Opting for Questions

Charles Corra over at Rocky Top Ed Talk has some questions about the Opt-out movement that appears to be gaining some traction in Tennessee:

To opt-out or to not opt-out? There seems to be an intense, festering degree of distrust with the state testing system in Tennessee (with good reason, based on how TNReady fared this year).  However, is that enough to justify a lack of no confidence?  Is testing essential to acquiring data and helping to properly identify the needs and focus areas of a school, of a particular student?

The article notes that students are refusing tests on a larger scale, though solid numbers are difficult to obtain. Perhaps the failures of TNReady have called attention to the testing challenges many schools and students face?

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

 

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.


 

Ready to Score

An elementary principal in Sumner County puts TNReady in perspective:

I hope our students grow into adults who don’t remember their TNReady scores. But I sincerely hope these same students see a relationship between hard work and performance, a correlation clearly revealed through standardized tests like TNReady. I hope our students remember we loved and supported them unconditionally, regardless of test performance. We want to celebrate students’ academic “wins” and help them grow through what might feel like intellectual “losses.” Keep in mind, we sacrifice the opportunity to accomplish either if we don’t play the TNReady game, or at least some sort of similar game.

Read more about why this leader thinks TNReady is important and also about the context of this and other state tests.

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

 

T C Weber Has Had Enough

Nashville blogger T C Weber has had enough of the Tennessee Department of Education’s excuse-making over the ongoing TNReady fiasco.

Here’s what he has to say:

For those of you new to the game, let me give you a recap. This was supposed to be the year that everything was going to be different. But it didn’t take long for things to go awry. Within hours of beginning the administration of the test, the online testing platform failed. A mad scramble to affix blame ensued with the Department of Education ultimately deciding that pencil and paper would be the way to go. But in order to do that, schools would need to receive supplies in a timely manner, and now, that’s not happening either.

This is becoming a complete and utter fiasco. Some schools are having to change testing schedules for the third time. What that translates to is a loss of valuable instructional time and a huge inconvenience for children and teachers. It also fails to take into account special programs like field trips and such. One school in Chattanooga has two field trips scheduled for the end of April during dates they are now supposed to hold for testing. I guess they’ll have to cancel. Why are students going to be punished because adults failed to do their job?

He says more, but the post reminds me of the old adage: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

More on TNReady:

Still Not TNReady

Ready for a Break

Ready to Waive

Ready Already?

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

 

 

Memphis to Join NAEP TUDA

Shelby County Schools is among six districts joining the “Nation’s Report Card” via the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program.

Here’s the press release:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will include six more urban school districts from around the country after a unanimous vote Saturday by the National Assessment Governing Board to expand the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program.

The six districts — Clark County School District (including Las Vegas); Denver Public Schools; Fort Worth Independent School District (Texas); Guilford County Schools (including Greensboro, North Carolina); Milwaukee Public Schools; and Shelby County Schools (including Memphis, Tennessee) — volunteered to be part of NAEP administration starting in 2017. TUDA is a special part of the NAEP program that provides results of how fourth- and eighth-graders perform in reading and mathematics in some of the nation’s largest urban school districts. The vote of the Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, brings the total number of TUDA districts to 27.

 

The idea for a big-city version of NAEP, also known as The Nation’s Report Card, originated in 2000, when the Council of the Great City Schools — a coalition of the nation’s large urban public school districts led by Executive Director Michael Casserly — requested that the Governing Board conduct a trial NAEP assessment for large urban school districts that volunteered to participate. Congress first authorized funding for TUDA in 2002, and increases in funding over time have enabled the Governing Board to expand the program.

 

“The Governing Board values Mr. Casserly’s foresight and leadership and the bipartisan support from Congress, the president and the Department of Education to support the expansion of this program,” said Governing Board Chair Terry Mazany. “TUDA provides school district leaders, parents and civic leaders with objective and comparable data to measure the progress of student achievement over time in many of the country’s largest school districts.”

 

“The addition of these six new cities to the Trial Urban District Assessment of NAEP is a major step forward for the program and will help sustain efforts to improve the nation’s large-city public schools well into the future,” Casserly said. “We are thrilled that 27 cities will be participating in 2017.”

 

TUDA tests representative samples of students and it reports district-level student achievement results, including trends over time. To be eligible for TUDA, a district must be in a city with a population of 250,000 or more, and at least half of its student population must include minority racial or ethnic groups or must be eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. New TUDA districts must be large enough to support testing three NAEP subjects per year in grades four and eight. The six districts join these other school systems:
  • Albuquerque Public Schools
  • Atlanta Public Schools
  • Austin Independent School District
  • Baltimore City Public Schools
  • Boston Public Schools
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
  • Chicago Public Schools
  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District
  • Dallas Independent School District
  • Detroit Public Schools
  • District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, Florida)
  • Fresno Unified School District (California)
  • Hillsborough County Public Schools (Florida)
  • Houston Independent School District
  • Jefferson County Public Schools (Kentucky)
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools
  • New York City Public Schools
  • School District of Philadelphia
  • San Diego Unified School District
“We now have an ever-greater geographic representation in TUDA, with four more states included. This will provide the nation with an objective picture of the achievement spanning the diversity of our nation’s students, recognizing that the majority of students in our nation’s schools is now composed of minority populations,” Mazany said.

 

View a list of current and eligible TUDA districts at www.nagb.org/policies/list-tuda-districts.html.

 

###

 

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969. Through The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP informs the public about what American students know and can do in various subject areas and compares achievement among states, large urban districts, and various student demographic groups.

 

The National Assessment Governing Board is an independent, nonpartisan board whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives, and members of the general public. Congress created the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee and set policy for NAEP.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Still Not TNReady

Rocky Top Ed Talk has an updated list of school systems experiencing delays in receiving TNReady testing materials. These delays have happened in spite of Commissioner McQueen’s confidence in the process of moving forward with pencil and paper tests. Schedules have been changed, updated, and disrupted again and again as the shift was made from computer-based tests to paper tests. Students and teachers have lost valuable instructional time while the state and its testing vendor, Measurement, Inc. continue to experience challenges in meeting test delivery obligations.

Here’s the current list of school systems that have experienced delays in receipt of TNReady materials:

  • Hamilton County Schools
  • Dickson County Schools
  • Robertson County Schools
  • Murfreesboro City Schools
  • RePublic Charter Schools (Nashville)
  • Sumner County Schools
  • Maury County Schools
  • Wilson County Schools
  • Putnam County Schools
  • Williamson County Schools
  • Bartlett City Schools
  • Tipton County Schools
  • Achievement School District (Memphis)
  • Blount County Schools

If your school system has experienced delays or disruptions due to this year’s testing issues, let us know in the comments.

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

In Defense of Standardized Testing

A recent op-ed in the Boston Globe discusses how standardized testing is not the enemy. The two professors who wrote the piece made some really great points that I wanted to share with everyone, especially teachers. I am going to break down each section of the op-ed, but please read through the whole article.

The testing effect

The act of testing students will allow them to retain more information.

The testing effect is the idea that trying to remember something leads to greater learning than just re-reading information. In one famous experiment, participants tried to learn information from a textbook either by repeatedly re-reading, or repeatedly writing out everything they could remember after reading the information only once. The strategy of writing from memory led to 60 percent correct recall of the material one week later, compared to only 40 percent in the repeated reading condition.

But despite its effectiveness as a learning strategy, the testing effect had to be rebranded to the less scary/more fun-sounding “quizzing” and we have had to come up with more and more subtle ways to produce the effect without students realizing that they are being tested — somewhat akin to hiding broccoli in brownies.

 

Testing anxiety

Testing anxiety is talked about a lot when discussing standardized testing. Having more tests, which would be lower stakes, may make students less anxious about taking these tests. Additionally, the professors noted that informing the students that the anxiety they feel will be helpful on the test will ease the student’s concern.

Researchers have found one promising method in which students are told that the anxiety they feel before a test is actually helpful – not harmful – to their test performance.

Could teachers and parents be the problem with test anxiety? I hope someone will research this soon.

Finally – and this is something that ought to be examined empirically – the negative views of testing repeated by teachers and parents may be feeding into kids’ anxiety and test-aversion. Just like public speaking, tests are an aspect of education that kids tend not to like even though it’s good for them. Our job as parents is to realize that the benefits of testing outweigh the inconvenience of dealing with kids’ complaints.

Teaching to the test

This section talks about how many teachers feel they are preparing for a test that is made by outside forces that do not have any classroom experience.

 This may be based on the myth that “teachers in the trenches” are being told what to teach by some “experts” who’ve probably never set foot in a “real” classroom. What these defiant teachers fail to realize – or simply choose to ignore – is that these experts are groups of carefully selected individuals that always include well-seasoned “real classroom teachers”, who guide the decision-making on what material should be assessed by the tests.

Standardized tests are biased

I hear this one a lot from teachers. If you think a test that is carefully crafted by teachers and researchers is biased, your own teacher assessments are much more biased.

Standardized tests are not the great equalizer that will eliminate discrimination. But it is highly unlikely an individual teacher alone could create a more fair, unbiased test than many experts with access to a lot of resources, a huge amount of diverse data, and the ability to refine tests based on those data.

The lack of prompt feedback

The lack of prompt feedback is always on teacher’s minds. It usually takes a long time to get feedback from these assessments, and we need to find a better way to receive prompt feedback on these assessments. With the rise in computer assessments, I hope we will be able to get feedback very quickly in the coming years.

In the absence of direct measures of learning, we resort to measures of performance. And the great thing is: measuring this learning actually causes it to grow. So let’s reclaim the word testing, so that the first word that comes to mind when we see it is “effect”.

I am so glad that I stumbled across this op-ed. I hope you will read the rest of the op-ed.


 

Ready for a Break

Following the Day One failure of TNReady testing, the state proposed switching to only paper and pencil tests.  Last week, the first sign of trouble on that front developed, as Dickson County reported a delay in receiving the printed materials.

While the Department of Education reports that most districts have received their materials, Chalkbeat reported yesterday that at least a dozen districts have had to reschedule testing due to printing delays. Those districts include:

  • Tennessee Achievement School District
  • Bartlett
  • Hamblen County
  • Maury County
  • Madison County
  • Murfreesboro City
  • Putnam County
  • Robertson County
  • Sevier County
  • Sullivan County
  • Tipton County
  • Wilson County

Despite these delays, the TNReady testing will continue, and in fact, many districts have already begun some paper and pencil testing.

Still, it seems that TNReady just can’t catch a break in its first year.

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

 

The Paper Chase

Following the failure of TNReady on Day One, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced a simple solution: Tests will now be administered on pencil and paper. Except, it turns out, it’s not so simple. What if the paper tests don’t arrive on time?

The Dickson Herald reports:

Dickson County Schools have delayed administering the paper version of the state’s new TN Ready standardized tests until March 7 after a delay in receiving the testing materials, the schools director said.

Schools Director Dr. Danny Weeks alerted parents to the issue in a SchoolReach phone message and he also discussed the matter with the county School Board on Thursday night.

Educators and parents had prepared for administering the paper tests on Monday. However, Weeks said the school system had not yet received confirmation the print testing materials had yet shipped Thursday.

The ongoing saga of the TNReady challenges reminds me of the time the legislature pulled Tennessee out of PARCC just as we were preparing to have our first year with the Common Core aligned tests. Instead of a year without a test, we administered another year of TCAP — a test not aligned with our state’s current standards, and thus not an accurate indicator of student mastery or teacher impact.

Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen have announced that teachers and students alike won’t be held accountable for test results this year, but what about just taking the year off and getting it right?

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

Of Hope and TNReady

Natalie Coleman is a 7th grade language arts teacher in Sumner County and a 2015-16 Tennessee Hope Street Group Fellow.

Are we ready?

This question is front-and-center in the conversation surrounding education in Tennessee.

This is the question ringing in classrooms across the state, the question plaguing teachers working tirelessly to adjust instruction to more rigorous expectations, striving to help students reach heights monumentally higher than they’ve ever been asked to, much less prepared to, before.

This is the question of parents, nervous their children’s scores will not be as high as they’re accustomed to, worried that everything they’ve heard about the standards and Race to the Top and the over-testing is true, worried that the changes happening in our state may not be good for our children.

This is the question of students whose target has been moved each year, who have been told TCAP counts as a grade (and that it doesn’t), that it’s the last year for TCAP tests (and that it’s not), and that now it is time for us to be TNReady. As a state, we have even branded our new test with a name that echoes our question—Are we ready? Are we TNReady?

For anyone in the state closely connected to education, TNReady is a name that carries with it fear of the unknown, of unrealistic standards, and of unwarranted pressures on teachers, parents, and students. At the same time, though, it resonates with the hope of what we as a state want to achieve—readiness in our students.

We want them to be ready for the next steps in their educations and in their lives. We want them to be prepared to succeed. We do not want to continue reading that students in the first Tennessee Promise cohort aren’t making it, even when college is free, because it’s “too hard.” We do not want to continue hearing from employers that Tennessee’s young workforce is simply not ready.

I will admit that, as a teacher, I am nervous about TNReady because of the pressure it puts on my students. I fear that my classroom will progressively become more and more of a test preparation center and less of a place where students can cultivate creativity, curiosity, interest, and wonder. I am concerned that the testing may take too much of our time and focus, may not be developmentally appropriate, may not be amply vetted, may overwhelm our low-budget school technology resources. I believe that teacher and parent groups are right to raise questions and concerns, right to warn that TNReady may not itself be ready and that its incorporation into student grades and teacher evaluations is problematic and potentially unfair.

Yet, the prospect of TNReady also fills me with hope because of the aspiration it represents. As a state, we have said that it’s time for our students to be ready, time to stop selling them short with watered-down standards and bubble-sheet assessments, time to do what’s necessary for our students to be able to read and write at levels that will make them ready for the literacy demands of college and careers.

In the previous six years I’ve taught, I’ve felt a great tension between what I believe has always been the heart of our language arts standards and how those standards were ultimately assessed. At first, I idealistically believed that teaching language arts the way I learned to teach—authentically and deeply rooted in reading and writing—would automatically translate to test success as well. My achievement levels and TVAAS scores told a different story. Over time, I learned that achieving the desired results required shifting gears to TCAP-specific strategies and drills as the test approached. Test scores improved greatly, but I don’t know what my students actually gained, besides a good score, from those weeks of lessons.

Now, though, my students are preparing for TNReady Part I, a test that will require them to read rigorous texts and synthesize the information from them into a sophisticated essay. This new test has the potential to be one that matches the authenticity I strive for in my classroom.

When I tell my students that the writing we are doing in class right now is to prepare not only for TNReady Part I but for many kinds of writing they will need to do in the future, I can mean it. The skills we are honing to prepare for this test are skills that will help them write successfully in high school, on AP exams, for college admissions essays, in college classes, and even in their careers.

Right now in Tennessee, because of our raised standards and the assessments that come with them, our students are learning skills that will make them ready. I believe this and hope for more growth because of the amazing growth that I’ve already seen.

As our state has undergone massive educational shifts, our students have borne the changes and adapted. When we first began piloting text-based essay prompts a few years ago in my district, many of the students in my class stared at them blankly, merely copied the text word-for-word, or wrote a half-page “essay” that displayed a complete misunderstanding of the task. The writing was often missing the basic components of topic sentences, indention, or even separating paragraphs at all. As I worked to help my students prepare in those early days, for tests that were pilots, my students groaned when we were “writing again.” Even though I worked to make writing fun and to give students opportunities to write for genuine purposes throughout the year, writing assessment preparation was an arduous task for everyone, and students were often frustrated.

Each year, though, the frustration has diminished a bit. In the beginning, just making sure students learned the basics of an essay format seemed an impossible task; now, they come to me knowing how to tackle prompts and organize their thoughts into paragraphs. There is still much room for growth, but where my students start every year and where they end are both well beyond those markers for the class before. Each year is better and better, and—best of all—the groaning is gone. Put two complex texts and a writing prompt in front of my students now, and they set right to work, staying focused for over an hour at a time, writing away. They’re open to revision and work to make changes. They ask for help, and they take pride in making their writing the best they can.

This is progress I would have considered miraculous three years ago, yet it is commonplace now, and I am grateful for the growth I see in students’ abilities each year.

When February comes and brings with it text-based writing tasks for my seventh graders that look more like something I would have learned to do in pre-AP classes in high school, when April comes with a second computer-based test, this one filled with rigorous and lengthy texts to read and a large dose of an entirely new breed of multi-select, drop-down box, click-and-drag multiple choice questions, will my students be ready?

I am not sure that they will be completely ready. Yet.

No matter how my students score on TNReady this year, though, they are undoubtedly stronger for what we’ve done. No matter what problems we encounter with the test and what we need to do to fix it, I hope we never lose sight of the goal behind it. I hope we keep our standards high, I hope we keep striving to make our assessments authentic measures of the skills we want our students to attain, and I hope we see that the end result is students who are ready.

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