TEA President on Testing and Education Reform

Blake Farmer of WPLN in Nashville has an interview with TEA President Gera Summerford that hits topics including an over-reliance on standardized testing, using value-added data to evaluate teachers, and charter schools.

In the interview, Summerford suggests a move toward common assessments, developed by teachers, to supplement or replace standardized testing.

She notes that the current model of teacher evaluation is not complete, and that multiple measures of effectiveness should included.  And Summerford notes that there are serious concerns about the validity of value-added data and it’s significance in the current teacher evaluation scheme.

The write-up and the entire interview can be found here.

Accountability Doesn’t Have to Be Punitive

Professional Educators of Tennessee’s (PET) JC Bowman and Audrey Shores on the TCAP delay and the TN DOE. They argue that rather than blame and punish, serious questions about what happened and when should be answered.

In Tennessee we appreciate straight talk and candor. We unquestionably detest hypocrisy. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies and even by our government. This has been quite evident in recent days by the Tennessee Department of Education, who inexcusably failed to get test scores to districts on time after months of preparation.

Perhaps in a kinder, gentler world we could shrug our shoulders and say “go get them next time.” However, this is the age of accountability, with the “survival-of-the-fittest” or “me-first” attitude that thrives, largely driven by the politics and culture in which we live. In this case, accountability in public education on the TCAP problem begins and ends with the Tennessee Department of Education.

Test results, as pointed out by one editorial in Knoxville “are used in teacher evaluations, in grading the overall performance of individual schools and systems and for other purposes.” State law requires that TCAP results account for 15 percent to 25 percent of a student’s final grade. An argument can be made that Common Core and TCAP are not aligned, so it does not make sense to use the TCAP scores in calculating students’ final grades. An appropriate response to that statement would be: perhaps they should not have been teaching standards that did not align with what students were going to be tested over the last couple of years and making it part of a student’s final grade.

Our belief is that this latest testing gaffe was simply due to incompetence, rather than any intentional violation of laws, regulations or established procedures not being followed. The men and women at the Tennessee Department of Education work extremely hard, just like the men and women who teach in our schools. They strive for excellence, and should not be impugned by this particular fiasco, no matter how well intentioned the stated objectives for the delay. A mistake was made, and we should endeavor to make sure it does not occur in the future.

As an organization, we believe in due diligence and avoiding overreacting to issues. We have adopted discipline by choosing our words carefully, like the carpenter who measures twice, cuts once. At times, systems simply do not work, and they need to be corrected. That is our message to policymakers and stakeholders alike; there is no attempt to imply any nefarious activity.       However, there is no denying that school systems across the state were blindsided by the delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores. Every system in the state was impacted. Policymakers must ensure the public is served: especially the children, families and school districts across the state. To that end, we requested that legislators inquire, formally or informally, specific information from the Tennessee Department of Education immediately. In fact, if the Tennessee General Assembly were in session we believe a hearing on this matter would be appropriate. The goal here is not to blame, but rather correct system failure.   We would suggest asking the following questions:

  • When was Ms. Erin O’ Hara, assistant commissioner for data and research, made aware of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores.
  • When were other state officials and members of the General Assembly, such as Commissioner Huffman and Governor Haslam, made aware of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores?
  • Who made the decision to not notify superintendents immediately of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores? And when was that decision made?
  • Who were the unnamed “external experts” that signed off on the validity, reliability and accuracy of the results? Please list their names, qualifications and any existing contract authorizing their role in this issue.
  • Was any unnamed “external expert” granted access to individual student data?  If so please disclose the names, qualifications and contract that granted experts access to the information they utilized.
  • Where in current existing state law is permission granted to the Commissioner of Education to issue waivers for exemption from a state requirement that TCAP scores account for 15-25 percent of students’ final grades?  (According to the Tennessean 104 school districts requested waivers).
  • What is the financial cost to the school districts and state created by the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores? Will the state cover this cost for districts?
  • What safeguards can be put in place to avoid any future issues, or should we simply not count test results in students’ final grades?

The use of high-stakes testing as the sole measure of student achievement is justly under increased scrutiny. We welcome that discussion and debate.   As we have continuously pointed out, in transitioning to any new test the most common issues that the state has not addressed are ongoing or increasing costs, technical concerns, and fears that the test could limit flexibility in crafting future curriculum. Transitioning Tennessee’s value-added data from TCAP to whatever future test the state ultimately adopts and utilizes will also take some time and adjustment -that is to be expected. A potential issue we anticipate is that the state has not adequately made clear how TVAAS will handle the transition from all bubble-in tests to constructed response tests. Legislators must start asking more detailed questions, and seeking answers from educators in our schools. There will always be issues, debate and discussion in public education.

In the end, getting accountability correct is the objective. The decisions policymakers make on behalf of students are actions of no small consequence. No one, least of all educators, would desire to see students victimized by testing. When we make decisions on the basis of untimely data or careless research, we place students at risk. We can and we must do better.

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

 

 

PET on TCAP

An editorial on the TCAP delay by Cathy Kolb, President of Professional Educators of Tennessee and Samantha Bates, Director of Member Services for Professional Educators of Tennessee

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that 3rd through 8th grade Quick Scores, the portion of students’ final grades that come from TCAP testing as mandated by state law, would not be available until May 30th. This means that elementary and middle schools across the state will either fail to follow the legal reporting standards or will be required to distribute final report cards twice in one month.

“We are extremely disappointed in the Tennessee Department of Education. The ‘rules’ associated with testing did not change between this year and last. But, while results available last year were returned in a timely manner, the same could not be accomplished this year. This delay will impact teachers, parents and students with scheduling classes and placing students in appropriate classes,” said J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Additionally, many systems have released for the summer. This decision by the state will require many teachers to return to school to recalculate final grades and release report cards again, adding costs at the end of the school year when money is the tightest.

A concern of many educators, though, is why the scores are delayed. The official reasoning from the state is that the scores are being “post-equated.” Statistically speaking, this process ensures that any given test is valid and serves its intended purpose. In years prior, this process was done after Quick Scores are reported and final report cards are distributed. This raises doubts for educators about the validity of this year’s assessment, given the number of changes made to testing for this school year. The number of tested SPIs and overall number of test items dropped, making it harder for students to score proficient on tests where the proficiency cut off has been gradually rising over the past five years. What do the scores look like that requires this process to be done now and not later?

Another concern is the fact that districts are required to apply for waivers from the state. When a good teacher makes a mistake or changes the parameters of an assignment, he or she gives students the extra support that they need to complete their tasks with the new information.

“That’s what leaders do,” according to Director of Tullahoma City Schools, Dan Lawson. “When the state fails to provide test scores in a timely manner consistent with Tennessee statute, they should waive the accountability requirements for this reporting cycle automatically without requiring school districts to jump through any additional hoops,” posits Lawson.   Placing extra work on systems for a state error is the height of poor leadership. Where is the accountability for this situation? Where is the leadership from the DOE? Where is the support for districts? Where is the support for educators? It seems that there are many questions that this situation raises, but the most pressing is this: when Commissioner Kevin Huffman said earlier this week that adults needed to work harder, did he mean educators or his staff?

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

TEA Takes on Huffman Over TCAP Delay

The Tennessee Department of Education advised school district directors yesterday that TCAP “quick scores” would not be available this year in time to factor them in to final grades for students in grades 3-8. This left districts with a choice: delay the issuing of report cards until the scores are available “sometime this month” OR seek a waiver from state law mandating that TCAP scores count toward a student’s final grade.

Some districts issued statements explaining what the delay means for students.

And now, TEA is out with a statement on the matter.  From the TEA press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education informed directors of schools that TCAP scores will not be available before the end of the school year, as is typically the case for calculation of students’ final grades. The state’s decision to delay the release of the scores has serious implications for students, families, teachers and administrators statewide.

“This delay is unacceptable and further illustrates the many consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and teachers,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students.”

“Test-related anxiety and distrust are already high among students, parents and educators in our state because of Commissioner Huffman’s insistence on placing more and more weight on these tests,” Summerford continued. “The state cites a change in assessments this school year as the reason for the delay. Why are districts just now being informed about something that the department has known about for months?”

“If TCAP was used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure, our schools would not be in the absurd position of deciding whether to send students home without report cards or send home grades that may change once the state chooses to release the scores,” the TEA president said.

“Teachers face a tremendous challenge in providing the best education for all students, particularly when forced to spend so much time focused on standardized tests. The mishandling of this entire situation should be enough to cause legislators and communities to reevaluate, and correct, the ‘reform’ path the commissioner is leading our students down,” Summerford concluded.

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

 

 

 

McKamey to Host Education Forum Friday in Knoxville

Democratic candidate for Governor John McKamey will host a forum on public education on Friday, May 16th at 4:30 PM at State Representative Gloria Johnson’s campaign headquarters located at 311 Morgan Street in Knoxville.

McKamey is the former County Mayor of Sullivan County and a long-time Sullivan County educator.  In 2004, he challenged Ron Ramsey in a state Senate race.

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

 

Is Disruption the Answer for Education Policy?

Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed has some thoughts on whether disruption ought to be the goal of education reformers.  In short, the answer is no.  But, here are some more of Howard’s thoughts from his recent article:

Disruption Commodifies Children:

Disruption is a term largely borrowed from economics and market theory. I personally don’t like applying market theory to education. It lends itself to the commodification of children, perceiving communities as markets, and turning families into consumers. In short, it dehumanizes the very personal and communal experience of teaching and learning. As a result, when disruption is applied to education it often has a very different and negative effect on students and communities than that seen in free market business.

Disruption Has Been Problematic in Tennessee:

At the local level we’ve seen several cases of disruption run amok here in Tennessee, the most prominent example being the disastrous results of virtual charters run by K12 Inc.,a for-profit out-of-state company. And this isn’t limited to virtual schools; it’s starting to happen in brick-and-mortar schools, most notably with the California-based Rocketship Education. Rocketship advertises the blended learning model of instruction proposed by Horn. Rocketship rotates students between computer-based lessons monitored by non-certified instructors and direct instruction led by certified teachers at a 30+ student-to-teacher ratio. While arguing their approach is cost effective, the charter company has come under fire in Nashville for its questionable business practices and its test scores, which since its decision to expand have dropped . It is also experiencing a steady decline in achievement that is directly correlated with its expansion, from 80.5% proficiency in ELA to 51.0% and 91.3% proficiency in Math to 76.7%.

An Alternative to Disruption

I argue for an alternative business model to disruption, known as sustaining innovation. It’s used predominantly to discuss the strategies of established enterprises seeking to remain current by evolving their services and products. Emphasizing sustainability, local school districts can provide innovative approaches to instruction that are intentional, results-oriented, and research-based. Local school districts should expand upon initiatives proven to increase not only students’ long-term achievement but also their quality of life. Some examples are Pre-K, instruction in the arts, early and persistent instruction on foreign languages, and participation in after-school programs and extra-curricular activities

 

Howard’s arguments are sound — when we experiment on kids, and the experiment fails, kids don’t get those years of school or life back.  When we disrupt a community by altering or eliminating its school, we forever change the face of that community.

And, the solutions proposed are sensible — sustaining (and sustainable) innovation make sense for schools.  Thinking of education policy in the long-term — 10 to 20 years — makes sense.  Focused, incremental results over time better serve communities than short-term gains that are not sustainable.  Or, worse, short-term experiments that fail, leaving kids and communities behind.

For all of Howard’s thoughts on disruption, read here.

 

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

 

PARCC Delayed is PARCC Denied?

The Conference Committee Report on HB 1549/SB 1835 — legislation that would delay Common Core implementation — is out.

While the report does NOT recommend a delay in implementation per se, it does set out requirements for legislative notification prior to adoption of Common Core standards in science and social studies. Which may ultimately mean those standards are not adopted.

Perhaps most interesting is the section related to PARCC — the Pearson test associated with Common Core.

The Conference Committee Report contains language that would DELAY PARCC tests for one year — so, they wouldn’t start in 2015 as planned.  It goes further by requiring that the Department of Education accept bids for a test of Tennessee’s standards, including the Common Core in English/Language Arts and Math.

It’s possible, of course, that PARCC could still be the chosen option in Tennessee.  Then again, the state could go the way of Kentucky and Florida and drop out of PARCC altogether and contract for a different test.

Unless the General Assembly wants to stay in session for a few more days, it seems likely that this report will be adopted as the compromise position — allowing Tennessee to proceed with the Common Core as currently adopted and taking a step back to assess which test best meets the state’s needs.

Read the full Conference Committee Report.

Tennessee Solution?

In response to Governor Bill Haslam’s betrayal of his promise to improve teacher pay, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House is proposing a series of budget amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.”

The plan costs $90 million and provides teachers and state employees a one-time bonus and adds a 1% raise to that bonus if state revenues reach certain targets.

Here are some details provided by the Tennessee Education Association:

Amendments to the governor’s budget plan will be presented this Thursday. The bipartisan plan includes a raise and bonus for teachers. Please contact your legislators immediately to show support for this plan.
The governor’s proposed changes to the budget – including the removal of his promised raise to teachers – passed both the House and Senate Finance committees yesterday. It is scheduled for floor votes this Thursday. Please contact your legislators immediately to ask for their support of the plan to reinstate the pay increase for teachers and state employees.

The bipartisan group of House legislators plan to propose two amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.” The amendments include the following:

  • One percent raise for teachers and state employees, contingent upon revenue collection. A portion of the raise will be included in the current budget to be paid-out if and when revenue numbers reach the total required amount for the raise. 
  • One-time bonus for teachers and state employees, possibly for employees with three or more years of service

 

While it seems unlikely the raise portion of the plan will be met unless underlying revenue concerns are addressed, the plan does provide a one-time bonus that would, at least for this budget cycle, boost teacher and state employee pay.

A more ambitious plan would have addressed long-term revenue concerns and/or provided for cuts in other departments in order to fund investments in education.

As the plan details became available, the House broke into Caucus meetings with Republican leadership stressing that the conservative stance was to oppose the “Tennessee Solution” and support the betrayal of Tennessee’s teachers and state workers.

A vote on the proposed amendments is expected Thursday.

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

Helping Haslam

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, has some advice for Governor Haslam:

The critic, Niccolo Machiavelli, taught us that assertions of virtue and integrity in politicians are often grinning masks of deception. So we are not surprised when politicians routinely over-promise and under-deliver. State leadership must coherently articulate K-12 Education Policy to citizens in a truthful manner.

By state leaders continuing to ignore legitimate concerns, such as a vocal opposition to the Common Core State Standards and PARCC Assessments, policymakers and stakeholders across Tennessee have now been negatively impacted. This message has largely fallen on deaf ears at the highest level of state government, who continue to believe all is well. Members of the Tennessee General Assembly have listened and we are grateful to those legislators. Many citizens share the opinion that school teachers, principals, and superintendents are regarded by the administration as impediments to school improvement rather than partners.

As an organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee have embraced higher standards, with the caveat that we should always seek higher standards and a commitment to student achievement. We were very enthusiastic when Governor Haslam pledged to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries in October 2013 and again in the State of the State in February 2014. We intend to help him keep his word.

Governor Haslam has justly boasted “we are one of only six states in the country that has consistently increased state spending on K-12 education as a percentage of our total budget.” He has added that since 2011, “we’ve had the fourth largest increase in education spending compared to the rest of the country.” The questions we need to ask:  How much of this has been Race to the Top Funds?  Where were all those funds allocated?  How much money was actually earmarked to the classroom?

If policymakers boast that Tennessee is the fourth largest state for increase in education spending, then funds from RTTT need to factor into that calculation. Our estimation is that roughly $252 million of the RTTT grant was retained by the Tennessee Department of Education and never saw the inside of a school or classroom. These dollars went toward consultants’ contracts and partnerships.

Our belief is that every dollar earmarked for education should be spent to benefit Tennessee school children. A teacher’s working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. If Tennessee had the most ‘growth’ of any state on the latest NAEP results led by our state teachers, why were their promised salaries a lower priority than unproven PARCC Testing or adding Media/Marketing and Event Coordinators at the Tennessee Department of Education?

We support a delay and/or for the state to rescind the mandate for LEA’s to create a differentiated pay plan. Without the state’s increased financial contribution this creates an unfunded mandate on our local school systems. If the state mandates a requirement they should subsequently provide the necessary funding to facilitate that obligation at the local level. Unfunded mandates fly in the face of conservative orthodoxy and sound public policy.

Teacher attrition is a serious issue. We must keep experienced educators in our classrooms. Tennessee colleges and universities are very adept at meeting the demand for producing quality educators in this state. Historically, approximately 50% of the teachers that graduate with a degree in education do not find a teaching job.

We would suggest a review and delay for all Teach for America (TFA) contracts. Researcher Elaine Weiss revealed that Tennessee spends more money per Teach for America recruit than any other state. Some reports state that total compensations ranging from $5,000 to $9,000, to as high as $15,000, have been paid to Teach for America for their recruits. If this is true, we should turn to our own graduates of traditional colleges of education looking for an opportunity to teach in their own state.

Teaching is higher calling for professionals, not a pre-career placeholder. Therefore, it makes little sense to employ temporary teachers and spend scarce tax dollars and resources then watch a teacher leave after two years. Our goal should be hiring and retaining quality teachers that want to live, play, and worship in our communities long-term, instead of marking off days until a loan is forgiven and entrance to graduate school is accomplished.

We do not seek to be unduly critical of Governor Haslam. We recognize that there are many competent people in the Department of Education and administration. However, the media may be the only hope to reach the Governor. We encourage the Governor to confront issues directly, answer emails timely and regularly meet face-to-face with education stakeholders on a consistent basis, not through intermediaries. Governor Haslam, you need our help and we want to extend our hand to offer the assistance you need.

More on how Tennessee came to be short on revenue.

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

 

Larry Proffitt Wants to Give TEA a Hug

Larry Proffitt is a middle school teacher and a baseball coach.  He’s also on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Education Association.

He’s a friendly guy, with the enthusiasm and energy indicative of someone who spends his days relating to 11-14 year-olds.

Proffitt says that when he first got involved in TEA, he appreciated the organization because when he was down, he could also go to a TEA meeting and get a hug.

Now, he says, TEA needs a hug.

The organization has been battered recently, losing collective bargaining early in Governor Bill Haslam’s tenure.

Since then, Tennessee teachers have faced the implementation of new evaluations brought on by the Race to the Top win under Governor Phil Bredesen.  While TEA leaders signed-off on the provisions of RTTT, they now say the implementation process hasn’t gone as planned.  And that teachers are losing their voice on policies that impact them.

Proffitt is sensitive to this and says the organization needs to branch out.  It’s a new day in Tennessee politics and TEA needs to try new collaborations, according to Proffitt.

Profitt is also a member of the BATs, short for Badass Teachers Association. It’s a national group with a strong Tennessee presence that is focused on calling attention to the most egregious of education policies. BATs don’t pull punches.  Instead, they are relentless in their pursuit of what they believe is sound education policy.  According to Proffitt, it’s tough to find sound policy among those currently making the rules in Tennessee.  He says he spent every snow day this past winter at the legislature, advocating for positive education policy – and mostly, educating legislators on what’s gone wrong in the current education environment.

Proffitt is not following the typical path to the TEA Presidency.  Historically, a member of the Board of Directors of TEA gets elected to the position of Vice President.  That individual then runs for President (usually unopposed) after serving under the organization’s President.  The current VP is Barbara Gray, and she is running for TEA President, too. Proffitt is undeterred by the typical process. He’s running and running hard. He has a very active social media presence and he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind.

He’s also worked side-by-side with parents and citizen lobbyists like those in TREE — Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence. TREE opposes vouchers and a state charter school authorizer and has been active in the past two legislative sessions voicing concerns over these and other popular tenets of the current education reform movement.

Proffitt is not openly critical of those in current leadership at TEA.  Instead, he says TEA must expand its vision.  They must collaborate with outside groups and gain public support.  They must provide a reason for teachers to join again, even without the lever of collective bargaining.

The TEA President is chosen by members of the organization’s Representative Assembly.  Those delegates are chosen at the local level. Proffitt indicated about 800 or so TEA members will decide on the organization’s next President.  He’s hopeful about his chances, even if he’s ruffling feathers along the way.

“If the teachers I talk to from around the state every single day are talking to their delegates, I have a shot at this,” he said.  “And if not, I’ve learned a lot in the process.”

Those who support his candidacy say he’s the “Proffitt who can’t be bought or sold.” The play on words is indicative of his outside-the-box candidacy and his willingness to speak out, even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.

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