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

 

Mitchell Questions Pearson “Emergency”

State Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville is questioning the wisdom of an emergency test-grading contract granted to Pearson for the grading of TNReady tests from this year.

According to WSMV:

“Pearson is no better than Measurement Inc.,” said Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville.

Mitchell, who has been critical of standardized testing, is not fully confident in Pearson.

“Just in the last week, they’ve lost another huge contract,” Mitchell said. “In the last few months, they’ve lost testing contracts with the state of Texas, state of New York and the state of Florida. So if they’re not producing for them, why are we to think that they will produce for us?”

He said the last minute moves are too costly for students, schools and the state.

Mitchell’s not the only one raising concerns about Pearson. According to the story:

The Washington Post recently profiled testing concerns with Pearson. It listed nearly 20 years of testing and scoring flaws that have caused the company to lose multi-million dollar contracts with schools in some cases.

It’s not clear how much value the state will receive for the $18.5 million contract as the grades 3-8 results will be incomplete (part II of testing was not completed) and the results are not anticipated until December, well past time to provide useful information for teachers and students.

In addition to this emergency contract, the state is also seeking a permanent vendor to develop and administer TNReady tests for the 2016-17 academic year.

More on TNReady:

Pearson: We’re Ready To Grade

TEA on TNReady

Why TNReady Wasn’t

 

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


 

 

 

An $18.5 Million Emergency

As a result of the failure of Measurement Inc. to deliver on its TNReady promises, the State of Tennessee has awarded a contract to Pearson to grade tests completed by students this year, including high school EOC tests and Part I tests that were completed. The contract pays $18.5 million and the estimated completion date for grading is December.

Grace Tatter has the details:

The state’s contract with Pearson goes through December for scoring and reporting of 2015-16 assessments, including high school exams, Part I grade 3-8 tests, and any completed Part II grade 3-8 exams.

Now, to be clear, the “emergency” is that some students completed tests that weren’t graded and won’t be graded by Measurement Inc. because they were fired.

What about the fact that some tests were completed online and others were completed on paper? Never fear, the state’s data team has a plan:

Measurement Inc. already has scored high school exams completed online last fall for students who are on block schedules. Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Townes said the state will use a formula to ensure that those scores are comparable to the scores of tests completed on paper, and to be graded by Pearson, this spring.

So, as a result of this new contract, there will be two different vendors grading the same test as well as some tests completed in an online format and some on pencil and paper.

Oh, and the results are due back in December. Well past time to have much value to inform instruction or help parents or students understand areas of deficiency.

Instead of spending $18.5 million on grading these tests which will have limited usefulness, the state could use that money to fully develop and pay for portfolio assessment at the district level for related arts and other non-tested teachers.

It could also use some of that money to support the unfunded mandate of RTI2.

Or, it could spend a portion of that money on developing an alternative assessment regimen — perhaps incorporating project-based assessment and reducing the reliance on standardized testing. Maybe even finding ways to reduce total testing time. Or, develop an assessment waiver as allowed under the new ESSA.

Out of crisis can come opportunity – and we have an opportunity and some unspent funds that could be used to develop better, more student-focused solutions going forward.

Instead, we’re handing money to Pearson and trying to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.

Rest assured:

…the department plans to select a new vendor in June to develop and administer next year’s state assessment.

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

Pearson: We’re Ready to Grade

While the Tennessee General Assembly forced a move away from Pearson as the state’s testing vendor in 2014, the familiar company (who delivered and scored TCAP for many years) is now back and will provide the grading for the TNReady high school tests.

Jason Gonzalez at the Tennessean notes:

The Tennessee Department of Education has contracted with its previous test vendor Pearson Education in an emergency maneuver to score TNReady high school tests.

The contract with Pearson is only for scoring and reporting of 2015-2016 assessments, according to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen in a letter Monday to school directors statewide.

The new contract is necessary because the Department of Education the state’s testing vendor, Measurement Inc. due to a failure to deliver the TNReady test as desired.

While high school tests will be scored, it’s not clear there will be any scores provided to students in grades 3-8 who completed Part I of the new assessment.

WATE in Knoxville reports:

So, the blank tests remain in the Durham warehouse. In another MI warehouse about 15 minutes away, there are thousands more boxes; they’re filled with Part I of the TNReady test. If your child took that test, chances are good that it’s just sitting in that warehouse. Scherich said those have all been scanned into MI’s system, but because the DOE cancelled the contract and, according to Scherich, never paid six months of invoices, it’s possible they’ll never be scored.

The state is currently seeking a vendor to both deliver and score the TNReady assessment in 2016-17.

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

 

 

Don’t Tell Candice

As it became clearer that TNReady simply wasn’t, more school districts saw parents attempting to opt their children out of the state-mandated tests. In the face of this challenge, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent a memo offering districts guidance on how to handle students who attempted to opt-out or refuse the test.

Part of the memo suggested that federal law requires test administration and earlier guidance provided to Murfreesboro City Schools suggested there could be financial penalties if districts failed to administer the tests.

The threat of withholding $3 million in BEP money from Williamson County eventually led that district to resume administration of the EOC tests in high school.

All along, the state has argued a district’s federal funds could be in jeopardy due to refusal to administer the test or a district’s inability to test at least 95% of its students.

As such, the argument goes, districts should fight back against opt-outs and test refusals by adopting policies that penalize students for taking these actions.

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

The state’s top education official, Merryl Tisch, had this to say about the prospect of withholding funds from districts:

“I think when you withdraw money from a school district, what you’re doing is you’re hurting the kids in the school district,” she said. “So I don’t think that’s an effective way to deal with it.”

While Tisch expressed frustration with the high opt-out numbers in some districts, her first response was not to punish districts (and their students) by withholding funds. Instead, she called for more communication and transparency surrounding the testing.

This year’s TNReady test lacked transparency and clear communication. As failures mounted, a blame game started. And when parents and some districts had had enough, rather than work through the challenges, Commissioner McQueen’s first response was to threaten sanctions, including the withholding of funds.

That sort of tactic may enable McQueen to get her way in the short-term, but it’s certainly not a way to build the trust and support she’ll need to usher in yet another testing vendor next school year.

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

 

 

 

Decision Time

I reported last week on the potential fight brewing between Williamson County Schools and the Tennessee Department of Education over End of Course testing this year.

Now, Melanie Balakit at the Tennessean reports that the time for a decision is fast approaching.

From the story:

“There is only one district where administration of high school and end-of-course exams have been suspended,” Chandler Hopper, state department of education spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “We are continuing to have discussions with this district and are hopeful that the commissioner’s authority to issue penalties will not be necessary.”

It is not clear what, if any, penalties would be issued from the Commissioner. The Department of Education did threaten to withhold BEP funds from districts who refused to administer Phase II of TNReady prior to the events that led to the cancellation of that portion of the test.

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

Ready for a Fight

Yesterday, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney issued a statement saying his district would not be administering the high school end of course tests in addition to the suspension of the grades 3-8 TNReady tests.

Commissioner McQueen is not very happy about that. She served notice to Looney and all other directors that refusing to administer the EOC would be considered a violation of state law.

Here’s the email she sent to Directors of Schools:

First, I want to thank you for your partnership and support as we have worked together to implement and administer the first year of a new assessment. I know you share my disappointment and frustration with the inability of our vendor to deliver on this higher quality assessment in grades 3-8, and I truly appreciate your patience and leadership.

 

I want to reiterate that the state’s termination of its contract with the testing vendor Measurement Incorporated (MI) and the related suspension of grades 3-8 testing does not apply to high school and End of Course (EOC) exams, and, therefore, all school districts are required to administer these assessments.

 

The state of Tennessee and local districts are under an obligation under both federal and state law, as well as state board of education rules and regulations, to administer annual assessments to our students. My decision to suspend grade 3-8 testing was based on the impossibility of testing and made in close consultation with the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). Based on the fact that testing in grades 3-8 was not feasible due to the failure of MI to meet its contractual obligations, the USDOE has acknowledged that the department made a good faith effort to administer the assessments to all students in grades 3-8. Unlike grades 3-8, districts are in receipt of EOC exams and the challenges associated with the delivery of grades 3-8 do not exist.

 

Because EOC exams have been delivered, students should have the opportunity to show what they know to measure their progress toward postsecondary and the workforce. Failure to administer the high school assessments will adversely impact students who will not only lose the experience of an improved, high quality test aligned to our higher standards but also the information we plan to provide to students, parents and educators relative to student performance. In addition, districts will eliminate the option for their teachers to use this year’s student achievement data as part of their teacher evaluation if the data results in a higher score.

 

Because of these factors and because state or district action to cancel high school testing would willfully violate the laws that have been set forth relative to state assessment, neither the state nor districts have the authority to cancel EOC exams. Districts that have taken action to cancel EOC exams or communicated such action are in violation of the law and should rescind this action or communication.

What Does This Mean?

In response to the Murfreesboro City School Board considering refusing to administer Phase II of TNReady, the Department of Education issued a statement noting that doing so would be considered a major violation of state law and that withholding state funds was a possible penalty.

McQueen doesn’t say what the penalty would be if districts like Williamson proceed with their refusal to administer the EOCs, but she may well attempt to impose a financial penalty.

In her email, McQueen says:

Failure to administer the high school assessments will adversely impact students who will not only lose the experience of an improved, high quality test aligned to our higher standards but also the information we plan to provide to students, parents and educators relative to student performance.

Just what students want and need: Another test. Some have proposed using the ACT battery of tests as the high school testing measure rather than the current EOC structure.

McQueen also says:

In addition, districts will eliminate the option for their teachers to use this year’s student achievement data as part of their teacher evaluation if the data results in a higher score. 

While the idea of flexibility seems nice, I want to reiterate that any data gleaned from this year’s test is invalid as a value-added indicator of teacher performance. As such, there’s no useful information to be gained relative to teacher performance from this year’s EOCs. Put another way, McQueen’s argument about depriving teachers of an opportunity is invalid.

While the use of value-added data to assess teacher performance is of limited usefulness under optimum conditions, under this year’s transition, it is clearly and plainly invalid. If the goal of using such data is to improve teacher performance, why use data that yields essentially no information?

I have not yet seen a response from Dr. Looney or any other directors. But a fight could be brewing.

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

 

TEA on TNReady

The Tennessee Education Association is out with a statement on TNReady:

“Tennessee teachers and students have lost countless hours of instruction time this school year preparing for the new TNReady assessment,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “The call to cancel this year’s test should have come more than two months ago when the first phase was such a disaster.”

“The state is so focused on testing that it overlooked the opportunity to salvage what was left of the school year and let teachers get back to educating our students. Instead, the state placed gathering data above the best interests of Tennessee students.”

“Moving forward, we have serious concerns about the state’s ability to find a new vendor and have an assessment ready to go next school year,” Gray continued. “It is time to slow way down on the state’s testing craze and make sure we are doing what is best for our students.”

“The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act at the federal level gives Tennessee a chance to reevaluate how it measures student and teacher performance. The new law allows for the development of innovative assessments, giving states a way out of the test-and-punish system we have operated under for many years. It will also allow us to look at other success indicators, as opposed to relying on a single test to determine if a school is meeting students’ needs.”

“We have the opportunity now to not just continue with the way things have always been done, but instead explore the opportunities afforded to us through ESSA to make sure every student receives a quality education.”

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

 

Why TNReady Wasn’t

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has an informative interview with the President of Measurement Inc., the company charged with delivering TNReady this year.

As I read the interview, a couple of items stood out. First, the company had never delivered an entire state’s online testing program. Tatter notes:

It was also an unprecedented task for Measurement Inc., which had never before developed and delivered a state’s entire online testing program.

Despite this, they somehow won the bid to deliver Tennessee’s program.

Second, the magnitude of the failure. Tatter:

About 48,000 students logged on that day, and about 18,000 submitted assessments. It’s unknown the number of students who weren’t having troubles with the test, but stopped after McQueen sent an email instructing districts to halt testing.

“It was a failure in some respects because we were supposed to design a system that would take 100,000 students in at one time… We had a problem with 48,000,” Scherich said.

Read that again. Measurement Inc. was tasked with developing an online platform that could handle 100,000 students taking a test at the same time. The system they developed couldn’t handle 48,000 students. They didn’t even develop a system that could handle HALF of what they were contracted to provide.

The company president goes on to detail the challenges of printing the tests in a short timeframe. However, back in February, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressed confidence in the printed tests:

“I want to stress to you that the paper version of TNReady is still TNReady,” McQueen wrote of the new test aligned to the state’s current Common Core academic standards.

She said the paper tests are being shipped to each district at no additional taxpayer cost.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Phase I tests did arrive, albeit quite late. And Phase II tests were not delivered in time to be administered this year.

Now, the state is seeking another vendor who can deliver the test in the 2016-17 academic year.


 

 

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