Actually Ready

As a few districts around the state push for a pause on TNReady while others look for ways to move beyond the test, the words of a teacher during the testing failure last year seem incredibly relevant:

I want all the things that the Tennessee Department of Education says that it wants from TNReady. But what I do not want is a test that disrupts learning instead of measuring it.

I don’t want to build my students up for a test that doesn’t happen when and how we’ve prepared for it to happen. I do not want to rush my students into a computer lab and be sure they’re all prepared only to sit and wait for 20 minutes to log in, or to end up leaving the lab without testing because the system is down.

I don’t want to start another sentence in my classroom with, “I know we were supposed to test today, but …”

And:

I do not want to hear excuses or listen to anyone insist that these problems do not interfere with the validity of the results. I do not want these results factored into a number used to quantify my effect as a teacher.

But all of that has happened. I also understand that testing is federally mandated, and I agree that tests can provide important feedback. So here’s what I do want: A test that is reliable. A test that is developmentally appropriate in length and respectful of the instructional time students lose to testing. A test that provides timely and detailed data.

And I want my students to take that test, and for my colleagues and I to be held accountable for it, only once it’s actually, truly, ready.

READ MORE>

As Governor Haslam continues his listening tour and the candidates for Governor move forward with their campaigns, the words of our teachers deserve attention.

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


 

Affirmed

The Maury County School Board by a 10-1 vote affirmed the position of Director of Schools Chris Marczak who has called for a halt to TNReady this year and a move to replace the state exam with the ACT suite of assessments.

The Columbia Daily Herald reports:

During the board’s regular meeting this week, representatives voted 10-1 to send a letter calling for the halt of TNReady testing. Former school board chairman David Bates cast the sole dissenting vote.

The letter, penned by Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Marczak, asks the state to end TNReady testing, requests schools be held harmless in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVASS) and calls for the ACT to be made the standardized testing tool for high school juniors and seniors by the year 2020.

Marczak called the vote an answer to an ongoing rally cry in Maury County.

“This is a huge affirmation for our educators who are working to do the best for our students,” Marczak told The Daily Herald. “To me, it is an affirmation for the community and the families and the students. I want to commend the school board for being forward thinking. They really took a stance and I am really impressed with their leadership.”

The School Board’s position drew immediate praise from the Maury County Education Association, the local affiliate of the Tennessee Education Association:

“After years of failure, confidence and trust in the state testing system is at an all-time low,” the statement reads. “There are calls to suspend testing completely and allow a reset, recognizing an entire generation of students have known nothing but glitches and disappointment.”

The TNReady failures have recently been the subject of an exchange of letters among directors, lawmakers, and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen.

Additionally, Governor Bill Haslam and McQueen are currently on a statewide tour talking to invited guests about TNReady.

Stay tuned to see if additional districts join Maury County in pushing for a reset on testing and, ultimately, a move to a different test altogether.

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


 

Portfolio Opt Out

Earlier this year, I posted a piece by Camilla Spadafino, an art teacher in Nashville, about her experience with the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. At the time, there was some discussion in Nashville about the district moving away from portfolio evaluation for Fine Arts teachers. While that did not happen this year in Nashville, five districts did drop portfolio evaluation for Fine Arts prior to the start of this school year.

For those following the Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio story, the Fine Arts and other optional portfolios experienced similar challenges with platform vendor Educopia last year. Now, those few districts using the Fine Arts portfolio in 2018-19 will shift to the third platform vendor in three years.

In 2017-18, sixteen districts participated in the Fine Arts portfolio. As of July, five districts had dropped and one, Sumner County, added. That left twelve districts to move forward this year.

Now, Tipton County has announced they are dropping the Fine Arts portfolio this year. The move comes after a group of Fine Arts teachers sent a letter to school board members citing numerous challenges with the portfolio.

Here are some key excerpts explaining why Tipton County Fine Arts teachers did not want to continue with portfolio evaluation after having used it for four years:

While we appreciate the theory behind it, in real practice the portfolio process is not an effective one. What has occurred over the past several years is that portfolio has changed our lesson structures, negatively impacted our students’ classroom experience, and it has failed to provide feedback to help us improve as teachers.

There is extensive time spent on putting all the collections together in order to submit. Teachers have attested to spending anywhere from 40-100 hours of their own time outside of school on preparing their portfolio.

It has not positively impacted our students, or our school’s arts programs. Many counties in the state have opted out because of these issues. Our goal is to support classroom teachers through collaboration in order to help students reach their specific target areas. Portfolio detracts from this goal and should be removed. Our belief is that we should opt out of the portfolio process…

The concerns mentioned here echo many of those raised by Nashville teachers. They are also similar to concerns expressed by Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers after their first year of portfolio evaluation.

The process, according to teachers, takes up valuable instructional time and yields no real benefits for students. Teachers spend countless hours of their own time without compensation and receive little or no meaningful feedback on how to improve practice.

It will be interesting to see how the process goes this year with yet another new vendor. Will more districts opt out next year?

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


 

Students Will Suffer

Knox County School Board member Jennifer Owen offers an inside view of how Governor Haslam’s “listening tour” went down in Knoxville.

Her conclusion gets to the heart of why Tennessee education policy is where it is today:

While some of our legislators, in this ELECTION SEASON, are suddenly declaring that they disagree with all of this, we know that they have not stopped it, after EIGHT YEARS.  And if they haven’t stopped this after EIGHT YEARS, they sure as hell aren’t going to stop it just because there is a new governor in town.

As long as we keep these legislators, Tennessee students will continue to suffer, while parents, teachers, and the public are lied to, regarding trumped up visions of “successes” used to make the governor look like he has actually done something while in office.

If we keep doing the same thing, we’ll keep getting the same results. If we keep sending lawmakers to Nashville who support TNReady or get behind minor changes around the edges, we won’t see anything new in 2019 or beyond.

Owen was in the meeting in Knoxville and her full description of how it went down is worth a read.

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


 

Failing Public Schools

David Waters of the Memphis Commercial Appeal highlights just a few of the ways policymakers are failing our state’s public schools. Here’s a bit of what he says:

The governor and education commissioner held a public meeting in Knoxville last week to hear from teachers, parents and students ideas about how to improve (or even actually conduct) TNReady standardized testing.

The meeting was held from 3-4:30 p.m. on a Friday. Most Knoxville area public schools don’t dismiss until 3:15 or later.

Most public school teachers and other educators keep working in their buildings until 4 p.m. or later to work on mounds of paperwork required by non-educator education officials in Nashville and Washington.

Most public school parents are at work until 5 or 6 p.m. or later on weekdays.

Of course, the meeting wasn’t exactly public, either.

Waters also points out one of the deficiencies of our state’s school funding formula, the BEP:

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of no more than 1,000 students per school psychologist, and no more than 500 to 700 students per psychologist when more comprehensive and preventive services are being provided (as in most public schools).

Funding from Tennessee’s Basic Education Program covers one psychologist for every 2,500.

As a result, most public school psychologists spend most of their time conducting paperwork-intensive special education assessments that are required by federal law.

Waters concludes:

But today’s public school system was built by (and for) federal and state officials who aren’t educators and who sent their own kids to private or affluent public schools.

They don’t know what they don’t know, so there’s no way they passed this test.

READ MORE>

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


 

Graphs!

I’ve written a lot about school funding and teacher pay in Tennessee. About how our state pays teachers at a discount rate and hasn’t really been improving that much.

Now, I’ve found a couple of helpful graphs to demonstrate that in spite of all the rhetoric you might hear from Governor Haslam and some legislators, Tennessee still has a long way to go in order to be making proper investments in our schools.

First, we’ll look at per pupil spending in inflation-adjusted (2016) dollars:

To translate, in 2010 (the year before Bill Haslam became Governor), Tennessee spent an average of $8877 per student in 2016 dollars. In 2016 (the most recent data cited), that total was $8810. So, we’re effectively spending slightly less per student now than in 2010. The graph indicates that Tennessee spending per student isn’t really growing, instead it is stagnating. Further evidence can be found in noting that in 2014, Tennessee ranked 43rd in the nation in spending per student. In 2015, that ranking dropped to 44th. 2016? Still 44th.

Here’s the graph that shows per pupil spending by state for 2016:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving. At least not faster than other states. I’ve written about how we’re not the fastest-improving in teacher pay, in spite of Bill Haslam’s promise to make it so:

Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

School spending doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it’s not like when Tennessee spends, other states stop. So, to catch up, we have to do more. Or, we have to decide that remaining 43rd or 44th in investment per student is where we should be.

 

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


 

 

Scheduling Matters

Governor Bill Haslam held his first of six TNReady listening meetings in Knoxville last week. While the tour was initially billed as an open discussion of challenges and ways to improve the state test, the timing of the event and an approved guest list raised questions about the event.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports Haslam saying he did not intend to keep anyone out of the meeting, despite holding it at 3:00 PM when most teachers in Knox County are still required to be at work.

Knox County School Board Chair Patty Bounds noted:

“I was like, I can’t even imagine what they’re thinking or if they’re that out of touch,” Bounds said. “(Because of their) contract teachers can’t leave their building until 3:15 and for middle and high school, it’s later than that.”

Bounds questioned how the state could rationalize hand-picking the teachers allowed in the meeting Friday if they wanted a true listening tour.

The Directors of Schools in Nashville and Memphis have indicated support for pausing TNReady while the state transitions to a new Governor. This would allow the new Commissioner of Education time to digest feedback and work with a testing vendor to improve delivery.

In a similar vein, the Director of Schools in Maury County has suggested moving to the ACT suite of assessments and Wilson County is said to be exploring legislative options to move beyond the state-mandated test.

Despite criticism over the timing and invitation list for his first listening tour stop, Haslam’s second stop will be at Soddy-Daisy High School in Hamilton County on Tuesday, August 28th at 3:30 PM.

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


 

Not Really Listening

Governor Bill Haslam was in Knoxville today on his “listening tour.”

Here’s what TEA President Beth Brown had to say about how the event unfolded:

A message from TEA President Beth Brown:

I am a high school English teacher, so word choice is very important to me. When the governor announced his TNReady “listening tour” earlier this week, I envisioned Tennessee teachers and parents finally having a real opportunity to share their experiences and frustrations with TNReady failures. I envisioned Gov. Haslam and department officials listening to teachers and parents – the real experts on this topic – about how the state could improve assessments in the best interest of all students.

What I did not envision was a closed-door, invitation-only, inconveniently scheduled, no-parents-allowed event that only created more frustration and distrust among teachers and parents. What happened in Knoxville today tells teachers and parents this administration doesn’t really want to listen at all. Instead, this event just shut down a school library and provided another example of TNReady creating more work and inconvenience for students and educators. Meaningful change in the best interest of our students will never happen if the state sticks with this dog-and-pony show model.

The good news is the governor has five more opportunities to get this right and provide a forum to truly listen to teachers and parents. Our students need those in positions of power to swallow their pride and have the tough conversations. Our students deserve better.

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


 

When Gov Comes to Town

The first stop on Governor Bill Haslam’s TNReady “listening tour” is today at 3:00 PM local time at Halls Elementary School in Knoxville.

In the press release announcing the tour, the goals were stated as:

1. Engage in an open conversation about assessment and ways to improve administration;
2. Gather feedback that can inform a smooth delivery of state assessments this school year and beyond, including feedback on the selection of the state’s next assessment partner to be chosen later this school year;
3. Discuss how to better provide schools, educators, parents and students with meaningful and timely results from assessments; and
4. Distinguish assessment content from delivery in an effort to focus on the value assessments can provide.

Sounds great, right? An open conversation, gathering feedback, hearing from educators and parents about what’s needed to improve?

It might be of some value IF it were truly an open conversation. Here’s the problem: The event is at 3:00 PM when school is in session for many teachers in Knox County. That means, unless you teach at Halls, you likely can’t get there in time (it ends at 4:30) to weigh-in with your feedback.

At least the teachers and staff at Halls will be able to have a voice, right?

Nope. The principal at Halls and teachers there were told the event was “invitation only.” The Governor and Commissioner of Education have already decided who will be doing the talking.

Here’s more from a report on the ground describing what’s going down ahead of the PR event:

This is what my principal had to do today:

1)Spend his time going through the building with the Governor’s security detail instead of dealing with students.
2) Tell his teachers that they could not attend the TN Ready event.
3)Tell his teachers how to dress tomorrow
4) Have teachers….. who can’t attend (neither can he, evidently) set up tables and chairs for the attendees after school
5) Tell teachers that students could not use the library all day tomorrow (there goes effective plan time for 6 teachers)
6) Figure out a plan that would disrupt our dismissal as little as possible, since they insist on parking in the lot where parents circle around for the car rider line

So, Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen are coming to town with a pre-approved guest list and not, in fact, engaging in “an open conversation about assessment.”

 

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

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Kindergarten is Important

Apparently, before the use of the disastrous Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio evaluation, Kindergarten teachers didn’t realize their own importance. That’s the takeaway from a memo sent by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to Tennessee School Superintendents. In the memo, McQueen explains the rationale behind the portfolios, discusses this year’s challenges with implementation, and looks ahead to proposed improvements.

Here’s a line where McQueen describes what she learned from listening to a small group of Directors of Schools:

The portfolio process increased the importance of kindergarten. Our teachers were saying “It starts with us.” Teachers wanted to show what they could do.

So, before portfolios, Kindergarten teachers didn’t know school started with them? None of them realized Kindergarten was important? It took an oppressive evaluation process requiring 40+ hours of time outside of school in order for Kindergarten teachers to realize they mattered?

Here’s more from the email McQueen sent to Directors highlighting what she learned:

On Friday of last week, I asked a group of your fellow superintendents from across the state to join me for a discussion about portfolios. We have summarized the listening session and feedback loop in the attached document. I am appreciative of the opportunity to have an authentic conversation about the purpose of the portfolios, the process in the inaugural year of statewide implementation, and the changes that are being put in place. Here is a brief summary of what we heard:

  • Teachers’ practice improved as a result of the portfolio process.
  • Teachers welcomed the accountability and started the year excited about portfolio.
  • Portfolios improved teacher collaboration.
  • The submission process and platform (Educopia) caused unnecessary challenges.
  • There was inconsistent feedback and communication statewide.
  • Peer reviewers need additional support and training.

What’s missing from this conversation is that teachers who piloted the portfolio in Knox County in 2016-17 had a relatively good experience. This included a relatively small number of collections and an internet interface that was user-friendly. Then, in 2017-18, teachers were provided with information requiring double the amount of collections and given a platform (Educopia) that was fraught with problems.

Here’s what else is missing: McQueen held a meeting with 11 school superintendents in order to hear about the experience of Pre-K/K portfolios. There were ZERO Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers in the meeting. No peer reviewers were present to share their experiences. Sure, Directors of Schools may have spoken with their teachers prior to meeting McQueen, but McQueen didn’t hear directly from those impacted by her failed policy.

Why are Pre-K/K teachers even doing portfolios? Here’s what McQueen says in that memo:

Vanderbilt Pre-K study showed that gains students had in pre-K were not sustained year over year and had been lost by third grade.

I’ve written about this before:

And here’s the secret: Both studies come to the same conclusion — Pre-K works.

That is, the state’s voluntary Pre-K program sends students to Kindergarten better prepared. And the effects of the program last through first grade. That’s right, one year of intervention yields two years of results as demonstrated by two different Tennessee-specific, longitudinal studies.

Here’s another secret: There are no silver bullets in education. Pre-K is one specific, targeted intervention. But Pre-K alone can’t solve the challenges faced by Tennessee’s low income students.

Two different studies of the state’s Pre-K program suggest that at best, the positive impacts of Pre-K last through second grade. That is, the students who meet the criteria for voluntary Pre-K (at-risk as defined by qualifying for free/reduced lunch) and gain access to the program perform better in early grades than students from the same population who don’t receive the intervention. At worst, the effect lasts only through first grade.

YES — one year of intervention yields at least two years of positive results. That’s a tremendous return on investment. Also not shocking: At-risk students who receive no other intervention besides Pre-K eventually will struggle in school. Having had Pre-K does not ensure that these students will have access to adequate nutrition or healthcare and so over time, that will certainly impact academic performance.

Instead of addressing the underlying challenges, though, McQueen and her policy team seem intent on blaming teachers and adding ever more onerous requirements on them. Maybe adding portfolio evaluation to Kindergarten teaching requirements will ensure kids have access to food, shelter, and basic health care?

Finally, McQueen points to proposed improvements for 2018-19. In addition to a new platform provided by a new vendor, here’s what teachers can expect:

It will still be important that teachers understand what the standard calls for. It will still be possible for a teacher to upload student work that does not align to the standards, which would still result in an error.

Moving forward the department will ensure that all educators get feedback on every collection in their portfolio.

Updated scoring rubrics that include greater specificity will be provided to further clarify expectations.

In June 2019, the department will convene peer reviewers in-person regionally after the year ends to have technical expertise and teacher collaboration onsite. That will turn scores around faster, allow us to address issues with everyone together, and answer peer reviewers’ questions in real time and in person.

Did you see that? “moving forward, all educators will get feedback on every collection.” You mean in the first year of a new evaluation system, the plan wasn’t to give every educator feedback on every collection? I’ve seen teacher portfolios where none of the collections received any feedback except for a numerical score. It’s somewhat understandable that there may be minimal feedback at the top end of the scoring range, but teachers whose collections receive a 1 or 2 (the lowest rankings) deserve to know how they can improve.

Also, in June of 2019, peer reviewers will be convened in-person. Again, that is a step that should have been taken in the first year of the program.

Finally, about that new vendor with a new platform:

Portfolium is a startup company designed to provide college students with a way to highlight accomplishments and work samples for future employers. Yes, you read that right: The new evaluation platform is a startup company that was founded in 2013 and just three years ago, began raising a small amount of capital to launch:

Portfolium, a Web-based social network for students preparing to start their careers, said it has closed on $1.2 million in new venture funding, bringing its total funding to $2.1 million since 2013, when the San Diego-based startup was founded.

When will teachers learn more about Portfolium? Supposedly, on August 24th.

At any rate, now Kindergarten teachers know they are important and Tennesseans know that if we have both Pre-K and early grades portfolios, all our education problems will be solved.

Try again, Candice.

 

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport