and 33 percent got their first credit card due to their participating in DACA. All of these factors contribute positively to the economy.” This report draws the strong conclusion that the “total cost estimate of immediately eliminating the DACA program and deporting its participants of $283 billion over 10 years. In other words, the United States economy would be poorer by more than a quarter of a trillion dollars if President Trump were to make good on his threat to repeal it.”

The point: Slatery is on the wrong side of this issue. DACA is good for Tennessee and it is the right thing to do for kids living in Tennessee. Slatery’s support for the Texas letter lacks a basis in reality. As Stein points out, suing the federal government over DACA would waste Tennessee tax dollars to stop a program that’s actually helping boost Tennessee’s economy. Plus, it’s good for kids. It’s not clear why Slatery wants to be on the wrong side of this issue. What is clear is that Stein makes a strong argument against Slatery’s position.

The entire piece is worth a read.

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


 

The Value of Teachers

Blogger and former educator Mary Holden writes about the value of teachers. More specifically, she notes that we just don’t seem to value teaching very much.

The entire post is worth a read.

Here, she publishes her prepared remarks to the MNPS School Board relative to teacher salaries:

Good evening! My name is Mary Holden, and I am a MNPS parent and a former teacher. Thank you all for coming out to support our teachers. They are our most treasured resource, and we need to treat them accordingly.

But I am not here to argue for to thank you for a 3% raise. 3% is next to nothing. I’m here to argue for a much bigger increase.

One way to determine what a society values is to look at how and what we spend money on.

Our school board believed it was important to attract the best Director of Schools here to Nashville, so they set a salary of $285,000, a 7% increase from the previous Director’s salary. So teachers deserve at least the same: a 7% increase. But wait. The new Director believed it was important to bring in the “best” people to lead the district in our executive positions, and to do so meant they needed to be paid more. So all our executives were given an initial salary that was 25% more than what those previous positions were paid. Were questions raised by the board about this salary increase? No, because this is what was valued by our Director of Schools – that the people in these positions are the “best” and therefore deserve to be paid more money.

Well you know who is the “best,” in my opinion? Our teachers!

So I ask you all, who do we really value? Our executives – who do work hard, I’m sure, OR our teachers? You know, the people who we, as parents, send our precious children to every single day. The people who work their butts off to create engaging lessons, spend extra time with students making sure they learned a new concept, spend hours assessing student work and looking at data, spend money from their own pockets for supplies, and spend countless hours making themselves into better teachers through planning and professional development. THEY are the best. They are the people I value. And I know you all feel the same way. And so, we need to treat them like we value them. They are more than worthy of a sizable increase in their pitiful salaries. I know this from experience.

When I first moved to Nashville, I had been teaching in California for 12 years. I left California making $85,000, and when I got hired in MNPS, I was making $55,000. That’s a decrease of $30,000. Now, I know it costs less to live here than it does in San Diego; however, the price of housing here in Nashville has risen – the cost of living here has increased, and teacher salaries have NOT risen along with it. In fact, one thing I found troubling the year I taught in MNPS was the number of teachers I met who had to work a second job! Here were teachers, working so incredibly hard for their students, who could not live on their teacher salaries and had to seek additional employment in their free time. Free time, ha! We stress out our teachers to the point where they have no time for themselves. And it does not need to be this way. Not if we truly value them and the work they do.

I’m here to say that if we truly value our teachers – which we should – then that needs to show in their pay. They deserve a 25% increase. In fact, I suggest we help pay for that increase by giving our executives a salary cut. The bottom line is this: yes, it’s great that teachers are getting a 3% raise. Any raise is a good thing, generally speaking. But if you are asking me to celebrate that 3%, I say no way. 3% is nowhere near good enough. And if we value teachers, and we want them to be able to live a decent life and be able to buy a home in the city in which they teach, we need to put our money where our mouth is. Otherwise, they’re going to keep on quitting. Our teachers deserve much more than you are giving them.

Teachers, the only reason you are getting this raise is because of you and MNEA’s organizing efforts! iIf you haven’t already done so, join MNEA and fight for what you are worth!

I noted last week that the Tennessee State Board of Education finally did the right thing and adjusted the state minimum pay scale by four percent.

Still, this isn’t enough. With the adjustment, the most a Tennessee district is required to pay a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and more than 10 years of experience is $40,595.

Take a moment and read all Mary has to say about teacher pay. Ask yourself: Do we value our teachers?

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


 

A Teacher Takes on TNReady

Educator Mike Stein offers his take on the latest trouble with TNReady.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

TNReady is supposed to count for 10% of the students’ second semester grade and of the teachers’ evaluation scores. I had multiple students ask me before the test if it was really going to count this year. I told them it was going to count, and that the state was confident that they would return the results in time. Unlike last year, the Tennessee Department of Education had not announced anything to the contrary, so the students actually seemed to try. Sadly, the state has has once again let them down. They have also let down all of the teachers who worked so diligently trying to ensure that their students demonstrate growth on this ridiculously long, tedious, and inaccurate measure of content knowledge.

And he offers this insight:

Meanwhile, teachers’ performance bonuses and even their jobs are on the line. Though they wouldn’t assert themselves into the discussion, principals and directors of schools also rely heavily upon the state to administer a test that measures what it says it will measure and to provide timely results that can be acted upon. As long as both of these things remain in question, I must question both the importance of TNReady and the competence of those who insist upon any standardized test as a means of determining whether or not educators are doing their jobs.

Check out the entire post and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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