TCAP, Poverty, and Investment in Schools

Recently, I wrote about the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment of Poverty, or TCAP. In that piece, I talked about how concentrated poverty combined with low investment in schools led to poor educational outcomes. I also mentioned how the broken BEP impacts districts because it is inadequate to meet the needs of Tennessee’s schools.

Now, I want to share the data I used to make those claims.

This data will show % of investment above BEP requirements, 3 year average ACT score (where applicable) and average TCAP scores.

The Top 10

District                % above BEP           3 yr ACT avg.             TCAP avg.

FSSD                   44.94%                     n/a                                63

Rogersville         19.83%                     n/a                                60

Newport             14.51%                      n/a                                62

Maryville            33.8%                      23.8                               65

Oak Ridge          37.23%                    23.1                               58

Williamson       20.5%                       22.9                             67

Greeneville      27.47%                      22.1                             58

Johnson City  26.77%                       22.1                             61

Kingsport        31.85%                       22                               59

Shelby              17.32%                       20.8                           58

AVERAGE    27.42%                    22.4                         61.1

The Top 10 districts in terms of student achievement invested nearly 28% above the BEP requirements and had an ACT average well above the state average.

The Bottom Ten

District          % above BEP          3 yr. ACT avg.              TCAP avg.

Lake                5.07%                       18.1                                 41

Union             4.91%                       17.9                                 45

Madison         14.22%                    17.9                                 46

Campbell       3.4%                        17.7                                  44

Haywood       6.48%                     17.5                                  41

Hardeman    11.58%                    17                                      46

Hancock       4.49%                     16.6                                   44

Memphis      19.15%                   16.4                                    38

Fayette         9.83%                    16.3                                     42

Humboldt   13.5%                     16.2                                    43

AVERAGE 9.26%                 17.16                                43

The bottom ten districts in terms of student performance invest less than 10% above the BEP formula and have an ACT average well below the state average.

The top 10 districts spend an average of 3 times more than the bottom 10 in terms of investment over the BEP formula. They also have an ACT average that is 5 points higher and a TCAP average that is nearly 20 points higher than the bottom ten.

Interestingly, even the bottom 10 districts spend just over 9% more than the BEP formula on average. That’s a sure sign that districts can’t run on the funds and funding levels established by the current BEP. The BEP is simply inadequate to meet Tennessee’s educational needs.

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

Mandated to Death

That’s how Sewanee Elementary School teacher Rachel Reavis says she feels when it comes to the amount of testing going on in her school these days.

Reavis made the remarks at a forum with a local school board member hosted by the school’s PTO.

The Sewanee Mountain Messenger has the full story of the meeting, where parents and teachers alike expressed frustration at the amount of testing being done, even at the pre-k level.

Nine Tests in Pre-K?

Parent Janna McClain, a former academic interventionist in Murfreesboro, said her son will take nine mandated tests this year in pre-K. “Who thought that was a good idea? As a parent it would be helpful to know what it is our teachers are being forced to do,” McClain said. “I think the rationale is to prepare for these tests that are connected to dollars, so we have to do more and more tests,” she added. “I understand mandated testing, but I don’t want my child tested nonstop.”

Principal Agrees: Testing is Excessive

“The pendulum has swung to excessive testing,” said SES principal Mike Maxon. “There needs to be a balance.” Certain programs that involve mandated testing also require additional interventions in specific areas, which can be detrimental because it draws students away from other core subjects and creative learning.

Maxon went on to note that the interventions, a part of the Response to Intervention program (RTI2), are being conducted by related arts teachers and guidance counselors because financial support is not provided by the state to pay for the required interventions.

For his part, school board member Adam Tucker said he understands parent and teacher concerns about excessive testing and wants to explore options to reduce testing so students can focus on related arts and other areas that enrich the educational experience.

More on Testing

A Tennessee Teacher Challenges Arne Duncan

Toward a New Model of Testing in Tennessee?

Parents, Educators Challenge Over-Reliance on Testing

Amy Frogge vs. Testing

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

 

Replacing TCAP

Measurement, Inc. has been hired by the State of Tennessee to design new assessments in ELA and Math.

The contract came about because the General Assembly passed legislation calling on the state to open bidding for new assessments rather than continue as planned with administration of the PARCC tests.

Here’s an email sent to educators today explaining the upcoming changes:

Over the past several months, Gov. Haslam and his administration, including the state department of education, have participated in a number of ongoing conversations with you and your colleagues about K-12 education in Tennessee. These conversations have reflected both the historic progress Tennessee has made through your work as well as your concerns and recommendations for improvement. One emerging theme from these discussions has been the challenges experienced by educators due to the uncertainty of the state’s assessments in English language arts (ELA) and math and the impact of administering the existing TCAP exams while meeting the current ELA and math academic standards.
We are excited to report to you that this week the state of Tennessee completed the process to replace the state’s current TCAP assessments in ELA and math. The new measurements of learning for ELA and math will be called Tennessee Ready (TNReady). These assessments, to be administered by Measurement Inc., were selected through a fair, thorough and transparent process established by the General Assembly and administered by the state’s Central Procurement Office.
TNReady will be administered beginning in the 2015-16 school year and will assess our state standards in ELA and math. These standards are located on the department of education website (ELA is here and math is here).
You’ll find additional information about TNReady below:

  • By Tennessee, For Tennessee: Tennessee educators – both at the K-12 and higher education levels – were significantly involved in the selection process and chose an assessment that is both fully aligned to the state’s academic standards but also adaptable to future improvements. Tennessee will make decisions about item selection, test length and composition, and scoring. In the future, Tennessee will decide on changes to the test based on changes to standards, and Tennesseans will be engaged in item development and review.
  • Higher Expectations and Critical Thinking:  TNReady will expand beyond just multiple choice questions to include: writing that requires students to cite text evidence at all grade levels; questions that measure math fluency without a calculator; and questions that ask students to show their work in math with partial credit available.
  • Resources for Parents and Teachers:  Online tools will be available for schools and teachers to develop practice tests that can provide students, teachers, and parents with valuable and immediate feedback. These resources will be available before the end of the 2014-15 school year.
  • Comparability:  While the assessments will be unique to Tennessee, TNReady will allow Tennesseans to compare our student progress to that of other states. Through a partnership between Measurement Inc. and American Institutes for Research, TNReady will offer Tennessee a comparison of student performance with other states, likely to include Florida and Utah.
  • Training:  The Tennessee Department of Education will provide training for educators across the state during the summer of 2015.
  • Test Administration & Scoring: TNReady will have two parts. The first portion, which will replace the state’s current comprehensive writing assessment, will require extended written responses in ELA and math and will be administered in February/March. The second portion will include selected responses, such as multiple choice and drag-and-drop items, and will be administered in April/May.
  • Technology: TNReady will be administered online and available for use on multiple devices with minimal bandwidth. As most states move their tests for all grade levels online, we must ensure Tennessee students do not fall behind their peers in other states. However, all districts will have the option of administering paper-pencil exams.

We look forward to sharing additional details about the new assessments in the coming months.  Additional information will be posted on the new TNReady page of our website.
Finally, as previously noted, Tennessee will make appropriate revisions to assessments in the future to reflect any change in the academic standards. Recently, Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education announced a public review process in which all Tennesseans will have an opportunity to provide input on our ELA and math standards. These public comments will then be reviewed by committees of Tennessee educators, which will make recommendations to the state board. We encourage all of you to be engaged in this process in an effort to ensure our academic standards continue to reflect higher expectations for our students. To participate in the standards review process, visit https://apps.tn.gov/tcas/. We want to thank you for your patience and acknowledge the tremendous dedication you have shown in improving the life outcomes for Tennessee students and their families. Thank you for what you do every day.

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

A TN Teacher Takes on Arne Duncan

Tennessee teacher Lucianna Sanson has something to say to Arne Duncan as Duncan backs off the testing bandwagon.

Sanson writes in the LA Progressive:

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, is changing his tune regarding the importance of standardized testing in American Public Schools. In a piece published in the Washington Post, entitled, “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up,” Secretary Duncan claims that “parents and educators know that tests are not the only indicator “ in student performance. I find this an ironic statement coming from a man, who mere months before, was bemoaning the fact that soccer moms were finding out their children weren’t as smart as they thought they were — based on test scores. These two statements are in direct contrast with each other. What then, led to Secretary Duncan’s abrupt about-face?

Sanson challenges the idea that we need reliance on the very tests Duncan has pushed relentlessly until now in order to measure teachers and students. She also notes that the tide is turning against excessive testing and toward new models. Perhaps the new models will look like this experiment in Kentucky.

Read more of what Sanson has to say to the U.S. Secretary of Education.

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

TCAP Results Show Growth

After a delay in releasing TCAP “quick scores” that led to TCAP results not being included in final grades for students in a number of Tennessee school districts, the results are finally in and they look positive.

The Department of Education Reports:

  • While  it was a year of transition for Tennessee teachers and students as they fully  implemented the state’s new standards in math and English, scores increased on the majority of  assessments.
  • Nearly 50  percent of Algebra II students are on grade level, up from 31 percent in 2011. More than 13,000 additional Tennessee  students are on grade level in Algebra II than when we first administered the  test in 2011.
  • High school English scores grew  considerably over last year’s results in English I and English II.
  • Achievement gaps for minority students narrowed  in math and reading at both the 3-8 and high school levels.
  • Approximately  100,000 additional Tennessee students are on  grade level in math compared to 2010.
  • More than 57,000 additional Tennessee students are on grade  level in science compared to 2010.

In response to the release of the results, JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) issued the following press release:

Data from TCAP should continue to be analyzed and evaluated. It is unclear from a cursory glance of results exactly what this means to Tennessee educators.
 
We are pleased to see the gains in High School Math. That is a good sign. We must sustain that effort, and it bodes well for STEM programs in our state.
 
“It is clear we need to carefully consider the consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and educators” according to JC Bowman, Executive Director.  
 
He added, “some evidence suggests improvements in student performance. But credit should also be given to school district policies and programs, as well as to educators focused on test-based accountability.”
 
“While performance is improving, the contribution of high-stakes testing to that effort remains unclear. It is critical we use data to improve instruction — but the verdict on the value of assessments this year is mixed” Bowman stated.
 
He concluded: “This year data provides general information about student performance, but lacks the nuance to provide any real instructional guidance for educators. Most educators believe TCAP or any state assessment should be used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure.” 

Bowman echoes the concern of many educators when he urges caution regarding how the scores are used in the teacher evaluation process.

Additionally, Bowman has written recently about a possible moratorium on the use of testing data in teacher evaluations during the transition to Common Core-aligned tests.

Similarly, new Tennessee Education Association (TEA) President Barbara Gray lamented the over-reliance on standardized testing in a recent interview.

Finally, there’s the experiment of Performance-Based Assessment in at least one Kentucky school district. It’s an experiment set to expand and some are suggesting replacing standardized tests with performance-based assessment.

As Tennessee transitions to Common Core and puts out a bid for a test to assess the standards, now is a critical time to consider the type and frequency of testing in Tennessee and also to have a conversation about how that data is used for both teachers and students.

 

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

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