Toward a New Model of Testing in Tennessee?

Shelby County teacher Ezra Howard has an informative post on the current testing model in Tennessee and a proposal for how to improve it over at Bluff City Ed. His comments come on the same day Nashville’s WPLN posted an interview with TEA President Gera Summerford in which she raises questions about the state’s current testing model.

Here are some noteworthy excerpts from Howard’s piece:

Standardized Testing Doesn’t Aide Instruction

Within all the rancor against testing, we often forget that there are two important reasons for assessments in education: (1) to gauge student’s learning and their level of ability, and (2) to guide instruction and inform future teaching. Current high stakes testing succeeds at the first intention but fails at the second. TCAP, PARCC, and other forms of standardized testing are given too late and too infrequently to effectively guide instructional practices. They are useless to educators other than to facilitate teaching to the test at the school level and direct carrot-and-stick measures at the district, state, and federal level.

Toward a Portfolio Model

It’s time we move toward more student-centered and differentiated assessments. Where assessments are tailored to some degree by learning plans that are informed by but not limited to language needs and IEPS. I personally don’t think Pearson or any other testing corporation is up to the task or, even if they are, ought to be trusted with such responsibility. Therefore, I believe education should move toward a portfolio model of assessment. Achievement in the portfolio model is defined by rubrics, individualized to the student and their needs, and completed throughout the year by the student with the aide of the teacher. A contracted company, at best, may be necessary to monitor the completion and scoring of these portfolios against the rubric.

Empower Teachers

While there is some room for compromise between a standardized model and an individualized model, I ultimately think the power of assessment needs to be put back in the hands of the teachers. Yes, consistency in assessments is necessary. But that is the point of academic standards. As I’ve illustrated, a one-size-fits-all assessment is blatantly biased and inappropriate for the myriad of students with special needs. Educators should strive to meet our students at their level, not only with instruction but with assessments as well. Our current system of standardized assessment, whether it’s with TCAP and the proposed PARCC, is failing to do this. For these reasons, yearly-standardized tests need to be set aside and give room for a new comprehensive system of assessment.

Read all of Howard’s thought-provoking post here.

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

TEA President on Testing and Education Reform

Blake Farmer of WPLN in Nashville has an interview with TEA President Gera Summerford that hits topics including an over-reliance on standardized testing, using value-added data to evaluate teachers, and charter schools.

In the interview, Summerford suggests a move toward common assessments, developed by teachers, to supplement or replace standardized testing.

She notes that the current model of teacher evaluation is not complete, and that multiple measures of effectiveness should included.  And Summerford notes that there are serious concerns about the validity of value-added data and it’s significance in the current teacher evaluation scheme.

The write-up and the entire interview can be found here.

Accountability Doesn’t Have to Be Punitive

Professional Educators of Tennessee’s (PET) JC Bowman and Audrey Shores on the TCAP delay and the TN DOE. They argue that rather than blame and punish, serious questions about what happened and when should be answered.

In Tennessee we appreciate straight talk and candor. We unquestionably detest hypocrisy. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies and even by our government. This has been quite evident in recent days by the Tennessee Department of Education, who inexcusably failed to get test scores to districts on time after months of preparation.

Perhaps in a kinder, gentler world we could shrug our shoulders and say “go get them next time.” However, this is the age of accountability, with the “survival-of-the-fittest” or “me-first” attitude that thrives, largely driven by the politics and culture in which we live. In this case, accountability in public education on the TCAP problem begins and ends with the Tennessee Department of Education.

Test results, as pointed out by one editorial in Knoxville “are used in teacher evaluations, in grading the overall performance of individual schools and systems and for other purposes.” State law requires that TCAP results account for 15 percent to 25 percent of a student’s final grade. An argument can be made that Common Core and TCAP are not aligned, so it does not make sense to use the TCAP scores in calculating students’ final grades. An appropriate response to that statement would be: perhaps they should not have been teaching standards that did not align with what students were going to be tested over the last couple of years and making it part of a student’s final grade.

Our belief is that this latest testing gaffe was simply due to incompetence, rather than any intentional violation of laws, regulations or established procedures not being followed. The men and women at the Tennessee Department of Education work extremely hard, just like the men and women who teach in our schools. They strive for excellence, and should not be impugned by this particular fiasco, no matter how well intentioned the stated objectives for the delay. A mistake was made, and we should endeavor to make sure it does not occur in the future.

As an organization, we believe in due diligence and avoiding overreacting to issues. We have adopted discipline by choosing our words carefully, like the carpenter who measures twice, cuts once. At times, systems simply do not work, and they need to be corrected. That is our message to policymakers and stakeholders alike; there is no attempt to imply any nefarious activity.       However, there is no denying that school systems across the state were blindsided by the delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores. Every system in the state was impacted. Policymakers must ensure the public is served: especially the children, families and school districts across the state. To that end, we requested that legislators inquire, formally or informally, specific information from the Tennessee Department of Education immediately. In fact, if the Tennessee General Assembly were in session we believe a hearing on this matter would be appropriate. The goal here is not to blame, but rather correct system failure.   We would suggest asking the following questions:

  • When was Ms. Erin O’ Hara, assistant commissioner for data and research, made aware of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores.
  • When were other state officials and members of the General Assembly, such as Commissioner Huffman and Governor Haslam, made aware of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores?
  • Who made the decision to not notify superintendents immediately of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores? And when was that decision made?
  • Who were the unnamed “external experts” that signed off on the validity, reliability and accuracy of the results? Please list their names, qualifications and any existing contract authorizing their role in this issue.
  • Was any unnamed “external expert” granted access to individual student data?  If so please disclose the names, qualifications and contract that granted experts access to the information they utilized.
  • Where in current existing state law is permission granted to the Commissioner of Education to issue waivers for exemption from a state requirement that TCAP scores account for 15-25 percent of students’ final grades?  (According to the Tennessean 104 school districts requested waivers).
  • What is the financial cost to the school districts and state created by the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores? Will the state cover this cost for districts?
  • What safeguards can be put in place to avoid any future issues, or should we simply not count test results in students’ final grades?

The use of high-stakes testing as the sole measure of student achievement is justly under increased scrutiny. We welcome that discussion and debate.   As we have continuously pointed out, in transitioning to any new test the most common issues that the state has not addressed are ongoing or increasing costs, technical concerns, and fears that the test could limit flexibility in crafting future curriculum. Transitioning Tennessee’s value-added data from TCAP to whatever future test the state ultimately adopts and utilizes will also take some time and adjustment -that is to be expected. A potential issue we anticipate is that the state has not adequately made clear how TVAAS will handle the transition from all bubble-in tests to constructed response tests. Legislators must start asking more detailed questions, and seeking answers from educators in our schools. There will always be issues, debate and discussion in public education.

In the end, getting accountability correct is the objective. The decisions policymakers make on behalf of students are actions of no small consequence. No one, least of all educators, would desire to see students victimized by testing. When we make decisions on the basis of untimely data or careless research, we place students at risk. We can and we must do better.

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

 

 

PET on TCAP

An editorial on the TCAP delay by Cathy Kolb, President of Professional Educators of Tennessee and Samantha Bates, Director of Member Services for Professional Educators of Tennessee

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that 3rd through 8th grade Quick Scores, the portion of students’ final grades that come from TCAP testing as mandated by state law, would not be available until May 30th. This means that elementary and middle schools across the state will either fail to follow the legal reporting standards or will be required to distribute final report cards twice in one month.

“We are extremely disappointed in the Tennessee Department of Education. The ‘rules’ associated with testing did not change between this year and last. But, while results available last year were returned in a timely manner, the same could not be accomplished this year. This delay will impact teachers, parents and students with scheduling classes and placing students in appropriate classes,” said J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Additionally, many systems have released for the summer. This decision by the state will require many teachers to return to school to recalculate final grades and release report cards again, adding costs at the end of the school year when money is the tightest.

A concern of many educators, though, is why the scores are delayed. The official reasoning from the state is that the scores are being “post-equated.” Statistically speaking, this process ensures that any given test is valid and serves its intended purpose. In years prior, this process was done after Quick Scores are reported and final report cards are distributed. This raises doubts for educators about the validity of this year’s assessment, given the number of changes made to testing for this school year. The number of tested SPIs and overall number of test items dropped, making it harder for students to score proficient on tests where the proficiency cut off has been gradually rising over the past five years. What do the scores look like that requires this process to be done now and not later?

Another concern is the fact that districts are required to apply for waivers from the state. When a good teacher makes a mistake or changes the parameters of an assignment, he or she gives students the extra support that they need to complete their tasks with the new information.

“That’s what leaders do,” according to Director of Tullahoma City Schools, Dan Lawson. “When the state fails to provide test scores in a timely manner consistent with Tennessee statute, they should waive the accountability requirements for this reporting cycle automatically without requiring school districts to jump through any additional hoops,” posits Lawson.   Placing extra work on systems for a state error is the height of poor leadership. Where is the accountability for this situation? Where is the leadership from the DOE? Where is the support for districts? Where is the support for educators? It seems that there are many questions that this situation raises, but the most pressing is this: when Commissioner Kevin Huffman said earlier this week that adults needed to work harder, did he mean educators or his staff?

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

TEA Takes on Huffman Over TCAP Delay

The Tennessee Department of Education advised school district directors yesterday that TCAP “quick scores” would not be available this year in time to factor them in to final grades for students in grades 3-8. This left districts with a choice: delay the issuing of report cards until the scores are available “sometime this month” OR seek a waiver from state law mandating that TCAP scores count toward a student’s final grade.

Some districts issued statements explaining what the delay means for students.

And now, TEA is out with a statement on the matter.  From the TEA press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education informed directors of schools that TCAP scores will not be available before the end of the school year, as is typically the case for calculation of students’ final grades. The state’s decision to delay the release of the scores has serious implications for students, families, teachers and administrators statewide.

“This delay is unacceptable and further illustrates the many consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and teachers,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students.”

“Test-related anxiety and distrust are already high among students, parents and educators in our state because of Commissioner Huffman’s insistence on placing more and more weight on these tests,” Summerford continued. “The state cites a change in assessments this school year as the reason for the delay. Why are districts just now being informed about something that the department has known about for months?”

“If TCAP was used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure, our schools would not be in the absurd position of deciding whether to send students home without report cards or send home grades that may change once the state chooses to release the scores,” the TEA president said.

“Teachers face a tremendous challenge in providing the best education for all students, particularly when forced to spend so much time focused on standardized tests. The mishandling of this entire situation should be enough to cause legislators and communities to reevaluate, and correct, the ‘reform’ path the commissioner is leading our students down,” Summerford concluded.

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

 

 

 

House Overwhelmingly Votes to Delay Common Core, PARCC

The Tennessee House of Representatives this morning voted to delay any further implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Tennessee and to delay the use of the Pearson Assessment of  Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) until July 1, 2016 — effectively a two-year delay in the process.

The vote in favor of the legislation was a resounding 82-11.  The vote was a surprise, as two amendments offered by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh were adopted.  An amendment to delay further Common Core implementation, including the adoption of new standards in science and social studies was approved by an 80-6 vote.

On delaying the PARCC testing, the vote was 88-0.

If Tennessee goes forward with a delay in PARCC participation, it will join Florida and Kentucky, who have already decided to stop using PARCC to assess their students’ mastery of the Common Core State Standards.

Procedurally speaking, the bill has already passed the Senate in a different form.  It will now be sent back to the Senate to ask that body to concur in House amendments.  The Senate can choose to adopt the House amendments, in which case the bill would be sent to Governor Haslam for his action.  If the Senate does not adopt the House amendments, the bill goes back to the House.  The House can then either 1) remove the amendments or 2) refuse to remove the amendments.  If the House refuses to back down from its original action (which passed with more than 80 votes), a conference committee will be appointed to sort out the issue.

The vote to delay Common Core and PARCC ended a particularly bad week for Governor Haslam’s education policy agenda.

First, the TEA announced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TVAAS-based merit pay for teachers, a measure supported by the Haslam Administration.

Then, the House Finance Committee did not take up Haslam’s proposal for school vouchers, instead delaying consideration for one week.  The bill barely eked out of House Finance Subcommittee with Speaker Harwell having to break a tie vote.

A TEA-backed bill prohibiting the use of TVAAS in teacher licensure decisions also passed key committees in the House and Senate this week.

 

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

 

TREE to Host Testing Forum

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) will host a community forum on the use of testing in Tennessee schools this Saturday, March 1st at 2:00 PM at New Song Church in Nashville.

The forum will feature speakers Dr. Jim Horn and Dr. Denise Wilburn, scholars who have been critical of TVAAS and the overuse of testing in schools.

The forum comes at the end of a week that so far has seen the TEA call for a moratorium on the use of the PARCC tests for Common Core at the same time legislative committees put off key votes on legislation dealing with Common Core implementation.

Metro Nashville School Board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering have also raised concerns about the amount of testing in schools and the cost of that testing to the school system.

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

PET Agenda

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) recently released their 2014 legislative agenda.  They have three key areas of focus for the upcoming legislative session.

1) Teacher Licensure. PET is asking for a straightforward, common sense appeal process to address concerns regarding the proposed changes to teacher licensure. PET has also been asking for the suspension of the use of TVAAS data until Common Core is fully implemented. The group also mentions a need to focus on teacher remediation and targeted professional development.

2) Student/Teacher Data. PET is seeking legislation that will ensure the privacy of both student and teacher data.  Specifically, they want to ensure no personally identifiable data on students and their families religion, political affiliation, psychometric data, biometric information, or voting history is collected or otherwise tracked and that such data is not provided to either the federal government or private vendors.  They are also seeking limits on who may access teacher evaluation data.

3) Testing. PET notes the “overuse of testing in our schools” as a key area of concern.  While PET notes that testing comes with good intentions, the result of an increased focus on testing is now a “detriment to public education.” PET suggests policies that find a balance between the need to assess in order to gain knowledge about what’s working and what’s not working for kids and the over-reliance on tests for uses beyond their intended, useful purpose.

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

 

 

Big Monday Coming for McIntyre

On Monday, the Knox County School Board will discuss and possibly vote on a contract extension for embattled Director of Schools Jim McIntyre.

Last night, teachers, parents, and students packed the Board meeting room and some asked the Board not to renew McIntyre’s contract. It’s not clear from available news reports that anyone was present to ask the Board to extend the contract.

McIntyre has come under fire for being an enthusiastic supporter of state-level policy changes to teacher evaluation and for not listening to the concerns of parents and teachers regarding what they call excessive testing and over-reliance on test-based data to evaluate teachers.

That said, the Board recently announced they are working on a resolution calling for more transparency in the TVAAS system used to create scores for teacher evaluation.

Monday’s meeting, focused on the contract extension for McIntyre, will also likely be a contentious one, though it’s not clear whether a significant number of Board members would consider non-renewing the contract.

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

 

NAEP in TN: The Rest of the Story

Today, leaders across Tennessee lauded the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results.  And they should. Tennessee is first in an education statistic and it’s a good one.  The fastest growing state in the last 2 years in terms of growth in math and reading scores as measured by NAEP.

That’s good news. It’s very good news.  Despite some claims, though, it’s very difficult to say results on the 2013 NAEP are a direct result of reforms that took place in 2011 and 2012. States with more rigid teacher tenure and with collective bargaining for teachers scored higher overall than Tennessee (nevermind Ron Ramsey’s rant against both — they just don’t test out as significant indicators of student achievement in either a positive or negative way). And of course, it’s easier to grow when you have a long way to go — Tennessee has historically been among the lowest performing states on the NAEP.

Let’s take a look at the data on a deeper level, though, and see what’s been happening. For the sake of this comparison, I’m going to look at Tennessee and Kentucky — a similarly situated Southeastern state with a nearly identical level of students in poverty and/or on free/reduced lunch.  I’m going to look at 20 year trends to see what we can learn from the overall education work in both states. So, here goes:

4th Grade Math

1992      KY   215                        TN  211

2013     KY  241                          TN 240

Over the 20 year period, Kentucky increased by 16 points, Tennessee by 19 — and Kentucky still leads by 1 point.  To Tennessee’s credit, the gap in scores was narrowed by 3 points.

Let’s look at the percentage of students in each state who test at or above basic — this is short of the mastery demonstrated by the score of proficient, but still indicates a basic understanding of the concept — below basic is the lowest score and is frankly, unacceptable.

In 1992, 51% of Kentucky kids tested at or above basic and in Tennessee, it was 47%.  Now, 84% of Kentucky kids are at or above basic in 4th grade math while only 80% can say the same in Tennessee.  Both states posted 33 point gains in this important number over the last 20 years and Kentucky remains 4 points ahead of Tennessee.

Now, let’s look at the two states and how they are doing with their poorest students, those on free and reduced lunch.  One of the key goals of many involved in education is closing achievement gaps and moving the lowest performing kids forward quickly.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY  232  TN 228

Achievement gap

KY 19 points  TN 26 points

Not only do Tennessee’s students on free and reduced lunch score lower than Kentucky’s, Tennessee’s gap is wider — by a 7-point margin in the case of 4th grade math.  This begins a troubling pattern.

Before I go further with this analysis, I want to point out that Kentucky doesn’t use value-added data for teacher evaluations, has no charter schools, its teachers are awarded tenure after 4 years, and it hasn’t adopted any of the reforms Tennessee’s current leaders tell us are essential to improving scores.  In fact, their Commissioner has openly expressed skepticism of any evaluation system that bases any part of a teacher’s score on value-added data.  As the rest of the data will demonstrate, both Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Ok, back to the data.

8th Grade Math

1992  KY 262   TN 259

2013  KY 281  TN 278

Over 20 years, both states made a 19-point gain in 8th grade math and Kentucky maintains a 3-point lead.  Looking at students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 51% in 1992 and is at 71% today while Tennessee was at 47% in 1992 and at 69% today.  Kentucky gained 20 points and Tennessee, 22.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY 268  TN 265

Achievement Gap

KY 25 points TN 27 points

 

4th Grade Reading

1992 KY 213   TN 212

2013 KY 224   TN 220

Here, Kentucky makes an 11-point gain and Tennessee makes an 8-point gain over the same time period.  Now, Kentucky has a solid 4-point lead in reading — while in 1992, it was just 1-point.  In terms of students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 58% in 1992 and stands at 71% today while Tennessee was at 57% in 1992 and is now at 67% — Kentucky gained 13 points over this time, while Tennessee gained 10.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 213  TN 205

Achievement Gap

KY 24 points TN 32 points

 

8th Grade Reading

1998  KY 262   TN 259

2013 KY 270  TN 265

Here, Kentucky gained 8 points and Tennessee only 6 — giving Kentucky students a 5-point edge over Tennessee’s in 8th grade reading. Both states posted 6-point gains in percentage of students at or above “basic,” with Kentucky maintaining a 3-point edge in that category.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 258  TN 256

Achievement Gap

KY 23  TN 20

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.  In all categories, Kentucky’s students still outperform Tennessee, though in some cases that gap is narrowing.  Also, in all subjects, Kentucky’s students on free/reduced lunch outperform Tennessee’s students on free/reduced lunch.

ABOUT THAT FREE LUNCH

Possibly the most interesting (and troubling) finding in this data is the widening of the gap between free/reduced lunch students and those not eligible.  Tennessee has a significant population of students who qualify (as does Kentucky) and one of the key aims of reform is to ensure that gaps are closed and that those with the most challenges get more opportunity.  Here’s some data demonstrating that Tennessee’s achievement gap is widening when it comes to its poorest students.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH ACHIEVEMENT GAPS

4th Grade Math 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 26 points

8th Grade Math 2011 — 25 points  2013 – 27 points

4th Grade Reading 2011 — 26 points  2013 – 32 points

8th Grade Reading 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 20 points

The 4th grade scores in particular present rapidly widening gaps.  That’s absolutely the wrong direction.  Moreover, students on free/reduced lunch saw their scores improve less than those not on free/reduced lunch 3 points vs. 9 points in 4th grade math, 3 points vs. 5 points in 8th grade math, 1 point vs. 7 points in 4th grade reading, and both groups saw a +6 in 8th grade reading.

While we’re told that “poverty is not an excuse” it certainly appears to be a factor (and one growing in importance) in terms of student achievement growth in Tennessee. While we have had significant reforms in some of our poorest urban communities (and even have an Achievement School District to address the most challenged schools), the gap between poor and better off students widened in the last two years.

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

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