Phasing Out

As Tennessee schools prepare to administer Phase II of the TNReady tests in late April and early May, parents are petitioning the General Assembly to stop the second phase altogether.

Grace Tatter reports:

Nearly 2,000 parents have signed a petition asking Gov. Bill Haslam and other state leaders to nix the entire second part of Tennessee’s new standardized assessment for students grades 3-11.

The change.org petition, which was started last week, garnered 1,000 signatures in its first three days from parents across the state.

The petition was started by Tullahoma parent and School Board member Jessica Fogarty.

While the Department of Education indicates it has no plans to suspend TNReady testing for this year, the Tullahoma School Board is set to vote on a resolution asking for just that at a meeting on Monday, April 18th.

Here’s a draft of that resolution:

A RESOLUTION OF THE TULLAHOMA CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION

TO SUPPORT A DELAY IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF TCAP ASSESSMENTS AT THE 3-8 GRADE LEVELS UNTIL SUCH A TIME THAT THE ASSESSMENTS AT EACH GRADE LEVEL NOT EXCEED A TOTAL NUMBER OF HOURS AS ENUMERATED BY THE GIVEN GRADE

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 2015-2016 school year; and

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

WHEREAS, this school year is the first year that the new assessments will be administered and as such, the new assessments are more appropriate tools for establishing baseline performance than they are for evaluating or comparing performance; and

WHEREAS, because of the testing transition within TCAP including TNReady and other issues, the Tennessee Department of Education has already acknowledged that, for the 2015-2016 school year, public school systems in Tennessee will likely not be able to integrate the test results into each student’s final grades; and

WHEREAS, the Senate Education Committee of the Tennessee General Assembly has scheduled a hearing to address issues and concerns associated with the delivered assessment product provided by Measurement, Incorporated; and

WHEREAS, 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; and

WHEREAS, current TCAP-TNReady mandated assessments in grade 3 exceed 11.23 hours per student, or more than the ACT Test at 2.95 hours,the SAT Test at 3.00 hours, the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) at 3.75 hours, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) at 2.83 hours or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) at 6.25 hours; and

WHEREAS, current TCAP-TNReady mandated assessments in grades four and five (4, 5) exceed 11.08 hours per student, or more than the ACT Test at 2.95 hours,the SAT Test at 3.00 hours, the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) at 3.75 hours, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) at 2.83 hours or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) at 6.25 hours; and

WHEREAS, current TCAP-TNReady mandated assessments in grades six, seven, and eight (6, 7, 8) exceed 11.83 hours per student, or more than the ACT Test at 2.95 hours,the SAT Test at 3.00 hours, the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) at 3.75 hours, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) at 2.83 hours or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) at 6.25 hours;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED

The Tullahoma City Board of Education implores the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education to direct school districts to delay administrations of the TNReady suite of assessments until such a time that the assessments are of a reasonable amount of time for student completion of the assessment.

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.

 

 

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

 

CANCELLED!

While school boards in Tennessee discuss not delivering TNReady Phase II and the state’s Department of Education says doing so would cost districts their BEP money, the Commissioner of Education in Alaska has scrapped new computer-based tests this year.

The Washington Post reports:

Alaska officials have canceled the state’s computer-based standardized testing for the year, citing repeated technical problems that were interrupting students’ exams, throwing schools into chaos and threatening the validity of results.

“I don’t believe under the circumstances that the assessment we were administering was a valid assessment,” Susan McCauley, interim commissioner of the state education department, said in an interview Tuesday. “Validity relies on a standardized assessment condition, and things were anything but standardized in Alaska last week.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. Tennessee’s new tests got off to a rocky start in February and the backup plan, pencil and paper testing, faced a bumpy rollout as well.

Instead of cancelling this year’s tests or at least moving forward without administering Phase II, Tennessee is plowing ahead. And, despite serious questions regarding data validity, the results could still count for some teacher evaluations and for school and district accountability.

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

Ready to Refuse

As Tennessee schools prepare for Phase II of TNReady, the Department of Education has sent districts a memo outlining how they should handle students who refuse or attempt to “opt-out” of the test.

The general gist, according to reporting by Grace Tatter, is that you can’t opt-out or refuse. She reports:

District leaders received a memo last week instructing schools to “address student absences on testing days in the same manner as they would address a student’s failure to participate in any other mandatory activity at school (e.g. final exams) by applying the district’s or school’s attendance policies.”

The memo specifically notes:

 “State and federal law also requires student participation in state assessments. In fact, these statutes specifically reference the expectation that all students enrolled in public schools in Tennessee will complete annual assessments.”

That’s not entirely true.

Federal law, even with the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to administer annual assessments in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school.

But there’s a difference in requiring a state to administer and requiring a student to complete an assessment. Federal law requires administration of the test, but does not compel students to complete the exams.

Then, there is state law. The memo lacks specific references to Tennessee statute, but there are a few sections that relate to testing.

TCA 49-1-6 includes references to performance assessment and the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). This portion of state law says that annual assessments will be administered in grades 3-8 and then outlines the secondary school testing schedule. Here again, the law notes tests will be administered, but contains no compulsory language for students.

Then there’s TCA 49-6-60 dealing with proficiency testing. This section specifically details testing to be administered in grades 8, 10, and 11 as a strategy to promote college readiness. As these three tests are required for graduation, they are essentially mandated. Students who don’t take them won’t complete the graduation requirements.

What’s missing? Language that compels a student to take the test or requires a district to compel students to take the test. The memo says that “state and federal” statutes specifically reference the expectation that students will complete the assessment. True, TVAAS and other accountability measures are made valid by significant student participation in state tests. But, that alone doesn’t make them compulsory. Unless it’s one of the three proficiency tests specifically referenced in the graduation requirements section, there’s no language directly compelling students to participate in annual assessments.

It’s worth noting that while the Department of Education has said there would be penalties if districts refused to administer the TNReady tests, the memo says districts are not authorized to allow “opting-out” or test refusal. What it doesn’t say is what impact allowing opt-out would have on the district. If a district offers the test, and students refuse, then what?

Stay tuned as Phase II starts later this month.

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

 

 

A Little Less Ready

Grace Tatter reports on proposed reductions to the total testing time for TNReady:

After weeks of hard conversations prompted by the rocky debut of Tennessee’s new assessment, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Monday that the state will reduce the number of hours that students spend taking TNReady in its second year.

Beginning in 2016-17, the State Department of Education plans to scrap TNReady Part I in math and streamline the English portion of Part I, she said. Department officials will determine how many hours of testing the changes will save students in the coming weeks.

On average, third-graders this year will have spent 11.2 hours taking TNReady end-of-course tests; seventh-graders, 11.7 hours; and high school students, 12.3 hours.

The announcement comes amid concerns expressed by parents and district leaders and at least one district inquiring about the possibility of not administering TNReady Phase II this year.

Tullahoma’s Dan Lawson said:

“Outside of RTI-squared and TNReady, we don’t have time to do anything,” Lawson said. “We’re trying to have class on occasion.”

For more on education politics and policy in the volunteer state, follow @TNEdReport

Ready to Pay

This week, the Murfreesboro City School Board discussed the possibility of refusing to administer Phase II of the TNReady test.

Board members cited frustration with the rollout of TNReady and the subsequent lost instructional time. Additionally, some members noted this year’s TNReady challenges have caused increased stress for teachers and students.

All of this prompted speculation about what would happen if an entire district refused to administer the state-mandated test.

Here’s the short answer: Money. The district would be “fined” by having a portion of its BEP allocation withheld as allowed in state law.

In response to a question on this issue, the Tennessee Department of Education issued the following statement:

Under both state law and State Board of Education rules, the commissioner of education is charged with ensuring compliance with all education laws and rules. T.C.A. 49-3-353 authorizes the commissioner to withhold a portion or all of the Tennessee BEP funds that a school system is otherwise eligible to receive to enforce education laws and State Board of Education rules.

In addition, the State Board states that the department shall impose sanctions on school systems, which may include withholding part or all of state school funding to the non-approved system.

An entire school system refusing to participate in state mandated testing would be a major violation of state law and rule, and the school system could be considered a non-approved system subject to sanctions, including the loss of state funding.

The department has a responsibility to ensure that all students are on track to be college and career ready, which it monitors in part through annual assessments. We take that responsibility seriously and expect districts and schools to do the same. We want to work with all our school systems, including Murfreesboro City, as we continue to administer and improve our state assessments and ultimately ensure that all our students are receiving a high-quality education. The department has been working with Dr. Gilbert and the district on this issue and will continue conversations with her team as we work toward this goal.

It Means Lost Money

So, while not specifying the level of impact, the DOE is making clear that the violation would be “major” and that funds would be withheld. A recent example of the DOE using its authority to withhold funds can be found in the “Great Hearts Controversy” in Nashville. When MNPS failed to authorize a charter school the State Board found should have been authorized, Commissioner Kevin Huffman fined the district $3.4 million.

For now, no action has been taken by Murfreesboro City Schools or any other district in terms of refusing to administer TNReady.

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

 

Phase II Ready

Now that the troublesome Phase I of TNReady is over, districts in coming weeks will move to TNReady Phase II.

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has more on what Phase II means for students and schools:

The second part of TNReady features mainly multiple-choice questions (although, unlike in years past, students sometimes will be able to select several choices.) It has about 60 questions each for math and English, split up over two days. When the test originally was to be administered online, Part II also was supposed to include interactive questions in which students could use drag-and-drop tools, but those won’t be possible on the paper version.

So, multiple choice, no interactive questions, and shorter testing times for this phase.

It’s worth noting that the test is in two phases and includes significantly more total testing time than was common in years past — up to 11 hours.

Also, at least one district is seriously discussing the option of not administering Phase II at all in light of all the disruption caused by the false start on Phase I.

What do you think? Is 11 hours of testing too much for the youngest students? Should Tennessee districts skip Phase II this year and focus on instruction instead of test prep?

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

 

Ready to Stop?

School Board members in Murfreesboro expressed frustration Tuesday night over the bumpy rollout of TNReady, including the failure of the computer test on day one.

According to the Murfreesboro Post, some board members even suggested stopping all testing for this year, which would mean not administering TNReady Phase II.

More than one Board Member raised the prospect of the district refusing to administer Phase II. The most forceful comments came from Jared Barrett:

Board Member Jared Barrett agreed, but put it more vehemently. “I say we mutiny and refuse to do any more,” he declared.

Another member, Dr. Andy Brown, agreed with stopping the tests:

With the second round of paper-and-pencil testing scheduled to begin April 25, Board Member Dr. Andy Brown said he believes the process should be halted because it’s punitive.

“And I don’t like wasted effort and wasted time,” he added. “To start testing again in 19 days is wrong.”

It would be better to actually teach the children, Brown said, instead of testing more. “I’d like to see superintendents statewide say, ‘No, we’re not going to do any more testing.'”

It’s not yet clear whether Murfreesboro City Schools or any other district will actually refuse to administer TNReady Phase II. If you’re in a district having these discussions, let me know by email: [andy AT spearsstrategy.com]

More on TNReady:

McQueen Says Department is Listening

Flexible Validity

Still Not TNReady

Ready for a Break

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

 

Stewart on Opting-Out

Nashville State Representative Mike Stewart talks about the decision he and his wife made to refuse standardized testing for their daughter this year.

He told Nashville Public Radio:

Parents are rallying in other parts of the state as well, and Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, is among them. He and his wife decided to opt out their daughter after speaking out against it themselves.

Stewart says, “We just felt like, we’re telling people these tests are so wrong. We should step up and opt out. We should live with our convictions.”

Stewart also noted:

“Testing has it’s place [but] it has gotten completely out of control to where the tests are driving what is going on in the classroom year round.”

As far as keeping up with how many students opt-out, WPLN reports:

School districts are not required to keep track of opt-out numbers because the state doesn’t officially recognize it as an option for students. Blank answer sheets are simply referred to as “irregularities.”

What do you think? Are you a parent “opting-out” or refusing testing this year? Are you a teacher who thinks TNReady’s rollout has caused too much stress? Should districts refuse to administer TNReady Phase II as was discussed by the Murfreesboro School Board?

Let us know!

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

 

Opting for Questions

Charles Corra over at Rocky Top Ed Talk has some questions about the Opt-out movement that appears to be gaining some traction in Tennessee:

To opt-out or to not opt-out? There seems to be an intense, festering degree of distrust with the state testing system in Tennessee (with good reason, based on how TNReady fared this year).  However, is that enough to justify a lack of no confidence?  Is testing essential to acquiring data and helping to properly identify the needs and focus areas of a school, of a particular student?

The article notes that students are refusing tests on a larger scale, though solid numbers are difficult to obtain. Perhaps the failures of TNReady have called attention to the testing challenges many schools and students face?

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

 

McQueen: We Are Listening

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen published a letter to parents and families about the TNReady roll out. The letter discusses how the Department of Education is also disappointed in the roll out. I’m going to break down her letter with my thoughts. The letter was posted with the attached bolded sentences.

You have probably heard a lot about testing recently as schools have started the annual TCAP assessments, including the new TNReady in math and English. I want to thank you for your patience and support during this transition. As we always see in education, parents and teachers have gone the extra mile to put students first.

As you know, our goal was to administer TNReady online this year. However, due to unexpected issues with our test vendor, students are instead taking the exam on paper. While this is not how we had hoped students would first take TNReady, the paper version of TNReady was created alongside the online version, so it is reliable with questions that have been reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers. 

As you can see, Commissioner McQueen is using this letter to literally highlight the talking points on TNReady. It is a good reminder that all TNReady questions were reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers.

We know the shift has brought challenges for our schools. We too are frustrated and disappointed by our inability to provide students with an online test this year and by the logistical difficulties. We have been working tirelessly to provide a positive testing experience as much as is within our control and to reduce anxiety. Districts already have the option to exclude TNReady and TCAP scores from students’ grades. In addition, the governor proposed to give teachers the flexibility to only include scores from this year’s TNReady and TCAP tests within their evaluation if it benefits them. If you want to learn more about the paper test transition, please visit our website and our blog.

We fully believe that our students are more than test scores. TNReady provides one – but just one – way to help parents and teachers make sure students are ready for the next step by showing how they are progressing. It will give you better information about what your student is learning and retaining because it includes more complex questions that look for how students think and analyze problems.

Yes, the rollout of TNReady has caused a lot of challenges. It was a nightmare for many schools to have to keep updating their testing schedule to prepare for TNReady (plus everything the schools did up until that point to get ready for a computer assessment). Our school had to change the schedule multiple times before testing began. While our testing went very smoothly, there were times when we did not have enough answer sheets for our students. We also had to postpone one grade level’s test because we lacked testing materials.

I know teachers across the state cheered when they heard that Governor Haslam is offering flexibility in regards to using scores in our evaluations. MNPS has already emailed all teachers about this proposed changed to keep the teachers updated. TNEdReport will keep you updated on this proposed legislation.

As we all know and agree with, students are not just data points. But the data provided can be helpful.

Parents should be able to clearly understand what their students know, how they are meeting grade-level expectations, and how they are performing compared to their peers. In the past, parent reports were often difficult to interpret and offered little guidance on how you could support your child, but TNReady allows us to provide parents with more specific and thorough information.

To assure we are creating parent reports that will best inform you, we ask for your feedback as we finalize the design of these reports. You can provide your thoughts on specific pieces of the proposed parent reports through this online form.

While we have not see the scores for TNReady, I am excited to hear from parents once they receive this information. I am cautiously optimistic that the state will provide better information for our parents and teachers. We have been let down before, and I hope it doesn’t happen with the scores.

We are fortunate to have incredible leaders in our communities: parents, principals, and teachers who face challenges every day while leading remarkable work on behalf of kids. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed firsthand the character, focus, and teamwork in so many communities across the state. Thank you again for leading the team in your own household and working in partnership with our schools to seek continuous improvement even in the midst of challenges.

I think the best thing Commissioner McQueen can do is to communicate with teachers, parents, and the public as often as she can. Teachers need to know that the state cares about what is happening in schools across the state. I like how the state has provided a way for citizens to ask questions of the state. I have submitted a question to the state, and I hope there is follow through from the state.

What are your thoughts on McQueen’s letter? Have you submitted a question to the state? If so, have you heard back? Tell us below in the comments.