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


 

Assessment Update: Eliminating Part I, Reducing Testing Time, and Online Assessment Rollout

In an email to all Tennessee teachers, Commissioner Candice McQueen had the following updates to give regarding the upcoming year’s assessment, which includes eliminating Part I, reducing testing time, and a rollout of online assessments:

This summer we announced how we’re streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year.:

  • We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year, which will be April 17–May 5, 2017. High school students on block schedule will take fall EOCs November 28–December 16.
  • We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200–210 minutes shorter than last year; in high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes.
  • We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar, our new testing vendor, to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history & geography exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
  • In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place during the operational testing window near the end of the year. Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window.

You can find more detailed information in our original email announcement (here) and in our updated FAQ (here). 

2016-17 TCAP Blueprints Available

According to an email last week from Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, updated blueprints for TNReady — designed to provide guidance to teachers — are now available.

Here’s the email:

Last week I shared important assessment updates for the 2016-17 school year. Highlights from this announcement include moving to one assessment window, reducing testing time, and adopting a phase-in approach as we transition to online assessments. In case you missed it, you can view this update here.

Today I’m excited to share more information about our 2016-17 TCAP assessments, including updated assessment blueprints for the TNReady 3-8 and End of Course tests, as well as the blueprints for the optional second-grade assessment. These are designed to offer an overview of the structure of the test and help you plan your instruction. You can view the updated blueprints here.

Thank you for your patience as we’ve worked with our new assessment vendor to ensure these blueprints are helpful and provide an accurate reflection of the tests your students will take. We’ll continue to update our assessment website (here) with additional guidance and resources; additionally, you can find practice materials in EdTools, and your local testing coordinator can help you access those resources, if needed.

While blueprints and practice resources offer helpful guidance, the best preparation for student success is high-quality instruction every day. Our assessments are fully aligned to our current academic standards, which you can view here.

 

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


 

 

More on 2016-17 Testing in Tennessee

From an email sent by Commissioner McQueen to teachers:

Today we finalized our contract with Questar as our primary vendor to develop and administer state assessments this school year. As we move forward with a new assessment vendor, we’re also streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year. You can find more detailed information in our updated FAQ (here).

We’ll continue to share more information soon and look forward to sharing assessment blueprints by the end of July

  • •We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year. Assessments that require extended written responses, like the writing portion of ELA tests and the writing portion of the U.S. history test, will be completed at the beginning of the testing window to allow the vendor time to expedite the scoring process.
    •We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200-210 minutes shorter than last year. As an example, for a typical third grader, the 2016-17 TCAP end of year assessments will be shorter by 210 minutes compared to last year. In high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes. For a typical eleventh grader, this would mean the 2016-17 TCAP End of Course assessments will be shorter in total by 225 minutes compared to last year. Please see the complete testing times chart here for further information.
    •We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
    •In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place in the operational testing window near the end of the year. This one-year reprieve provides time to develop an assessment for the 2017-18 school year aligned to the state’s Tennessee-specific social studies standards. However, the operational U.S. history End of Course exam for high school students will continue as planned for the 2016-17 school year.
    •Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window. The ELA field test will include one subpart featuring a writing prompt; the U.S. history field test will also include one subpart featuring a writing prompt. One-third to one-half of students will need to participate in this field test, and the group of students selected to participate will rotate each year.

The goal of TCAP hasn’t changed—we’re providing students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking, problem solving, and writing skills to ensure they’re progressing on the path to success after high school. However, we’re taking a smarter logistical approach with a qualified, proven assessment vendor.

Most importantly, we’re committed to listening to you and partnering with you to create meaningful assessments. Our partnership with teachers is a critical component of our assessment program. We eliminated Part I, moved to a phase-in approach for online testing, and reimagined the writing prompts and scoring timetable largely based on feedback from teachers, and I look forward to continuing these important conversations. We’ll also continue to involve Tennessee educators in many aspects of the assessment process, including item review, bias and sensitivity review, rangefinding, and standard setting. Additionally, beginning this year, we will also work with Tennessee educators to write new test items; the first workshop will be in October—stay tuned for more information.

 

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


 

Questar’s Challenge

After missing a self-imposed deadline to select a new testing vendor, the Tennessee Department of Education finally announced Questar as the choice to design and implement TNReady for the 2016-17 school year and beyond.

Questar is tasked with picking up the pieces of the mess left by Measurement Inc’s testing failures last year. There’s plenty of information about the struggle leading up to last year’s debacle, and it’s information Questar may want to study closely.

Questar does have a record of coming in to fix a previous vendor’s mistakes. Most notably, in New York. Interestingly, Questar used questions designed and developed by Pearson (the previous vendor) in the first year of new tests in New York.

This arrangement is not uncommon and in fact, is similar to Measurement Inc’s contract with AIR to provide questions from Utah’s test for TNReady.

However, such an arrangement is not without problems.

Politico reported on challenges last year when Questar took over New York’s testing. Specifically:

An error found in the fifth- through eighth-grade English exam, and one that the state education department already has advised will be in the math exams, hasn’t helped the situation.

The tests directed students to plan their written answers to exam questions on “Planning Pages,” however no planning pages were included in the test booklets, according to a report from the Buffalo News.

Pearson immediately released a statement saying the design error was not its fault and Questar said the tests were still valid and blamed the transition for the error.

It’s the type of blame game that may sound familiar to those who watched this year’s TNReady fiasco.

A blog post from a parent blog in New York describes how the error unfolded. Schools were notified well into the test administration:

The message was sent at 9:09 AM from SED and I saw [it] at 9:30 …when most students are done and have turned in their books…. Even if an administrator is on their email all day (which they aren’t) it is too late to walk around on tests that started at 8:00 to interrupt testing rooms to correct the mistake.

And while Questar gets high marks for its transparency efforts, some see a bit lacking in that department as well:

It is true that the amount of operational test material and the number of items disclosed is more than was given out in each of the prior three years of Pearson’s core-aligned testing. And since 2012, this is the earliest this has happened. [Note: When CTB/McGraw-Hill was the test publisher during the NCLB years, the complete test was accessible to the public on SED’s web site within weeks of its administration, along with answer keys. Item analysis data followed shortly thereafter.]
Upon review of the just-released spring 2016 testing output, however, certain useful data have not been made available. SED has been moved to offer us a translucent view of the exams, but it still is not being entirely transparent.

The bottom line: Questar is walking into quite a mess in Tennessee. It’s something they are surely aware of and something they have experience handling.

Going forward, the question will be how does Questar work with TNDOE to bring transparency and efficacy to a process that lacked both in 2015-16?

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


 

 

 

Neveready

Will Tennessee ever have a TNReady test?

The answer to that question got even fuzzier today as a Department of Education “deadline” to name a new test maker came and went with no announcement.

From Chalkbeat:

Tennessee has missed its own deadline to hire the testing company that will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off this spring.

The state canceled the North Carolina test maker’s contract in April, weeks after the launch of the company’s online testing platform went so badly that the tests were halted entirely. In May, officials awarded an emergency contract to testing conglomerate Pearson to grade some tests that did work — and said they would choose another company to handle the state’s testing program by the end of June.

The missed deadline comes just days after another scathing report revealing the details of emails leading up to the TNReady first day failure.

Apparently, when TNDOE sets a “deadline” it’s totally optional.

What does this mean?

The tight timeline also means that students and teachers likely will enter the school year without a sense of what their end-of-year tests will look like. Last year, some students began taking practice tests in October; it’s hard to imagine that happening this year.

Perhaps TNReady is really just about developing the life skill of adapting to chaos.

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


 

 

The One About the Emails

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat has an interesting look into emails between the Tennessee Department of Education, Measurement Inc., and school districts as the state prepared for the TNReady tests.

The central message is that there were clear warning signs that TNReady simply wasn’t.

But, there’s one key email that pretty much says it all:

Either way, the department’s top technology official put it simply when he emailed McQueen on the day of the failure. “It appears that greater procedural and operational rigor could have prevented the network outage,” Cliff Lloyd wrote to McQueen. (emphasis added)

The whole piece is worth a read — lots of good info about what was known and when.

But, read what Cliff Lloyd wrote again. The disaster that was TNReady in 2016 could have been prevented. Both the state’s vendor and state officials simply didn’t do what was required to make that happen.

More on TNReady:

TNReady: Time for a Trade?

An $18.5 Million Emergency?

Not Ready at All

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


 

Ready for 5th Grade?

As this year’s TNReady testing transition faced problems and ultimately, was not completed, 5th-grade students at a Chattanooga school were preparing a report to improve testing in Tennessee.

The report was 14 pages and was mailed to Governor Bill Haslam in an attempt to influence the state’s decisions on testing going forward.

This project, by the way, is exactly the type of project-based learning that can and should be used more often to demonstrate student understanding of what they’ve learned.

Said one student of the project:

“We wanted to help make changes about something we’re passionate about,” Romero said. “And we learned how to unite to persuade someone.”

As a report on project-based assessment in one Kentucky district indicated:

The entire curriculum at this school has been redesigned around interdisciplinary projects, which take several weeks to complete. The English and social studies seventh-grade PBATs were group projects that took place in the fall.

One by one, the students stand and give a 20-minute solo presentation with a PowerPoint or video. Separately, they’ve handed in 15-page research papers. They’re giving these presentations to panels of judges made up of teachers from other grades or the high school, officials from a neighboring district, education students from the University of Kentucky, and fellow students.

Moving toward a hybrid model of standardized tests and project-based assessments could be a way to improve Tennessee’s testing system.

Commissioner McQueen is conducting a summer listening tour about testing, and that’s a great opportunity to share alternative strategies.

For now, the students at Nolan Elementary are demonstrating they are ready for a transition to a student-centered assessment strategy.

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

 

TNReady: Time for a Trade?

TC Weber thinks the TNDOE needs to trade in TNReady and the rest of the current testing regime for a new model:

The Tennessee Department of Education has faced a similar dilemma for the last few years. Every spring, without fail, there is some issue with the tests and they have to send them to the garage to be fixed. I think it’s safe to say that this year the equivalent of the transmission falling out. Parents, teachers, and even legislators have been telling the TNDOE that things are getting to the point that it’s getting cost prohibitive to fix and that we really need to start exploring a new policy. But unfortunately, the message doesn’t seem to be getting to the TNDOE. They just keep reaching for the checkbook, making a temporary fix, and then praying nothing else goes wrong.

It’s a good read and TC proposes some solid solutions, like using some of the new flexibility granted by ESSA to move toward a truly new model of testing.

Read it all here.

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

 

Rite of Passage

Ah, springtime. A time for warm days, cool nights, rain, and graduation. Yes, spring marks a rite of passage for students leaving one phase of life and entering another.

Lately, this season has brought another ritual: The Tennessee Department of Education’s failure to deliver student test scores. Each of the last three years has seen TNDOE demonstrate it’s inability to get state testing right (nevermind the over-emphasis on testing to begin with).

Back in 2014, there was a delay in the release of the all-powerful “quick scores” used to help determine student grades. Ultimately, this failure led to an Assistant Commissioner losing her job.

Then, in 2015, the way “quick scores” were computed was changed, creating lots of confusion. The Department was quick to apologize, noting:

We regret this oversight, and we will continue to improve our processes such that we uphold our commitment to transparency, accuracy, and timeliness with regard to data returns, even as we experience changes in personnel.

The processes did not appear to be much improved at all as the 2016 testing cycle got into full swing, with a significant technical failure on Day One.

As the now annual spring testing failure season approached, it was all out chaos, with the state’s testing vendor and the Commissioner of Education playing the blame game and students, teachers, and schools left with no test at all.  

All of the TNReady’s unreadiness led to an “emergency” contract for grading tests that will have them back in the hands of teachers and parents in time for the December holidays. Just the gift everyone wants!

Last year, Commissioner McQueen and her staff blamed a lack of communication during a staff transition:

Our goal is to communicate early and often regarding the calculation and release of student assessment data. Unfortunately, it appears the office of assessment logistics did not communicate decisions made in fall 2014 regarding the release and format of quick scores for the 2014-15 school year in a timely manner

This year, it was the state’s vendor, Measurement Inc:

TNReady was designed to provide Tennessee students, teachers, and families with better information about what students know and understand, and the failure of this vendor has let down the educators and students of our state.

Three years, two Commissioners, and a series of testing failures, with 2016’s the biggest yet.

What does spring of 2017 hold for Tennessee’s schools? Can we expect another testing mishap, or will the cycle be broken? Who will Candice McQueen blame if and when the testing failures we’ve come to expect happen again?

Maybe our old friend Pearson will not only provide a holiday miracle (graded tests, yay!) but also save us from the perils of yet another year with incomplete, confusing, or just plain meaningless results.

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