TEA Files TVAAS Lawsuit in Knox County

Use of TVAAS is Arbitrary and Violates 14th Amendment, TEA Alleges

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Knox County teacher who was denied a bonus under that school system’s pay plan after Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data for 10 of her students was unknowingly attributed to her.

TVAAS is Tennessee’s system of measuring student growth over time. It generates data based on student test scores on TCAP and end of course tests.

In this specific case, the teacher, Lisa Trout, was assigned TVAAS data for 10 students after being told her evaluation would be based on system-wide TVAAS data because she taught at an alternative school.

The TEA lawsuit cites two different memos which indicated that Ms. Trout could expect an evaluation (and bonus eligibility) to be based on system-wide data. At the conclusion of the school year, Ms. Trout was informed that her overall evaluation score, including observations and TVAAS data was a 4, making her eligible for a bonus under the Knox County pay plan.

When she did not receive the bonus as expected, she began asking questions about why the bonus had not been paid.  She ultimately determined that without her knowledge, a school counselor had assigned 10 students to Ms. Trout for the factoring of TVAAS scores.  The students were in an Algebra II course Ms. Trout taught, even though she does not hold an endorsement for teaching Alegbra II.

Though the suit does not specifically mention this, it should be noted that 10 students is a particularly small sample size subject to significant statistical anomaly.

The TEA lawsuit contends that Ms. Trout was owed the bonus based on Knox County School Board policy and in this specific instance, the bonus should have been paid.

Arbitrary?

The TEA goes on to contend that Ms. Trout and similarly situated teachers for whom there is little or no specific TVAAS data are held to an arbitrary standard in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Specifically, the suit notes: ” … the majority of teachers in the Knox County Schools … have had their eligibility for additional compensation (under the APEX bonus system) determined on the basis of the test scores of students they do not teach and/or the test scores of their students in subjects unrelated to the subjects they teach.”

The suit alleges that such a system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because some teachers are evaluated and receive bonuses based on the scores of their own students while other teachers are held accountable for students they do not teach and over which they have no influence or control.

In short, the entire system is flawed and should be discarded.

A spokesperson for TEA confirmed that the organization does not believe that teacher pay should be tied to TVAAS data.

On a related note, the Metro Nashville Public Schools recently announced it is putting plans to pay teachers in part based on TVAAS scores on hold indefinitely.

A TEA press release announcing the Knox County suit indicated that the organization anticipates additional lawsuits along these lines.

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

 

Shielding our Teacher and Student Data

This article was submitted by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

Since the passage of First to the Top legislation in 2010, as our organization has travelled across the state, we have heard from both parents and educators with concerns about the collection, use and potential misuse of student and teacher data.  While it is correct that the newly adopted PARCC exams will not collect any more additional data than TCAP that is not the concern of Tennessee parents or educators.

 

In 2009 an audit raised concerns about the state education department vendor Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) using prisoners to count, inventory and shred various materials in bulk quantities. According to the audit, included in the files were students’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and test performance data, all of which was handed over without prior consent from parents. The access of highly sensitive information to maximum security prison inmates is a significant security risk according to the report.  We must take steps to make sure this never happens again.

 

Therefore, those who are trying to make this debate about Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are misinformed and misleading policymakers and stakeholders about the issue.  The public has sent a very strong message that policymakers must make individual student data-mining in Tennessee illegal.   Schools and schools systems need better policies in regard to school personnel having access to an educator’s personal summative and evaluation scores.  Any legislation adopted must clearly set out the conditions and restrictions on the use of confidential student and teacher data.  We must prohibit intrusive data tracking, which is an invasion of the rights of students and their families.  Any data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking the academic progress and needs of students by education officials at the local and state level.

 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)[1] is a Federal privacy law that gives parents certain rights with regard to their children’s education records, such as the right to inspect and review your child’s education records.  In December, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education revised its regulations governing the implementation of FERPA by schools, districts, and States. These revisions change several of the exceptions to FERPA’s consent rule.  What parents and educators are seeking is a guarantee from the state that they are putting additional measures in place to protect students and educators.   Some legal experts believe that according to FERPA, the district, not the state, is the controlling party for the use of personal student data.

 

The 2011 changes permitted schools to disclose information on students if it has been properly designated as directory information. By law, directory information includes things that would generally not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed, such as name, address, photograph, and date of birth. Directory information may not include things such a student’s social security number or grades. State policymakers may wish to go further than federal law in protecting student information. Why would a 3rd Party need photographs of children for example?   Why any individual, personalized student data is necessary is questionable, since comparisons are commonly done and are already widely available through de-identified aggregated student data.

 

Before a single child’s information is turned over to any 3rd party, policymakers should give assurance to parents and educators that no harm will come to Tennessee school children by adopting the following principles:  The state and districts should be required to publish any and all existing data sharing agreements in printed and electronic form, and include a thorough explanation of its purpose and provisions, and make it available to parents and local school authorities statewide;  The Department of Education should hold hearings throughout the state or testify before the legislature to explain any existing data agreement, and answer questions from the public or their representatives, obtain informed comment, and gauge public reaction;  All parents should have the right to be notified of the impending disclosure of their children’s data, and provide them with a right to consent or have the right to withhold their children’s information from being shared;  The state should have to define what rights families or individuals will have to obtain relief if harmed by improper use or release of their child’s private information, including how claims can be made; and finally, any legislation must ensure that the privacy interest of public school children and their families are put above the interests of any 3rd Party and its agents and subsidiaries.

 

We must be committed to protecting student and teacher data.  There are several pieces of pending legislation being considered by the General Assembly that can be used to accomplish this task.  Representatives Kevin Brooks, Bill Dunn, Vance Dennis, Jeremy Faison and Senators Dolores Gresham and Farrell Haile have been leading on this issue.  We strongly support these efforts, and encourage passage of legislation to address parent and educator’s concerns.

 

 

Footnote:  [1] For more information about FERPA, please see “FERPA General Guidance for Parents” on the Family Policy Compliance Office Web site: www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/parents.html. If you have a question or wish to report a potential FERPA violation, contact FPCO at: 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327).

 

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

 

MNPS Defers Plan to Pay Teachers Based on Test Scores

Joey Garrison has the story on MNPS deferring previously stated plans to base future pay raises for teachers on test scores and the TEAM evaluation model.

District officials suggest they need more time to determine how best to incorporate the TEAM evaluations into a pay plan for teachers.  TEAM includes both TVAAS scores and teacher observations to create a 1-5 ranking for teachers (1 being the lowest ranking, 5 the highest).

Some have suggested teacher resistance to the proposal played a role in the delay, but MNPS says they simply want to take the time needed to develop the best plan.

MNPS also offered no timeline for revisiting the TEAM-based portion of the pay plan.

For now, there’s more work to be done to devise a pay plan that meets new state requirements.

The MNPS decision may foreshadow similar action by other districts as teachers express concerns about pay being tied to student test scores, especially TVAAS data.

 

 

TREE to Host Testing Forum

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) will host a community forum on the use of testing in Tennessee schools this Saturday, March 1st at 2:00 PM at New Song Church in Nashville.

The forum will feature speakers Dr. Jim Horn and Dr. Denise Wilburn, scholars who have been critical of TVAAS and the overuse of testing in schools.

The forum comes at the end of a week that so far has seen the TEA call for a moratorium on the use of the PARCC tests for Common Core at the same time legislative committees put off key votes on legislation dealing with Common Core implementation.

Metro Nashville School Board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering have also raised concerns about the amount of testing in schools and the cost of that testing to the school system.

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

TEA Calls for Moratorium on PARCC

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) issued a statement today calling on the State of Tennessee to reconsider participation in PARCC – a consortium of states administering a Pearson-designed test to assess Common Core skills.

The statement indicated that TEA supports the Common Core State Standards but has concerns about the PARCC test.  Neighboring Kentucky, an early Common Core and PARCC adopter, recently chose to stop using PARCC.

Here’s the TEA Release:

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement today calling for the state to put the brakes on its plans to use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards.

 

“TEA believes Tennessee needs to reconsider the use of the PARCC assessment,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “First and foremost, we object to our students being set up to fail. Any assessments aligned with the Common Core standards should ensure no harm is done to Tennessee students, schools or educators. Though PARCC supporters speak of an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement, Tennessee students will be measured against states that invest thousands of dollars more per pupil.”

 

“TEA supports the more rigorous standards that are included in Common Core, but the implementation must provide adequate time and resources to be effective. Tennessee teacher involvement in standards development and implementation is critical to ensure the standards are developmentally appropriate for all students,” added Summerford.

 

“While thousands of teachers and administrators have received training, more support and resources are needed,” the TEA president said. “Many school districts lack the necessary technology for student access to the PARCC.”

 

“Teachers do not oppose testing and accountability. Teachers do oppose an over-reliance on summative standardized test results above all other indicators of student learning, particularly on a test that has not been properly vetted,”  emphasized Summerford.

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

Cameras in the Classroom?

Schools Matter has a series of posts up on the Measuring Effectiveness in Teaching project sponsored by the Gates Foundation.

Of note is the use of video cameras to record Tennessee classrooms and transmit the data for use in analyzing teaching behavior.  According to information obtained by Schools Matter, 120 schools in TN are using or have used the cameras to record classrooms.

The cameras were obtained and installed thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation in the amount of $3.2 million.

The goal of the project is to take into account various measures of teaching practice and then use that information to determine what makes an “effective teacher.”

While not explicitly stated, it seems likely that the project will ultimately match up teachers with high value-added scores and their videotapes so as to determine which practices are most effective.  Teachers will then be encouraged to adopt the model practices as captured on video.

While this in itself is not bad practice, it is important that any data collected in this way is put to good use.  That is, it’s not enough to tape the lessons.  Will the TNDOE use the information to help coach struggling teachers? Will the TNDOE invest funds to provide early career mentoring, a method proven to increase teacher retention and improve teacher performance?

And, while at the outset, the idea behind the project seems to have some merit, the folks at Schools Matter raise some serious concerns.

Do teachers consent to have their classes taped? Are parents informed when a camera is used to tape their student in class? Is the use of this data made clear to both teachers and parents?

According to this piece, the cameras are turned on and off by the teacher and uploaded to the teacher’s account for sharing to appropriate parties. Certainly, that would include an administrator and also the data collection group.  So, it seems the teacher does have some control over when or whether the camera is on — unless there is a district or building policy dictating otherwise.

While the MET project may yet yield some interesting information, it’s not clear what will be done with that information.  And it’s not clear that the implementation of this project in Tennessee has been carried out with full disclosure to both teachers and parents.

If the basis of the project is to match teaching practices to value-added scores, I’d urge at least some caution.

Districts participating should inform parents about the collection of this data and how it may be used.

And, if the project DOES yield useful information, Tennessee should dispatch that information with an investment in training and support of its teachers.

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

 

Silencing the Opposition

Joey Garrison has the story about some legislators who wish that local school boards didn’t hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature.

To that end, they’ve filed legislation that would allow County Commissions to revise a School Board’s budget as it relates to lobbying expenses (HB 229/SB 2525).

Many school boards in the state are members of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which hires a lobbyist to represent the interests of school boards at the General Assembly. Additionally, some local boards hire contract firms and/or in-house government relations specialists to monitor state policy.

Of course, many County Commissioners are members of the Tennessee County Commissioners Organization, which employs a lobbyist to represent the interests of County Commissions at the General Assembly.  And many local government bodies also contract for or hire government relations specialists.

And of course, if local citizens don’t like how their School Board spends money, they can speak out at public meetings, talk to Board members directly, or even vote in new Board members.

None of this seems to matter to sponsors Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.

This legislation would give County Commissions unprecedented authority over School Board budgets.  In districts that hire in-house lobbyists, the Commission would theoretically have staffing authority over that position.

In Tennessee, School Boards propose budgets and determine how funds are spent, County Commissions either fund all or part of the proposed budget.  But, Commissions have no authority over how school dollars are spent.  Their only recourse is to reject a budget and suggest amendments or improvements – which the School Board can adopt or not.

However, it seems likely that resistance to recent reform efforts by School Boards is at the root of this issue.  Recently, groups like TSBA and some prominent local School Boards have been vocally opposed to school vouchers, a state charter authorizer, and even portions of the state’s new teacher evaluation plan.

And, outside groups like StudentsFirst and the deceptively-named Tennessee Federation for Children have been spending significantly to push a pro-reform agenda.

From Garrison’s story:

Out-of-state organizations StudentsFirst and the Tennessee Federation for Children — both of which want a voucher system to let public dollars go toward private schooling — have ramped up lobbying again this fiscal yearafter spending some $235,000 to $455,000 in lobbying-related efforts the year before. The Tennessee Charter School Center is armed with eight lobbyists this session.

So it seems that rather than looking out for local taxpayers, Durham and Bell are looking out for outside special interest groups seeking to influence how local tax dollars are spent in Tennessee.

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

Interview with Speaker Beth Harwell

We had the pleasure to interview Speaker Beth Harwell again.

1) You have been quoted as saying that districts might need more time to absorb current reform before a voucher plan is enacted. Do you support the adoption of a voucher plan in this legislative session?

I think we need to be mindful about the changes we have already made, and certainly ensure any changes can be as seamless as possible. Most of the proposals that have been brought forth are limited in some way, so I think there is a desire to ease into it.

2) If a voucher program is implemented, would you consider independent funding of the voucher students, i.e. funding their tuition through new state funding rather than by redirecting BEP and local funds that would have gone to the LEA?  If the voucher program is limited, as Governor Haslam would like, this could be a relatively inexpensive way to test whether vouchers can raise student achievement without penalizing LEAs for the experiment.

I want everyone’s voice to be heard throughout the process, and welcome all ideas. However, we are already anticipating a tight budget due to revenue shortfalls, so a new funding source may not be possible at this time.
3) Under Republican leadership, Tennessee expanded access to charter schools beyond the original limitations based on students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, as well as those in currently failing schools.  Currently, access to pre-kindergarten is limited along similar lines, with free and reduced-price lunch students eligible first, and others eligible if there is enough space.  Why not follow the same path as charter schools, and make pre-K available for more students?

I believe we should keep Pre-K funding in place for those at-risk children that are currently eligible for the program. I am not for an expansion, however, because I think our focus right now needs to be on K-12 and making sure those public schools have the resources they need at their disposal. If there is additional money available, I would like to see it go to remedial programs in our K-12 schools.

4) There has been some recent discussion from MNPS and other districts about the state needing to fix the BEP. Perhaps along the lines of the reform started under BEP 2.0. Do you support moving forward with new BEP investment at this time?

The Governor just announced this week that he has formed a task force to take a hard look at the BEP funding formula, including the changes that were made with BEP 2.0. I applaud that approach, because even BEP 2.0 was passed seven years ago. I think allowing the stakeholders come to the table and have a serious discussion about the future of the BEP and what, if any, changes need to be made is important.
5) Some groups have called for the suspension of the use of TVAAS data in teacher evaluations until PARCC is fully implemented. Would you support this?

There are bills that have been proposed this year to take a look at a delay. While my personal preference is not to suspend or delay the use of this data, I will let the legislative process work and a full and healthy debate happen. I understand the concerns, and I’m listening, but I believe it is very important to use the data we are collecting to ensure Tennessee students are getting the education they deserve.

6) TNEdReport interviewed you last June, what has changed in the educational landscape of Tennessee since then?

I don’t know that much has changed, but there has been a lot of healthy discussion on the direction of education in Tennessee, and I think that is a positive thing.

7) What do you tell the teachers who are upset with the constant changes in education policy in Tennessee?

I value the work our teachers do, and I am pleased the Governor has committed to make Tennessee’s teacher salaries the fastest growing in the nation. They deserve that recognition and compensation. We share the same goal: to see that every child in Tennessee has the opportunity to succeed.


 

Haslam Appoints BEP Task Force

Governor Bill Haslam yesterday announced he’s appointed a task force to study the state’s education funding formula, known as the Basic Education Program (BEP). This is likely a response to some school districts, like Nashville, complaining that the current formula is unfair.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who will chair the group,  says the plan may need revision and updating and that this task force will provide recommendations about how to “distribute available resources in a responsible manner.”

Neither Haslam nor Huffman mentioned providing more resources to the formula as a means of further investing in Tennessee’s schools.

Someone probably ought to tell the Governor that there’s a group of people (school directors, city and county representatives, school board members, and other education stakeholders) that meet regularly to review and study the BEP.  It’s called the BEP Review Committee and it is required by law, specifically: Tennessee Code Annotated 49-1-302(4)(a).

This task force meets 4 times a year and makes recommendations annually for upgrades or improvements to the BEP.  Here’s the latest report, issued November 1, 2013.

The top recommendation of the task force is to continue the phase-in of BEP 2.0 — a revision to the formula developed by Governor Bredesen and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in 2007. The projected remaining cost of full implementation is $146 million.  The Committee is recommending a phase-in approach, so something along the lines of $50 million a year each year for the next three years could meet this goal.

Other recommendations of the BEP Review Committee include:

  • Reducing the class size ratio used to generate teachers for grades 7-12. This would have the impact of sending more dollars to districts for hiring teachers. The Committee recommends a reduction of 2-3 students at a projected cost of $81 million.
  • Providing funds for professional development of teachers at a rate of 1% of the total dollars spent on instructional salaries. This would cost $22 million.
  • Providing funding for a comprehensive mentoring program for all new teachers and principals with a  1:12 mentor/teacher ratio.  The mentoring program would cost $14 million.

The Committee makes recommendations about changing the ratio for funding school nurses and improving technology, including creating a funding element for technology coordinators.

The bottom line is, there’s already a BEP task force, it’s been doing it’s work for some time now, and it has made solid recommendations for improving the formula.

I suppose the first assignment of the task force could be to review the work of the BEP Review Committee.

Of course, one might expect legislative Democrats to take up the cause and fight for improvements to the BEP by way of legislative proposal or budget amendment.  Perhaps proposing a BEP 2.0 phase-in or championing mentoring for new teachers?

However, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh tells us that’s not going to happen. In an interview we published yesterday, he said:

There are a few proposals before the General Assembly that deal with BEP, primarily with the state’s portion of funding. At this time, I’m not aware of any other Democratic proposals that will change the BEP, especially in light of a tight budget cycle.

So, the task force will meet and report and the BEP might (or might not) be improved.  And the BEP Review Committee will continue to meet and issue reports that go largely ignored on Capitol Hill. Ignored so routinely, apparently, that the Governor forgot the Committee even existed.

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

 

Our Interview With Rep. Craig Fitzhugh

Here is our interview with State Representative Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), the Democratic Leader in the House.

What are the top education priorities for Democrats in the 2014 legislative session?

House Democrats are focused on creating quality public schools for every child. Education reform has been the buzzword at legislative plaza for a number of years, but we remain concerned that these changes have been more about style than substance.

We remain concerned about teacher evaluations and the negative impact they have on teacher moral and retention.

We have concerns about common core, not so much the standards, as the speed with which they have been implemented. We want to make sure that our schools are technologically ready for Common Core testing, especially where our rural schools are concerned with bandwidth and our urban schools with computer availability.

Democrats also strongly support a universal pre-k program. Currently, there is $64,000,000 in federal funding available to Tennessee for this purpose. We have legislation, HB 291, that would allow us to take advantage of this program and extend pre-k to thousands of Tennessee children.

What’s the Democratic view on the role of the State in public education?

Tennessee has two constitutional responsibilities: a balanced budget and a free system of public education. On the latter, we believe Tennessee must do better.

Depending upon which study you read, Tennessee ranks near the bottom in funding for public education. While we are proud of what our teachers and parents have done with little funding (in particular the spectacular improvement in graduation rates we’ve seen over the last number of years), we believe that we have to be careful in preserving these precious public dollars. Now is not the time to take public money and send it to untested charters or private institutions. This will only serve to take more money from the already small pot of funding we have for our public schools.

Will there be a move to address and improve BEP funding along the lines of BEP 2.0?

There are a few proposals before the General Assembly that deal with BEP, primarily with the state’s portion of funding. At this time, I’m not aware of any other Democratic proposals that will change the BEP, especially in light of a tight budget cycle.

Will Democrats support efforts to limit or remove TVAAS scores from teacher evaluation?

Democrats remain concerned about the teacher evaluations and their deleterious effect on teacher moral and retention. At a minimum, we believe there needs to be a moratorium on teacher evaluations as they currently stand, while a review is undertaken by the Department of Education, in consultation with educators.

Will Democrats attempt to address the state board’s action on teacher pay?

Democrats opposed the unusual decision of the State Board of Education to do away with the state minimum salary schedule. We are particularly concerned that this decision was made without any input from legislators and at a time when the General Assembly was not in session.

The State Board of Education is a group of unelected individuals who have had an outsized impact on education policy over the last year. While we don’t have a caucus position yet, I anticipate a lively discussion concerning their role.

The Democrats will be introducing legislation to require the Commissioner of Education to have teaching experience. Can you describe that bill? Is it a shot a Commissioner Huffman, who only has a few years of teaching experience?

In order to be a judge, an individual must have been a practicing lawyer for five years. We think that those who are charged with the education of our children should be held to an even higher standard.

This bill is not about any individual person, it is about a fundamental lack of respect we’ve seen for those who teach during this administration. Part of the problem is that senior officials at the Department of Education lack the in-classroom experience necessary to understand the ramifications of their policies. This legislation hopes to address the growing gap we see between public policy and practical application.

We saw last session that some rural Republicans were not happy with some of the education bills coming from the administration. Do you think the Democrats can pair up with certain Republicans to oppose vouchers and state-authorizer?

As I’ve said before, if there is one issue that unites Democrats it’s a commitment to public education. With that in mind, I would tell you that we are happy to partner with whomever we need to in order to achieve the best outcomes possible for our students, our teachers and our communities.

What is the counter argument on vouchers? If students are stuck in failing schools, and those schools aren’t going to turn around immediately, why make them stay there? Isn’t even a small lifeline for some kids better than nothing?

Vouchers are not a lifeline, they are at best a band-aid: they are only available to a limited number of students and studies have shown that those students do no better than the counterparts they leave behind in public schools. Meanwhile, what they will accomplish is a wholesale defunding of public schools. As I said earlier, we have a very limited pot of money for public education. When you start pulling funds out for virtual schools, charter schools and now vouchers, you take that limited pot of funds and make it even smaller. If we were like Ohio and were in the mid-thirties or lower on per pupil funding, I’d be in favor of this program. As it stands now, however, we can’t justify taking money from our already cash-strapped public education system.