A Late Call

Yesterday, the State Board of Education met and amended the state’s high school policy, including how End of Course exams factor into a student’s final grades.

As I reported earlier, this meeting happened just days before the semester ended for many students.

Here’s a note from Commissioner McQueen’s latest message to educators on the topic:

Yesterday, the State Board of Education voted on final reading to approve the department’s proposal to phase in EOC scores into high school students’ grades beginning this school year and continuing during the next few years. Also in the proposal, the department recommended to provide districts with students’ raw score points earned out of the total available instead of the conversion score that the department provided previously, commonly called quick scores. Please reference this memo (here) and FAQ document (here) for additional context. This policy becomes effective immediately for all 2016 fall block courses taking EOCs. The exams will account for 10 percent of students’ course grades this year.

Remarkably, the memo McQueen cites notes that the first reading of this policy change was in October. However, the special called meeting on adopting the change and making it official didn’t happen until yesterday. While the October meeting may have signaled the Board’s intent, there was no official policy change until just days before the semester ended.

Between October and now, of course, two large school districts have seen their boards pass resolutions asking the State Board and General Assembly to not count these tests in either student grades or teacher evaluations as we transition to a new test with a new vendor. Those concerns were apparently ignored at yesterday’s meeting.

The legislature could take action on the issue in 2017, but doing so may create confusion since students on block scheduling will have completed courses and received grades.

One provision of the change that is worth noting is that if EOC scores are not available to districts at least five instructional days before a course ends, the district may elect NOT to use those scores in a student’s final grade. For many districts, that day was yesterday.

If districts do decide to use the scores for this semester and next, they may only count for 10% of a student’s final grade.

I’d suggest that the more prudent course is for districts to not count the scores at all this year as we are in a transition year.

The late call (why not a special meeting a few weeks after the first meeting?) raises questions about the State Board’s responsiveness to the concerns of those officials doing the day-t0-day work of running a school district.

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


 

 

Conflict Call

The Tennessee State Board of Education meets on Thursday, December 15th via conference call to discuss the A-F school grading system and to take action on high school policy, specifically as it relates to grading.

The high school policy includes a proposed change to the way End of Course tests are factored in to student grades — which is pretty important, since the semester is ending very soon and high school students on block schedules will be finishing courses in the next few days.

The EOC grade policy is noteworthy as two of the largest school districts in the state (Nashville and Knox County) have passed resolutions asking the state NOT to count any TNReady test in student grades or teacher evaluations for the 2016-17 academic year.

Here’s the language of the proposed policy change as it relates to EOC tests:

Results of individual student performance from all administered End of Course examinations will be provided in a timely fashion to facilitate the inclusion of these results as part of the student’s grade. Each LEA must establish a local board policy that details the methodology used and the required weighting for incorporating student scores on EOC examinations into final course grades. If an LEA does not receive its students’ End of Course examination scores at least five (5) instructional days before the scheduled end of the course, then the LEA may choose not to include its students’ End of Course examination scores in the students’ final course grade. The weight of the EOC examination on the student’s final average shall be ten percent (10%) in the 2016-2017 school year, fifteen percent (15%) in the 2017-2018 school year; and shall be determined by the local board from a range of no less than fifteen (15%) and no more than twenty-five (25%) in the 2018-2019 school year and thereafter.

 

Note, the 2016-17 academic year is happening right now. Students have already taken these EOC exams and their semesters will be ending soon. But, the policy change won’t happen until Thursday, assuming it passes. Alternatively, the State Board of Education could be responsive to the concerns expressed by the school boards in Nashville and Knoxville and prevent this year’s EOC exams from impacting student grades.

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


 

 

Test Scores Are In! How Did Our Nashville Students Do?

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released TNReady results for individual districts. The data only show results for high schools because elementary and middle schools did not take the full assessment last school year.

For those of you who just want the gist of it, Nashville’s public high schools are struggling to get kids to proficiency, and they’re particularly struggling with math.

Let’s dig a little deeper, using some screenshots from the state’s Report Card website.

ACT Achievement

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I have written previously about the ACT scores of the district. TNReady is trying to be more aligned with the ACT.

Math and ELA Achievement 

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The data show that our high schools are struggling more with math than English language arts (ELA), though each section has only a small percentage of students who are scoring within the top two tiers of TNReady.

Here’s the more in-depth breakdown of the data, including individual subjects. As we see from the graph below, we have new terminology to use when discussing the data.

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The data clearly show that too many high school students are not “on track” nor have achieved mastery of the subjects. We have given our high schools a makeover, but has that makeover really improved the achievement of our students? That will be hard to tell because this is a brand new assessment.

The achievement of high school students are more than just a problem with high schools. We need more support in lower grades to give students the skills they need to achieve in high school so that they can graduate and move on to college or a career.

Growth

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It’s great to see that we are showing growth in literacy, but we have to do better in math.

We Have to Do Better

Our district has to do better. We have too many students not achieving at the level they should be. I hope our school board will really delve into this issue, instead of spending so much time on petty resolutions that will only hurt the district in the long run.

Turning around our district is not something that will make the newspaper tomorrow. It’s not something that you can brag about in your monthly email in a few weeks. Turning around our district takes time, resources, and a vision to help all students achieve. It means that everyone involved in the education system must work together, which can be hard for some.

It’s results like this that draw people away from Davidson county and into the suburbs and private schools. We can’t let it continue.

Let’s get to work!

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


 

Doing the Right Thing

Shelby County’s Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson announced that all teachers will receive a three percent raise this year, not just those who meet certain scores on the state’s flawed value-added evaluation system.

More from Chalkbeat:

Hopson told the district’s educators in an email Thursday that they’ll see the raise reflected in their Nov. 18 paychecks. The pay hikes will be retroactive and will also go to librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers, physical/speech therapists and psychologists.

The decision came after Hopson learned that the district won’t receive the state’s testing data until December.

The decision by Hopson came about as a result of last year’s TNReady debacle. It also came in the same week that Knox County’s School Board asked the state for a waiver from included this year’s TNReady test results in student grades and teacher evaluations.

Hopson made the right decision — it is unfair to ask teachers to wait to receive pay raises because of the state’s mistakes with TNReady. It’s also unfair to use data from last year’s mess of a test administration to evaluate teachers. While I’ve expressed doubts about the usefulness of value-added data in evaluating teachers, even those who haven’t should acknowledge that using data from last year (or this year) is problematic.

Shelby County educators will all see a raise this year. The next question: Will the school board there join Knox County in requesting a waiver from using test data for students and teachers this year?

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


 

PET Talks TNReady

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee 

Tennessee has made a decade long effort to raise ours standards in public education, with mixed results and contentious debate among stakeholders and policymakers. We have high expectations for our students and our schools, which is a point all can agree upon. The appropriate role of assessment is still being debated. Getting it right is important. We need an accurate measure of student achievement and we must treat LEA’s and our educators fairly in this process.

We agree with the Tennessee Department of Education’s opinion that in previous transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term. We believe policymakers should continue to see Tennessee students perform better on national assessments.

One thing is certain: “This year’s scores cannot be compared to last year’s TCAP. And it is not practical to judge schools, students or educators by these results as we establish a new baseline with first year TNReady results” according to JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Professional Educators of Tennessee would caution policymakers to be less concerned with these test scores, especially with the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience. We should put more emphasis on the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life. To that end we continue to work with the department to reduce the amount of standardized testing in our classrooms. And we are pleased that they have been proactive in that arena with us. TNReady is apparently on track to run smoothly this school year, and a lot of work is currently underway to ensure success. It is also important to know that the new testing vendor Questar, as well as the TNDOE, is making a genuine effort to work with classroom educators across the state to provide responsive customer service and high quality assessments.

In Tennessee, Questar is responsible for developing, administering, scoring and providing reports for the TNReady assessment program, including grades 3 through 8 State Summative Assessment in ELA and Math as well as State End-of-Course Assessments in ELA I, II, III; Algebra I and II; Geometry; and Integrated Math I, II, and III.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

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


 

Knox County Takes a Stand

Last night, the Knox County School Board voted 6-3 in favor of a resolution calling on the General Assembly and State Board of Education to waive the use of TCAP/TNReady data in student grades and teacher evaluations this year.

The move comes as the state prepares to administer the tests this year with a new vendor following last year’s TNReady disaster. The lack of a complete testing cycle last year plus the addition of a new vendor means this year is the first year of the new test.

The Board passed the resolution in spite of Governor Haslam warning against taking such a step.

In his warning, Haslam said:

“The results we’ve seen are not by accident in Tennessee, and I think you have to be really careful about doing anything that could cause that to back up,” Haslam said.

He added:

Haslam attributed that progress to three things, including tying standardized tests to teacher evaluations.

“It’s about raising our standards and expectations, it’s about having year-end assessments that match those standards and then I think it’s about having assessments that are part of teachers’ evaluations,” Haslam said. “I think that you have to have all of those for a recipe for success.”

Haslam can present no evidence for his claim about the use of student assessment in teacher evaluation. In fact, it’s worth noting that prior to 2008, Tennessee students achieved at a high level according to what were then the state standards. While the standards themselves were determined to need improvement, the point is teachers were helping students hit the designated mark.

Teachers were moving students forward at this time without evaluations tied to student test results. Policymakers set a mark for student performance, teachers worked to hit that mark and succeeded. Standards were raised in 2008, and since then, Tennessee has seen detectable growth in overall results, including some exciting news when NAEP results are released.

To suggest that a year without the use of TVAAS scores in teacher evaluations will cause a setback is to insult Tennessee’s teachers. As if they’ll just relax and not teach as hard.

Another argument raised against the resolution is that it will somehow absolve teachers and students of accountability.

Joe Sullivan reports in the Knoxville Mercury:

In an email to board members, [Interim Director of Schools Buzz] Thomas asserted that, “We need a good standardized test each year to tell us how we are doing compared to others across the state and the nation. We will achieve greatness not by shying away from this accountability but by embracing it.” And he fretted that, “This resolution puts that at risk. In short, it will divide us. Once again we could find ourselves in two disputing camps. The pro-achievement folks on the one side and the pro-teacher folks on the other.”

Right now, we don’t know if we have a good standardized test. Taking a year to get it right is important, especially in light of the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience.

Of course, there’s no need for pro-achievement and pro-teacher folks to be divided into two camps, either. Tennessee can have a good, solid test that is an accurate measure of student achievement and also treat teachers fairly in the evaluation process.

To be clear, teachers aren’t asking for a waiver from all evaluation. They are asking for a fair, transparent evaluation system. TVAAS has long been criticized as neither. Even under the best of circumstances, TVAAS provides a minimal level of useful information about teacher performance.

Now, we’re shifting to a new test. That shift alone makes it impossible to achieve a valid value-added score. In fact, researchers in the Journal of Educational Measurement have said:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

Changing to a new type of test creates value-added uncertainty. That means results attributed to teachers based on a comparison of this year’s tests and the old tests will not yield valid results.

While insisting that districts use TVAAS in teacher evaluations this year, the state is also admitting it’s not quite sure how that will work.

From Sullivan’s story:

When asked how these determinations will be made, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education acknowledges that a different methodology will have to be employed and says that, “we are still working with various statisticians and experts to determine the exact methodology we will use this year.”

Why not at take at least a year, be sure there’s a test that works, and then build a model based on that? What harm would come from giving teachers and students a year with a test that’s just a test? Moreover, the best education researchers have already warned that testing transitions create value-added bumps. Why not avoid the bumps and work to create an evaluation system that is fair and transparent?

Knox County has taken a stand. We’ll soon see if others follow suit. And if the state is listening.

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


 

 

JC Bowman on Hunger and Poverty

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

“Public Education” is on the lips of every politician, during every election cycle. Yet, the debate continues. It is doing well, it is doing poorly, it needs reform, whatever the narrative needs to be that day or what the audience wants to hear.

Well, there are three sides to every story: “Yours, mine, and the cold, hard truth,” like the old Don Henley song reminds us. Out of the roughly 55.5 million K-12 students in America, 49.5 million of them are in our public schools, which is a little over 89%. If you visit a public education classroom today, you would be amazed at what our educators do on a daily basis.

We must remind ourselves we are not producing components for an industrial and societal machine. We are educating children. We can all agree that an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. Teachers consistently tell us that “testing” and “preparing students for a test” are among their top concerns in our internal surveys.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

Educators, themselves, must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. Teachers face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen. Nearly every day, teachers must deal with diverse laws related to issues such as child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement. And many politicians are more concerned with a test score that their children produce than the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life.
Often educators must contend with the fact that students do not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food, if they have food at all at home. Issues like hunger and poverty, like it or not, are not imagined and they are prevalent in classrooms and schools across the nation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA.

It is hard to focus on education when you are hungry. Poverty and hunger also lead to other health issues, which also go untreated. What other profession besides public education teacher is evaluated on their students’ test scores, when students lack the basic necessities of life?

Steve Turner in his brilliant satirical poem “Creed” referenced the state of our culture, when he wrote prevailing illogical thought processes: “This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.” Seemingly educators bear the brunt of the outcomes of children, and society is a given a pass. The problems we confront are larger than the children walking through the school house door.

The solutions are more than a score on a test. So, when the next politician speaks about education when seeking your vote, ask them what their plans are to alleviate poverty and hunger in your community. That is much more important than test scores to a whole lot of families.

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

 


 

Federal Grant Helps 4,000 Students Pay for AP Exams

The U.S. Department of Education announced $28.4 million in grants to 41 states and Washington, D.C to defray costs of taking the Advanced Placement (AP) fees for low-income families.

From the U.S. Department of Education:

The grants are used to help pay for students from low-income families taking approved advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization and Cambridge International Examinations. By subsidizing test fees, the program encourages all students to take advanced placement tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree.

The grants included $362,985 awarded to the Tennessee Department of Education for the 2016 fiscal year, which means the department has already had the money and used it for students taking exams this past spring.

The Department had this to say:

More Tennessee students than ever before are taking AP exams and — more importantly — scoring high enough to become eligible for college credit. That’s key. One of our top priorities for the 2016-17 school year is strengthening pathways for students to be able to seamlessly transition into college and careers, and in order to do that, we have to provide more opportunities for students to earn postsecondary credit and industry certifications while in high school.

Sometimes these opportunities carry a price tag that may prohibit some of our students from being able to attain the college credit and/or certification they could otherwise earn if they were able to afford to take a specific exam. And in Tennessee, we want every student to be as equipped as possible when they graduate from high school. The funding announced today provided exam fee assistance on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge exams for about 4,000 economically disadvantaged students.

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


 

How Did MNPS High Schools And Subgroups Do On The ACT?

I recently wrote about the release of ACT scores for the state and specifically for Nashville. We learned that only 11% of MNPS students were college and career ready according to the ACT. 

Today, MNPS released more in depth information on the individual high schools as well as information on specific subgroups in Nashville. 

According to MNPS, 4,376 seniors took the ACT with the average score of 18.2. Seniors need to have a composite score of 21 or above to qualify for the HOPE scholarship. While the percent of high school students qualifying for HOPE scholarship decreased, the number of students qualifying for the scholarship actually increased from from 1,131 to 1,219 students.

Achievement Gap

Before we look at the scores of individual high schools, I want to look at the ACT scores based on subgroups. Below we see the gap between Black (16.7), Hispanic/Latino (16.9), and White (20.7) students. That’s a 4 point different between Black and White students and a 3.8 point difference Hispanic/Latino and White students.

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How did individual high schools do?

The top traditional high schools for ACT achievement are Hume-Fogg (26.8), MLK (26.3), and Nashville School of the Arts (20.5). The lowest traditional high schools are Pearl Cohn (14.5), Whites Creek (15.7), and Maplewood (15.7). Obviously, the top three schools are all magnet schools.

MNPS points out a few things about this year’s data:

Stratford tested many more students in 2016 and had an increase of 0.5 points. East Nashville, Whites Creek and Metro Nashville Virtual School saw test score increases while having modest increases in the number of test takers. LEAD Academy tested slightly fewer students but saw an increase in scores.

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How do we improve?

MNPS is working with Alignment Nashville to give free ACT preparation classes to students who cannot afford them. Last year, Alignment Nashville worked with Hunters Lane, Hillsboro, Maplewood, and Overton. Additional schools may be added this year.

I am so glad that Alignment Nashville is partnering with our schools to prepare our students for the ACT. We are doing a disservice to our students who graduate from high school not prepared for college or career. It breaks my heart that thousands of students are missing out on the HOPE scholarship. More must be done to help these students, and all of that shouldn’t be left to our high school teachers.

Preparing our students for graduation starts before the students even get to the high school level. MNPS transformed our high schools years ago towards the academy model. I think it’s time to start looking at the transformation of elementary and middle schools.

Elementary and middle schools need more supports in place to help close the gaps before students move on to high school. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope MNPS will be looking into ways to give more support to our lower grades.

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


 

Testing Resolve

The Tullahoma City Schools Board of Education will vote September 19th on a resolution related to state standardized tests. Specifically, the resolution calls for a shift to the use of ACT/SAT assessments and a significant reduction in the amount of time students spend taking tests.

A similar resolution was passed by the Board last year.

Here is the resolution:

A RESOLUTION OF THE TULLAHOMA CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION
IN SUPPORT OF ADMINISTRATION OF THE ACT OR SAT SUITE OF ASSESSMENTS TO MEET TCAP AND “EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT” REQUIREMENTS IN OUR END OF COURSE ASSESSMENTS AT THE HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL AND AT THE 3-8 GRADE LEVELS

WHEREAS, the Tullahoma City Board of Education is the local governmental body responsible for providing a public education to the students and families of Tullahoma City, Tennessee; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee through the work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Board of Education, and local boards of education has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Department of Education is currently working to implement a replacement to the former Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) for the 2016-2017 school year; and

WHEREAS, these new assessments are called TNReady for the areas of English/language arts and math, grades 3 – 8 and TCAP Social Studies Achievement and U.S. History End of Course (EOC) exams; and

WHEREAS, during the assessment cycle of the 2015-16 school year an attempt to administer the assessments was deemed by the Tennessee Department of Education to be a “No-Go;” and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Department of Education terminated the contract with Measurements, Incorporated and has secured the services of Questar to provide assessment services for Tennessee; and

WHEREAS, ACT and SAT have been used for decades as standard measures of college readiness and that all universities and colleges in Tennessee and the United States utilize the ACT as an admission assessment; and

WHEREAS, Pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-6-6001, all public school students must participate in a postsecondary readiness assessment such as the ACT or SAT. Districts may choose to administer the ACT or the SAT. Districts can also provide both assessments and allow their students to choose the assessment that is right for them; and

WHEREAS, one of the strategic goals of the Tennessee Department of Education is an increase of the average composite score to 21, and the benchmark for college readiness is a composite score of 21. The ACT has further broken down the benchmarks into an 18 for English, 22 for Math, 22 for Reading, and 23 for Science. If a student is able to score at, or above, these important benchmarks, they have a high probability of success in credit-bearing college courses. School districts are distinguished by the percentage of students meeting college readiness benchmarks; and

WHEREAS, both the ACT and the SAT are designed to assist colleges, universities, employers, and policy makers in the determination of college and career ready students, and experts in education administration, child development, and child psychology endorse standardized testing as a limited measure of progress and effectiveness in the important task of learning;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED

The Tullahoma City Board of Education implores the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education to allow school districts the opportunity to select either the math and English language arts assessments provided by the State of Tennessee or an English or math test that is part of the suites of standardized assessments available from either ACT or SAT.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,

The Tullahoma City Board of Education implores the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education to direct psychometricians, contractors, and developers to construct assessments designed to inform instructional practice and to provide accountability that would not require for administration a period of time in hours greater in aggregate than the specific grade level of the said child, and not to exceed eight hours in length per academic year.

More on testing:

Still Too Much Testing?

Testing Time Reductions Announced

Questar’s Challenge

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