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

Is Jeb! TNReady?

Ok, we all know Jeb! already suspended his campaign, but he’ll still be on the ballot in Tennessee.

But, Charles Corra is comparing the TNReady rollout to the Jeb! campaign over at his blog:

The current TNReady debacle is much like Jeb! Bush’s campaign for President:  It was looked at as an inevitable success, generated a LOT of money in support of it, ended up crashing and burning, and ultimately took way too long to pull the plug.

Corra concludes:

Our teachers, students, and families deserve better.  If students are going to be tested with a rigorous, common core-aligned exam, then at least get the mechanics of the exam figured out beforehand.

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

TNReady Made Students Tech Ready

Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow and Hawkins County Educator Tina Faust offers her thoughts on the TNReady challenges and the benefits of digital test prep.

As I reflect on the testing situation in Tennessee, my initial thoughts and fears transcended to wonder. I realize that we are reverting back to pencil and paper, but I wonder where we’d be if Tennessee hadn’t decided to launch an initiative that included technology. I wonder how many teachers would still be resisting technology instead of embracing it as a learning opportunity. I wonder how many children would lack technology exposure in education. I wonder how children in low socioeconomic areas would thrive in a digital society. I wonder how large the digital divide would continue to grow if our classrooms ignore technology. I wonder at what point our education system would realize that children who lack technology exposure are hindered and are not college and career ready.

 

With these thoughts racing through my mind, it occurred to me that TNReady is about more than a test, it’s about connecting the digital world to our classrooms to ensure our students are future ready. As an Instructional Technology Specialist, I want all teachers to embrace technology and utilize it as a seamless part of the curriculum. TNReady has enabled me to make strides to accomplish this goal. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) worked with districts to ensure infrastructure was in place to support student computer usage. Many districts had to purchase technology and improve infrastructure to meet the perceived demands of TNReady; which equated to more technology within our schools. Once resistant teachers began to embrace technology and utilize it with students, predominately because the TDOE put an emphasis on technology integration. While not all teachers see technology as an integral resource, TNReady started the process to change our mindset.

 

Growth mindset is essential if we are preparing the generation of the future. It is imperative that Tennessee’s education system meet the demands of society and connect education to the digital world as it provides relevance to our students. Moving Tennessee in a direction to embrace a digital culture is a positive goal that will achieve this connection. While many of us expressed angst over the testing situation, it is important to remember that we are growing and assessing the improvements that will make our classrooms a place where Tennessee students will connect and thrive. I see TNReady as growing a TechReady environment that prepares our students for life after K-12.

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

 

Ready to Waive

Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen announced today that in light of difficulties with the administration of the TNReady test, they are proposing that TNReady data NOT be included in this year’s round of teacher evaluations.

The statement comes after the Knox County Board of Education made a similar request by way of resolution in December. That resolution was followed by a statewide call for a waiver by a coalition of education advocacy groups. More recently, principals in Hamilton County weighed in on the issue.

Here’s Governor Haslam’s press release on the waiver:
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he would seek additional flexibility for teachers as the state continues its transition to the TNReady student assessment.

Under the proposal, teachers would have the choice to include or not to include student results from the 2015-2016 TNReady assessment in his or her evaluation score, which typically consists of multiple years of data. The proposal keeps student learning and accountability as factors in an educator’s evaluation while giving teachers the option to include this year’s results if the results benefit them. The governor will work with the General Assembly on specific language and a plan to move the proposal through the legislative process.

“Tennessee students are showing historic progress. The state made adjustments to teacher evaluation and accountability last year to account for the transition to an improved assessment fully aligned with Tennessee standards, which we know has involved a tremendous amount of work on the part of our educators,” Haslam said. “Given recent, unexpected changes in the administration of the new assessment, we want to provide teachers with additional flexibility for this first year’s data.”

Tennessee has led the nation with a teacher evaluation model that has played a vital role in the state’s unprecedented progress in education. Tennessee students are the fastest improving students in the country since 2011. The state’s graduation rate has increased three years in a row, standing at 88 percent. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade-level in math and nearly 60,000 more on grade-level in science.  The plan builds upon the Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act proposed by the governor and approved by the General Assembly last year. This year is the first administration of TNReady, which is fully aligned with the state’s college and career readiness benchmarks.

“Providing teachers with the flexibility to exclude first-year TNReady data from their growth score over the course of this transition will both directly address many concerns we have heard and strengthen our partnership with educators while we move forward with a new assessment,” Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “Regardless of the test medium, TNReady will measure skills that the real world will require of our students.”

Most educator evaluations have three main components: qualitative data, which includes principal observations and always counts for at least half of an educator’s evaluation; a student achievement measure that the educator chooses; and a student growth score, which usually comprises 35 percent of the overall evaluation

 

While the release mentions last year’s changes to teacher evaluation to account for TNReady, it fails to note the validity problems created by an evaluation system moving from a multiple choice (TCAP) to a constructed-response test (TNReady).

Here’s the Tennessee Education Association on the announcement:

“TEA applauds Gov. Haslam on his proposal to give teachers the flexibility to not use TNReady test data in their 2015-16 evaluations. It is encouraging to see the governor listen to the widespread calls from educators, parents and local school boards for a one-year moratorium for TNReady data in teacher evaluations.”

 

“It is important that schools are given the same leniency as students and teachers during the transition to TNReady. These test scores that Gov. Haslam is acknowledging are too unreliable for use in teacher evaluations, are the same scores that can place a school on the priority list and make it eligible for state takeover. All high-stakes decisions tied to TNReady test data need to be waived for the 2015-16 school year.”

 

“While the governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction toward decoupling standardized test scores with high-stakes decisions, these measurements have proven to be unreliable statistical estimates that are inappropriate for use in teacher evaluations at all. TEA will continue its push to eliminate all standardized test scores from annual teacher evaluations.”

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

Hamilton Principals Call for TNReady Waiver

A group of school principals in Hamilton County is joining the call for a waiver of the use of TNReady scores in teacher evaluations and accountability data in light of day one problems with the administration of the online assessment.

Here’s the resolution:

 

 

HCPA Resolution Regarding State Assessments

 

Back to the Future

After yesterday’s opening day fiasco with the new TNReady test, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that all TNReady tests for this year will now shift to paper and pencil tests and a new testing window will be created. No testing will happen before February 22nd.

Here’s the letter Commissioner McQueen sent to Directors of Schools about the shift:

Thank you for your patience as we faced technical challenges with the MIST platform this morning. At 8:25 a.m. CST the state’s vendor for TNReady, Measurement Incorporated, experienced a severe network outage, causing significant problems with the MIST platform. Like you, we are incredibly disappointed that the MIST platform was not accessible to schools across the state as the Part I testing window opened.

 

Shortly after learning about the issue, we advised that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes.

 

Throughout the 2015-16 school year, the department has continuously worked with Measurement Incorporated to strengthen the online testing platform. As a result of district feedback and through our efforts to collaborate, we have mitigated and eliminated many technical issues. The online platform has undergone many capacity tests, yielding actionable information to drive improvements. Following Break MIST Day last October, we’ve made significant investments in server capacity. As a follow up to our Jan. 12 capacity test, the department’s technology team also spent multiple weeks in the field visiting select districts around the state to reproduce system errors in a real-world, real-time situation to gather better diagnostic information. As a result of this continued analysis, we offered districts the option to move to paper testing as we saw continuing issues with how the platform interacted with districts’ infrastructure.

 

Unfortunately, issues have continued to arise with the online platform. The new nature of the issue this morning has highlighted the uncertainly around the stability of Measurement Inc.’s testing platform, MIST. Despite the many improvements the department has helped to make to the system in recent months and based on the events of this morning, we are not confident in the system’s ability to perform consistently. In the best interest of our students and to protect instructional time, we cannot continue with Measurement Incoporated’s online testing platform in its current state. Moving forward, during the 2015-16 school year TNReady will be administered via paper and pencil (both Part I and Part II).

 

We thank districts, schools, and teachers for their commitment and perseverance to move our students to a 21st century learning environment. We know this is what the real world requires. We understand and appreciate the investment of time, money, and effort it has taken to attain readiness.

 

As a result of a statewide shift to paper and pencil, we will delay and extend the Part I testing window. Measurement Incorporated is currently scheduling the printing and shipping of the paper tests, and the department will share the revised testing window with districts by Thursday of this week. We understand that the shift to paper and pencil testing has many scheduling implications for your schools, teachers, and students. We thank you for your patience and cooperation as we transition to a test medium that we are confident will allow all students to show what they know.

 

TNReady is designed to assess true student understanding and problem-solving abilities, not just basic memorization skills. Regardless of the medium of assessment, this new and improved test will provide schools, teachers, and parents with valuable information about our students college and career readiness.

 

Warning Signs

Prior to Monday’s scheduled test administration, some educators across the state were raising concerns about the testing system and its ability to handle the load of student all across the state.

Amanda Haggard reports:

In a letter sent to the Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen on Jan. 31, RePublic CEO Ravi Gupta outlines exactly what happened when the school made its attempt at the test. From the letter:

Our experience on January 28, however, raised substantial concerns about the technical capacity of MIST [Measurement Incorporated Secure Testing platform] to support state-wide testing. RePublic has only 1,200 kids — a tiny fraction of the State’s 500,000. On January 28, we attempted to administer the Math practice test on MIST as a step toward preparing kids for the first round of state exams. More than half of our kids were unable to log on, were kicked off the platform after logging on, or could not submit a completed test. The critical issue, confirmed by MIST representatives, was an error or series of errors on MIST’s own servers.

Haggard goes on to detail other concerns raised ahead of Monday’s test administration.

A Call for a Pause

In response to the challenges presented by the TNReady test administration, some legislators are now calling for a pause on test-based accountability for students, teachers, and schools. The tests would still be administered, and results reported, but they would not impact student grades, teacher evaluations, or the state’s priority schools list.

What Happens Now?

The state now has asked its vendor, Measurement, Inc. to provide paper and pencil tests. These will not start before February 22nd. Districts and schools will have to reschedule testing based on the availability of tests and guidance from the Department of Education.

Now that the tests have shifted to pencil and paper, some are asking how they will be graded. Human graders were always a part of the equation due to the constructed-response nature of the tests, but they will now be assessing handwritten responses.

A Pattern?

This is the third consecutive year the state has had problems with its testing regimen. In 2014, quick scores were not ready in time to be factored into student grades. Last year, there was a change in quick score calculation that was not clearly communicated to districts and which resulted in confusion when results were posted.

 

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

 

 

(NOT) Ready on Day One

It’s campaign season and candidate after candidate is telling voters they are the clear choice because they will be “ready on day one.”

Likewise, it’s the beginning of statewide testing season in Tennessee and districts have been told the state’s new system would be ready on day one.

Except it wasn’t.

Brian Wilson at the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reports:

A technology failure from a state vendor halted standardized testing across Tennessee on the first day that TNReady, the state’s new online exam program, was set to be administered on a widespread basis.

The state’s testing platform “experienced major outages across the state” Monday morning because of network issues with Measurement, Inc., who is contracted to administer the standardized exams, according to a memo Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent to schools directors across the state.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you …

As problems began this morning, the Department of Education sent the following notice to school districts:

At 8:25 a.m. CST the MIST platform experienced major outages across the state. These outages were caused because the network utilized by Measurement Inc. experienced a failure. We are urgently working with Measurement Inc. to identify the causes and correct the problem. At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information. However, if you have students that are successfully testing, please allow them to complete the current session.

Note, this problem affects both the MICA and MIST platforms. 

The MIST Help Desk is aware of the problem and will be not accepting additional phone calls on this issue. Please encourage your technology directors to call the department’s TNReady Focus Room.

We will provide frequent updates as information becomes available. Thank you for your patience.

It’s not clear how today’s delay will impact testing schedules across the state or whether the TNReady platforms will be ready tomorrow.

Williamson County Schools had already pushed the start of their TNReady testing back to Wednesday as a precaution against the sort of testing glitches that occurred today.

A Call for Fairness

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement from their President, Barbara Gray, calling for fair treatment of teachers in light of the TNReady problems:

TEA has long had concerns about this transition to a statewide online  assessment. We have seen problems with pilot assessments and practice tests in the past, and unfortunately the first day of TNReady resulted in more issues and frustrations for our students and teachers.

 

Leading up to today’s testing, we have heard from educators and parents statewide about concerns with the state’s capacity to handle so many students on the server at one time, as well as concerns about local districts having enough resources to complete the testing with so little funding from the state.

 

It is unacceptable to have this kind of statewide failure when the state has tied so many high-stakes decisions to  the results of this assessment. Our students and teachers have enough stress and anxiety around these assessments without adding additional worries about technical issues.

 

The state must grant a one-year waiver – at a minimum – from including TNReady scores in teacher evaluations. It is unfair and inappropriate to stake our teachers’ professional standing on flawed, unreliable test scores in any year, but there are even greater implications and uncertainty while implementing a new assessment.

School Boards Expressing Concern

Ahead of the TNReady tests, several school boards have expressed concern about the use of the results in teacher evaluations this year.

MNPS and Knox County are among those asking the state to waive the results this year.

No word on whether state officials are still perplexed about why teachers are wary having TNReady count toward this year’s evaluations.

Again, it’s not clear when we’ll actually be TNReady, just that it wasn’t on day one.

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