Tennesseans for Stupid Testing

Dark money lobbying group Tennesseans for Student Success is out with a statement supporting Gov. Bill Lee’s weak ploy on state testing — continuing with the time-wasting tests while taking it easy on so-called accountability measures.

Here’s what Tennesseans for Student Success has to say:

“Tennessee students and teachers have been challenged this year in ways we could not have imagined. We have been inspired by the commitment demonstrated by parents and teachers to provide intellectually challenging learning opportunities for students across the state,” said Adam Lister, TSS President & CEO. “In these uncertain times, abandoning testing and progress reporting for our students would be a mistake and result in leaving some of our students behind. By continuing with end-of-year testing, the governor ensures each Tennessee student will receive the support they need based on objective data to measure learning loss, inequities, and areas of improvement. We also believe, in this extraordinary moment, student growth measures should not be used in teacher evaluations unless it benefits the teacher and supports his or her professional growth. We thank Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn for their commitment to student improvement and growth in the future generation.”

So, basically, they say: “Hey, look, we know this pandemic sucks and learning time has been lost, etc. But, let’s take weeks out of the year for a test that hasn’t really worked at all in the past five years.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Mark Green is simply calling for the cancellation of TNReady.

In addition to being dark money spenders and supporters of stupid testing, let’s not forget this group is also pretty good friends with payday predators:

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Taking on Testing

Four members of the Tennessee House of Representatives have signed a letter to Gov. Bill Lee calling on him to end TNReady testing and teacher evaluations this year. The move follows a similar request issued by the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) last week. The letter, signed by Representatives John Ray Clemmons, Gloria Johnson, Bill Beck, and Jason Hodges notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has created special challenges that must be taken into account.

Here’s that letter:

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TEA Continues Push to #CancelTNReady

Following an announcement from Gov. Bill Lee today that this year’s state testing will not be used in so-called accountability measures related to teachers and schools in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee Education Association renewed its call to cancel the TNReady test altogether.

Here’s more from a press release:

“The governor’s statement is a good first step on how to support educators who are already doing everything they can during a pandemic,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “There are additional important steps the administration can take quickly to further reduce the burden on teachers and administrators.”

TEA calls for extending hold-harmless to include suspension of other areas of the evaluation system that take up enormous time and are not aligned to teaching in a pandemic, such as observations and portfolios for non-tested grades.

“It’s not just standardized testing. Our evaluation system is simply not designed to assess teaching during a pandemic,” Brown said. “Many educators are teaching both virtually and in person. We constantly adjust to disruptions caused by infections or quarantines. We teach while doing everything we can to minimize transmission and take time to attend to the emotional needs of students dealing with the pandemic. None of these issues are even remotely included in models the state requires schools use to evaluate teachers.”

The administration could save teachers countless hours by letting school systems know that observations, portfolios, and other evaluation requirements may be suspended, letting teachers devote that time instead to the hard work required for both in-person and online instruction. It would be a tremendous signal of support to Tennessee’s teachers.

As has been the case for months, TEA also disagrees with the administration on the need to administer state standardized testing during the pandemic and calls for the suspension of TNReady.  

“Administering state tests takes weeks and disrupts instruction,” Brown said. “Our students are already dealing with so many distractions and challenges that we simply cannot afford to lose additional instructional time. Our goal must be to get students back on track, not collect testing data that everyone knows will be so flawed it will be useless.”

TEA understands assessing students is important and is being done on a continual basis by educators.

“We don’t need to have state standardized tests to know where students are academically,” Brown said. “We have ongoing state-approved benchmark assessments in addition to the tests and exams teachers administer themselves throughout the school year. If you want to know where students are academically, just look at our gradebooks.”

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Green Calls on State to #CancelTNReady

Congressman Mark Green last week issued a call for the State of Tennessee to cancel the TNReady tests and teacher evaluations based on them for this school year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s more from a press release:

Rep. Mark Green issued this statement regarding high stakes testing and teacher evaluations in the wake of COVID-19:

“Teachers, students, and parents quickly adapted in the wake of this pandemic. To treat this school year like any other by requiring high stakes testing and teacher evaluations would force an unnecessary burden on educators and students alike. We should acknowledge these challenges, cancel high stakes testing, and devote resources to ensuring students can learn safely and effectively in person.”

“These one-size-fit-all mandates overlook the challenges of the pandemic and divert resources that could instead be used to close the learning loss gap. I urge both our State and Federal governments to immediately address this distraction from the classroom and cancel high stakes testing and teacher evaluations for the 2020-2021 school year.”

Rep. Mark Green has been a champion of both students and teachers during his time in the U.S. Congress and the Tennessee State Senate. He has sponsored bills to help students pay off student loans at the federal level, and in Tennessee, he authored the Teachers’ Bill of Rights.

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What Passes for Rigor

Nashville education blogger TC Weber takes on the recently released CREDO study of supposed student learning loss in his most recent post. It’s the study relied on by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn as she doubles down both on the need for kids to return to in-person instruction AND the critical need for ever more testing.

Here’s one paragraph that stood out to me:

Third, the need for rigorous student-level learning assessments has never been higher. In particular, this crisis needs strong diagnostic assessments and frequent progress checks, both of which must align with historical assessment trends to plot a recovery course. The losses presented here implicitly endorse a return to student achievement testing with the same assessment tools for the foreseeable future. At the same time, preserving and expanding the existing series is the only way to reliably track how well states and districts are moving their schools through recovery and into the future.

That’s directly from CREDO. Yes, they’re saying we need to continue with the testing regime we have. Since the folks at CREDO seem so interested in testing that aligns with “historical assessment trends,” let’s take a brief look at just how well testing has gone in Tennessee over the past few years.

To say that TNReady has been disappointing would be an understatement. From day one, the test has been fraught with challenges. There have been three vendors in five years, and a range of issues that caused one national expert to say:

“I’m not aware of a state that has had a more troubled transition” to online testing, said Douglas A. Levin of the consulting group EdTech Strategies.

Here’s more from the TNNotReady chronicles:

Hackers. Dump Trucks. Lies. Three vendors over five years. A broken system that sucks the life out of instructional time. That’s what CREDO and Commissioner Schwinn want to continue. Make no mistake, this is not about what’s good for Tennessee kids – it’s most definitely about what’s good for national testing companies and the Commissioner’s career aspirations.

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Fiction is Magic

I spent some time recently talking with Bobby Nicholson of Knoxville-based ACT test prep company Outlier’s Advantage. Bobby’s company publishes a guide called “It Pays to Prep” outlining the various merit-based scholarships available at Tennessee public and private colleges and the criteria for being considered for those awards.

When I asked Bobby if there was any one secret ingredient to boosting ACT readiness, he said without hesitation that it’s reading fiction. Students should start reading fiction intentionally in middle school with a goal of having 100 fiction books read by their junior year (the key year for the ACT test).

Here’s the entire interview:

1) How did you decide to start It Pays to Prep?
We realized that so few parents or students understand how scholarships work now. When parents were in school, they had to fill out essays and applications for different scholarships. Now, so many scholarships are guaranteed. This means that if the student has the right ACT and GPA, they are guaranteed a certain amount of scholarship money at that school. We put the scholarships in an easy-to-read format so that parents understand how they work, and students are motivated to put in the work.

2) What do you see as the primary utility of your guide?
The primary utility of It Pays to Prep! is helping families understand how much money there is available to them if they get their ACT scores up. Many families are unaware that students don’t even need to have a high ACT or GPA. For example, Maryville College gives $19,000 a year ($76,000 over four years) for a 19 on the ACT. 

3) What’s the ONE thing you want families to know as they are preparing to send a child to college?
It will pay off tremendously if parents can get students reading fiction daily for at least 20 minutes by the start of middle school. Contrary to what most think, GPA is NOT a good indicator of success on the ACT. Ultimately, it is a timed test, and a student who reads twice as fast will score higher. A student who has 100 fiction novels under their belt by the time they hit their junior year will be in a great position to achieve a 28 or above. Students with less than 50 are usually going to score below a 24 no matter how good their GPA is. As unexpected as it may sound, reading fiction daily is the magic ingredient. 

4) How soon should kids start prepping for the ACT?
First, students need to understand that they need to have a minimum 3.5 weighted GPA from the beginning of freshman year if they plan on going to college. That is the minimum GPA requirement for most merit-based scholarships. Commonly, students enter high school unaware that their freshman year GPA matters, but students need to be committed to obtaining at least a 3.5 GPA from day one of high school. Early in their high school journey, they should also start to consider colleges that they might like to attend, too, because the minimum GPA required for merit-based scholarships may be higher than a 3.5. For example, UTK has a minimum 3.8 weighted GPA requirement for merit-based scholarships.
Next, students need to understand that they aren’t just preparing themselves to get into college: they are preparing to graduate from college. It is a little known that less than 60% of students who start college will graduate, which is a huge reason to be taking the most challenging classes. Even if they don’t do as well, they are preparing themselves for success and meeting the standards of a college curriculum. 
Lastly, we recommend that students start prepping for the ACT as soon as possible after they have completed algebra two and geometry. There are only four pre-calc/trigonometry questions per ACT, so it is unnecessary to hold off on starting ACT prep until students have completed those courses. Furthermore, the longer students wait after taking algebra two and geometry, the more likely they will forget the material that would increase their ACT score. 


5) What are some of the biggest myths you’ve heard about college and the ACT? 
Instead of myths, I’ll rephrase this as misunderstandings. 
Most schools tell students to guess C. However, the ACT knows that schools recommend guessing C. Therefore, on the last ten questions of the math test (where students are highly likely to be guessing), the ACT almost always puts fewer Cs than every other answer.
Most schools recommend skimming. However, most schools also don’t understand that this is a test of attention to detail. If students skim, they will be missing the exact things the ACT is going to be asking about. This will mean that most students won’t be able to finish the test in time, and this fact further advocates for why it’s so important to be reading fiction from a young age.
Most schools recommend trying to finish the test. However, most students will get more questions correct if they read more carefully, even if they don’t get to all the questions. Students will often rush through the questions at the beginning of the test, which are usually the easiest. This causes them to miss questions they could have gotten correct to get to the end of the test, where they are facing questions that they are much less likely to get right.
It is a myth that it is harder for students to increase their score once they get to a 26. The reality is that it is often harder to go from a 20 to a 26 than a 26 to a 32. The former typically involves learning a ton of grammar, math, reading speed, and study skills. The latter is often a matter of tying up loose ends and mastering timing.
Many people think the ACT is a hard test. The reality is that it is a test of the mastery level understanding of the basics. Everything a student needs to score a 30 or above on English, reading, and science has been taught by the end of 8th grade. 

6) How can families maximize their student’s potential no matter where they fall on the ACT score spectrum?
I may answer this question differently than you want, but we want to say a few things about this question in general.
First, a bad score doesn’t mean ANYTHING about a student’s potential. It is just a good score that says a lot.
Second, it has been our experience that nearly 100% of students with at least a 3.5 weighted GPA are capable of at least a 28 ACT score.
Third, MOST students don’t need to worry about a high ACT score. If students start at a community college, their ACT score (outside of getting the hope scholarship and testing out of developmental classes) will have almost no bearing once they transfer. Most colleges won’t even have a place to include ACT scores for transfer students. 
Students with below a 3.5 GPA only need to get a high enough ACT score to get accepted into their college of choice, and that required ACT score is probably way lower than it might seem. For example, UTK’s AVERAGE ACT score is usually around 29 for incoming first-year students. However, we have students get accepted all the time with 3.1 GPAs and a 24 ACT score. With that being said, these scores are often rising, so it’s better to err on the side of a higher score, but UTK is one of the most competitive schools in the state. There are still lots of schools where a 19 ACT score will be enough. 
Therefore, the main students who need to focus on getting as high of an ACT score as possible are those who have at least a 3.5 weighted GPA and are trying to earn scholarship money or get accepted into a competitive school. Everyone else can maximize their student’s potential by getting them thinking about the future they want to create for themselves. A great program to help them do that is called the future authoring program. 

Check out It Pays to Prep!

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

Inherently Unstable

That’s how TEA’s top lobbyist described the state’s teacher evaluation system that is based on so-called “value-added” modeling. The remarks were made during testimony before the House Education Committee. Here’s more from a TEA Facebook post:

MORE on TVAAS:

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Waive Bye to TNReady

Sumner County seems likely to join a growing list of Tennessee school districts asking the state to waive TNReady and teacher evaluation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Board member Ted Wise posted his thoughts ahead of the vote tomorrow night:

In my twelve years on the school board, I have been guided by one statement, FOR THE CHILDREN!

As we face COVID together, it is important that our teachers and principals can focus on the needs of our children. Now is not the time to worry about high stakes tests or completing evaluations.

Our children deserve our best during these times. Our teachers and principals work tirelessly to help them. Let’s work together to take the burden off of our teachers and principals.

Our Board will vote on Tuesday to ask the state to waive high stakes testing for this school year.

I will vote on Tuesday night to do what I have always tried to do on our school board, support our children, our teachers, and our principals.

Will Gov. Lee and Commissioner Schwinn take action?

Waiver Request

Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch took to Facebook to announce the district is asking Gov. Bill Lee to waive TNReady testing requirements as well the 180 day attendance and 6.5 hour instructional day mandates.

Here’s the post:

Superintendent Golden has submitted a letter to Governor Bill Lee formally requesting waivers of certain statutory requirements for the 2020-21 school year.

Williamson County Schools is urging Gov. Lee to ensure that the district, schools, teachers and students are held harmless from testing requirements and accountability measures and to waive TCAP tests, Including but not limited to TNReady assessments, English learner assessments, alternate TCAP assessments, and EOC exams.

WCS requests a waiver of the 180 days of classroom instruction requirement. We recognize many students may need to be absent due to quarantine or illness, and we may find it to be in the best interest of the students and families to shorten the school year.

WCS also requests a waiver of the 6.5 hours instructional time each academic day. WCS can continue to provide rigorous education while teaching scope & sequence without requiring teachers and students meet in a remote setting for 6.5 hours each academic day.

WCS Parents, other Williamson County residents and Tennesseans across our great state that have an opinion on this matter and wish to share it with Governor Lee may do so through his office at:
https://www.tn.gov/governor/contact-us.html

TEA Joins Call to #CancelTNReady

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has joined district leaders and others from across the state in calling on Tennessee to cancel the 2020-21 administration of TNReady testing and the teacher evaluation tied to those tests in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s more from a press release:

District leaders, educators and parents are grappling with what the 2020-2021 school year will look like for Tennessee students. TEA’s priority is always the health, safety and welfare of students and educators. There are other critical issues TEA is working on as plans to resume school are finalized.

TEA calls for a moratorium on state mandated testing for the 2020-2021 school year. 

“In a normal year, TNReady is a deeply flawed measure of academic achievement and teacher performance,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “Educators and students already face many new challenges and additional stress in the coming year, it would be unfair and inappropriate to put them through the state’s high-stakes summative testing system. Moreover, because of the wide disruption in instruction there will be no validity or reliability in TNReady data.”    

Teachers already measure student progress through grading assignments and teacher-created tests that are valid as any accountability system. Many Tennessee teachers also use state approved benchmark assessments that provide important data to inform instruction and gauge student needs.   

“Assessments, both benchmark and those created by teachers, are valuable tools because they are designed or chosen by education professionals closest to the classroom,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, that is not what we have with TNReady. Additionally, the millions allocated for state testing could be better spent implementing safety measures and increasing the number of school nurses.”

TEA calls for a suspension of the teacher evaluation system for the 2020-2021 school year. 

With the possibility of some students learning in-person, some online and others in a hybrid format, there is no way to effectively implement the TEAM rubric or other teacher evaluation models. There is not a single teacher evaluation model approved by the State Board of Education that is valid and reliable in this educational environment. Tennessee teachers need support, encouragement and flexibility as we navigate teaching in a pandemic.

TEA members and staff are advocating at the local level to ensure class size, duty free lunch and planning time mandates are upheld and not included in local waiver requests to the state. 

Enforcing social distancing, proper hygiene, and wearing masks where appropriate and possible will be essential in preventing the spread of the coronavirus in school buildings. All these important steps will already be a tremendous challenge with existing class sizes. We cannot keep students and educators safe while also increasing class sizes.

Regardless of the learning model adopted by a district, educators will inevitably have increased workloads. Planning for virtual learning or a combination of in-person and online instruction will require additional planning time and resources. Educators are already being asked to do more with less. They should not be asked to give up their right to necessary planning time and the ability to eat lunch. 

“I understand this is an incredibly challenging time and district leaders must make some difficult decisions as we draw closer to the start of a new school year. On behalf of Tennessee’s hardworking educators, TEA is imploring district and state leaders to prioritize the health and wellbeing of students and educators, and their teaching and learning environment,” Brown said.

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

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