TNReady and TVAAS: A Teacher’s Perspective

Nashville teacher Amanda Kail talks about the connection between TNReady and TVAAS and the importance of legislation moving TODAY that could actually hold teachers harmless.

QUESTION: I thought the legislature said the tests wouldn’t count. What’s going on?
ANSWER: The state legislature was moved by all the horror stories surrounding testing problems to tack a bunch of amendments on to the only remaining education bill of the session (HB1109/SB0987) which attempted to “hold harmless” students, teachers, and schools for the results of the test. What this technically means is that local boards of education can vote on how much they want the students’ scores to count towards their grades (0-15%), and that the data cannot be used to issue a letter grade to schools (A-F, another asinine idea designed to find new ways to punish schools that serve mostly poor kids, but I digress).
However, for teachers the bill specified only that the results of the testing could not be used for decisions regarding employment and compensation. It does not say anything about the scores not being used for EVALUATIONS. Because of this, many teachers across the state pushed TEA to go back to the legislature and demand that the legislation be amended to exclude this year’s scores from TVAAS. You can read more about the particulars of that in Andy Spears’ excellent article for the Tennessee Education Report.
As a result, the House Finance Committee voted to strip all the amendments from HB1109 and start over again with the “hold harmless” language. That needs to happen TOMORROW (4/24/18 — TODAY).
QUESTION: What is TVAAS?
ANSWER: Teachers in Tennessee have evaluations based partly on value-added measures (we called it “TVAAS” here). What this means is that the Tennessee Department of Education uses some sort of mystical secret algorithm (based on cattle propagation– REALLY!) to calculate how much growth each student will generate on statewide tests. If a student scores less growth (because, like, maybe their test crashed 10 times and they weren’t really concentrating so much anymore) than predicted, that student’s teacher receives a negative number that is factored into their yearly effectiveness score. Generally, TVAAS has been decried by everyone from our state teacher union to the American Statistical Association (and when you upset the statisticians, you have really gone too far), but the state continues to defend its use.
QUESTION: What if I am a teacher who didn’t experience any problems, and I think my students did great on the test? Why would I want to oppose using this year’s data for TVAAS?
ANSWER: Thousands of your colleagues around the state don’t have that luxury, because they DID have problems, and their students’ scores suffered as a result. In fact, even in a good year, thousands of your colleagues have effectiveness scores based on subjects they don’t even teach, because TVAAS is only based on tested subjects (math, ELA, and depending on the year science and social studies). The fact is that TVAAS is a rotten system. If it benefits you individually as a teacher, that’s great for you. But too many of your colleagues are driven out of the classroom by the absurdity of being held accountable for things completely beyond their control. As a fellow professional, I hope you see the wisdom in advocating for a sane system over one that just benefits you personally.
QUESTION: Okay. So what do we do now?
ANSWER: Contact your state house and senate representatives! TODAY! These are the last days of the legislative session, so it is IMPERATIVE that you contact them now and tell them to support amendments to HB1109 and SB0987 that will stop the use of this year’s testing data towards TVAAS. You can find your legislators here.
Don’t leave teachers holding the bag for the state’s mistakes. AGAIN.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Volunteer Strike?

Nashville teacher Amanda Kail offers thoughts on the current national climate with teacher strikes or other actions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. She takes a moment to explain (from a teacher’s perspective) why this is happening and if it might happen in Tennessee.

Here are her posts:

If you are not a teacher, here are some things you might not know about why so many teachers are striking right now:

1. Most public employees, including teachers, have had their salaries frozen since 2008. In Nashville, step increases that are meant to keep up with inflation and encourage teachers to stick with the job were reintroduced only last year, and only then because MNEA stood up and fought for it. Even so, with the reintroduction of step raises (such as they are- in Nashville it takes a teacher with a MA 10 years to earn $50,000), teacher salaries are now barely above what they were 10 years ago, while cost of living and health care (because our legislature refused to expand medicaid) has sky-rocketed. In Oklahoma, many teachers were seeing the cost of their health insurance exceed their paycheck. This is why you are seeing teachers demand significant raises, not because we are greedy or want gold-plated glue sticks.

2. In states without strong teacher unions, state funding for public education has been continually slashed. In Oklahoma, many districts have been forced to go to a 4 day school week. Here in Nashville, a city with a booming economy that outpaces national averages, parents and teachers find themselves having to fight not only for school employee raises and basic supplies, but for funding school lunch programs and filters to remove lead from school drinking fountains. How can this be? Tennessee ranks 43rd in the nation for per pupil funding, and our state legislature which is so generous with its offers of guns and “In God We Trust” signs, only gives us about 60% of the money we are allocated in the state budget. So 60% of already drastically underfunded = hungry kids drinking leaded water in the “It City”. And guess who mostly makes up the difference for public school kids, who provides not only school supplies, but clothing, food, medical care, transportation, and even emergency housing? Teachers. Out of our own pockets. With our low and stagnant wages. This is why you are seeing teachers who have never attended a political rally before suddenly fighting so fiercely. We ARE doing it for the kids.

3. When teachers say we want “respect”, we don’t mean more cheap tchotchkes that say “we  teachers”, or more politicians to say, “thank you for all you do for our kids blah blah blah”. We mean that we want evaluation systems that are fair. That we want our professionalism to not be measured by tests that are deeply flawed and poorly planned (TN’s state tests have had major problems 3 years in a row, including one year that the test had to be abandoned mid-session). That we want leaders who have proven themselves in the classroom first, not hatched out of some neoliberal think-tank dedicated to robbing public schools for the DeVosses of the world. That we want to have the time to design lessons, grade, and teach without interruption by more unfunded mandates. It means that teachers who choose to work with low income students, students with disabilities, and immigrants should have the time, resources, and even more importantly, the trust that we know what we are doing, so we can fill in the foundational skills our students need in order to grow so that they can function on grade level, or beyond! It means giving us class sizes and case loads that are manageable. It means that our districts should consult us as experts in the field on curriculum design and proper assessment before throwing away millions on more pre-packed crap that will end up collecting dust in the closet somewhere. It means valuing veteran teachers with teaching degrees from respected universities enough to pay competitive wages and offer paths to leadership. Seriously, you can keep the tchotchkes.

4. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Trust teachers. We are fighting not only for our own babies, but yours. We stand up for EVERY kid in our community, and we see first hand what happens when communities refuse to do the same. If we say there is a problem, we mean it. Support your local teacher union. Advocate for your neighborhood school. Question why the schools that serve mostly poor kids often look so neglected. Demand that the political candidate of your choice fight to support public schools. Vote like every kid in your state is depending on you. Teachers should not have to put our whole careers on the line to show how badly things have gotten, but we will. So listen. And join us.

On whether there may be strikes in Tennessee:

I have had several people ask me about the possibility of Nashville teachers going on strike. Here is what I will say: Sometimes a walk-out doesn’t look like a picket line. It looks like the 100 or so vacancies our district can’t fill. It looks like increasing numbers of teachers leaving in their first and second years. It looks like veteran teachers deciding to leave the career they loved because they can’t take anymore of the insanity and nonsense wrought by testing. It looks like unstaffed after-school programs because most teachers have to work second and third jobs. It looks like less and less experienced teachers in the classroom, because no one else will put up with it.

Every time a teacher leaves, the students of that teacher lose ground. I’ve seen classrooms become revolving doors of inexperienced and overwhelmed teachers, giving way to subs or overloading other classrooms. Our kids deserve better.

Here is the thing. Teachers really can’t go on like this, and we are having less and less to lose. I think it is HIGH time that the city of Nashville, not just Dr. Joseph and the BOE put school employee raises as a number one priority. The 2% “raise” we are currently being offered barely covers inflation. It still takes teachers with an MA 10 years to reach $50,000, at the same time the administrators at Bransford make more than our city’s mayor. Something has got to give.

 

 

Teachers, what are your thoughts?

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


 

Amanda Kail on the Next Director of MNPS

MNPS teacher Amanda Kail made the following remarks at tonight’s school board meeting in reference to the selection of the next Director of Schools.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the school board. My name is Amanda Kail, and I am an EL teacher at Margaret Allen Middle School. I am here to speak first of all to thank you for your patience and your commitment to hearing teachers who have come to several board meetings this year. And to tell you of the many conversations of hope I have had with teachers across the district who feel like they are finally being heard. Your actions on our behalf have not gone unnoticed.
Secondly, I am here to suggest crucial requirements for the next director of schools from a teacher’s perspective. As you work together towards finding our next leader, I hope my comments can be of some use.
First and foremost, it is imperative that we find a candidate with significant and recent teaching experience. So much has changed in just the eight years that I have taught in public schools. MNPS is in desperate need of leadership that understands what currently is, and what is not, working in the classroom.
Second, we need a leader who will reduce testing. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a teacher in this district who does not feel that testing has taken far too much time away from instruction this year. Additionally, as educational experts, we can tell you that the quality of the tests we have been forced to give are so poor that we have gotten little to no useful information from the results. MNPS needs a leader who understands that testing is not learning, and who will put protecting instructional time as the highest importance for our schools.
Third, we need a director who will make teacher retention a priority. Teaching, especially in as diverse and complex district such as ours, is exceedingly difficult. We need to invest in teacher evaluation systems that are not impossible to survive for new teachers. And we need to value the experience and talents of veteran teachers by bringing back step raises, and by offering them more opportunities for real leadership in the district. And we need a director who will be willing to collaboratively conference with teachers, so that we can work together to make our district a national leader.
Fourth, we must have a candidate who will be an advocate for all our students, regardless of race, gender, economic status, sexual or gender identity, religion, ability, nationality, or immigration status. MNPS is a bright star of diversity. Our leader must be ready to engage with state and national politics to protect all Nashville’s kids, especially those who are most vulnerable.
And finally, we need a leader who can think of our district as a whole. Currently, we are a district torn by conflict over school choice and charters. We have several schools, including zoned and charter schools, that are half-empty. And now, on top of after-school tutoring, clubs, extra-curricular activities, home visits, and after-school parent conferences, teachers are having to go out canvassing on weekends in order to protect their jobs and their schools. I have students who have bounced from charter to charter, and then back to their zoned school in a matter of weeks. How does this help anyone? Kids need consistency. All schools need to offer the kinds of options that parents want. We need to stop perpetuating a system where one school has to tear down another in order to survive, and replace it with a community support services and collaboration.
I know your responsibility of choosing the director of schools is a heavy one. I hope that these suggestions will be useful in your search.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Still Not Ready

The MNPS Board of Education last night passed a resolution calling on the State of Tennessee to delay the use of TVAAS scores in teacher evaluations during the first year of the new TNReady test. The resolution is similar to one passed in Knox County last month.

Here’s the MNPS version:

A RESOLUTION OF THE METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION IN OPPOSITION TO THE USE OF TNREADY DATA FOR TEACHER EVALUATIONS FOR THE SCHOOL YEAR 2015-2016

PROPOSED BY ANNA SHEPHERD

WHEREAS, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is responsible for providing a local system of public education, 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, all public school systems in Tennessee have been granted a one-time pass in the 2015-2016 school year to not integrate TNReady scores into each student’s final grades due to an anticipated delay in assessment results, and
WHEREAS, teachers with at least five years of experience are eligible for tenure only if they receive an overall evaluation score above expectations or significantly above expectations for the prior two years, and
WHEREAS, this school year is the first year that the TNReady assessment will be administered, and
WHEREAS, the TNReady assessment is not a compatible assessment with the TCAP assessment, and
WHEREAS, the TNReady assessment requires the extensive use of technology and the State of Tennessee BEP funding formula, already inadequate, does not meet these technology needs or the needs of MNPS schools as a whole, and
WHEREAS, the Tennessee General Assembly and Tennessee Board of Education have already adopted the “Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Act” to lessen the evaluation score impact of TNReady in English/language arts and math, and
WHEREAS, over 70% of MNPS teachers, counselors, librarians, instructional coaches, and others do not produce individual TVAAS data, and
WHEREAS, MNPS seeks to recruit and retain excellent teachers to serve our students.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION AS FOLLOWS:
MNPS Board of Education strongly urges the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Board of Education to provide a waiver from utilizing the TNReady data for the use of teacher evaluations for the school year 2015-2016 or allow districts to only use observation data from evaluations to make decisions on hiring, placement, and compensation based strictly on the 2015-2016 TNReady data, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Board of Education consider the impact of the 2015-2016 TNReady data upon future years of teacher evaluations, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Board of Education consider allowing teachers to be eligible for tenure when they have received a composite score of four (4) or five (5) for two of any of the last five years, as opposed to the prior two years only.
ADOPTED BY THE MNPS BOARD OF EDUCATION AT ITS MEETING ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2016.

 

The resolution includes a few interesting notes:

  • 70% of MNPS teachers don’t have individual TVAAS data
  • There’s mention of the inadequacy of the BEP formula
  • There’s a call for further review of TVAAS after this year

According to prepared remarks by MNPS teacher Amanda Kail prior to the vote, four other counties have passed similar resolutions.

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

CAPE Flies into 2016

At the first MNPS Board meeting of 2016, advocacy group CAPE will again be encouraging teachers to raise their voices and speak out. CAPE member Amanda Kail previews the remarks she plans to make this evening:

Ladies and gentlemen of the school board — My name is Amanda Kail. I am an EL teacher at Margaret Allen Middle School.
First and foremost, I would like to wish all of you a happy new year. And in that vein, I would like all of us as a district to take a moment to reflect on what we have gotten right, and how we can improve in 2016.
First of all, you are to be commended in recognizing that over-testing has become a serious problem for our schools. Countless studies from leading experts in education, as well as the groundswell of parents around the country who are opting their children out of the tests, and even demands from students, such as the White Station High School students organizing in Shelby County point to the same conclusion — high-stakes testing has been a colossal mistake, regardless of the intentions. Many of you have made statements recognizing the need to reign in the testing as a priority. Thank you. Now let’s make 2016 the year that happens.
How can we do that? First, let’s end testing where we can. DISTRICT benchmarks take up SIGNIFICANT instructional time, and are often given so close to other tests as to be redundant. Getting rid of them would mean 3 less weeks of testing (and 3 weeks more of instruction).
Second, make instructional time THE FOCUS of school days again so teachers can teach and students can learn. Cap building-level testing to no more than once per semester. Remember that assessments are now given on-line, and that most schools at MNPS do not have enough computers to give these assessments in one day, meaning that a single whole-school assessment can drag on for one or two weeks in order to accommodate all students and grade levels.
Third, join Knox County, Blount County, Washington County and Anderson County schools by supporting Board Member Shepherd’s proposal to postpone using TN Ready scores on teacher evaluations this year. Tell Nashville teachers you respect our profession enough to not evaluate us on something that is so much beyond our control. Then tell the Tennessee legislature that it is time to reexamine the trust we have placed in high-stakes testing to tell us anything besides which schools are rich and which are poor.
Finally, lets find a director of schools who truly has ALL of our schools at heart. MNPS needs someone who will ask our legislature to end high-stakes testing and who will demand full funding for our district. Someone who will spend their time getting struggling schools more resources, like the wrap-around services from the Community Achieves program, and who will implement a fair and fully-supported discipline policy grounded in restorative justice. Someone who recognizes that threatening and punishing schools that are serving students with the highest needs is not nearly as useful as finding those schools the resources they need.
We have much work to do, but if we work together, this can be the year our system truly shines. Thank you.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

A Simple Wish

Amanda Kail, a teacher in MNPS and a member of CAPE, has released her prepared remarks ahead of tonight’s MNPS School Board meeting.

Here’s what she plans to say:

Dear ladies and gentlemen of the board. My name is Amanda Kail. I am an EL teacher at Margaret Allen Middle Prep. And I am here to talk about my wish list for this district.
So what do I wish? How would I make things different? I wish that this district would take teaching and learning seriously. I wish that instructional time was treated as the MOST important part of the school year. I wish that no one would even dream of asking teachers to shift their schedules and lesson plans constantly to make room for assessments that give us very little useful feedback.
Why don’t these assessments give us useful feedback? Because they are riddled with confusing formats, questions that are developmentally inappropriate, and require students to navigate unfamiliar technology. Because the internet connection is slow or the laptop malfunctions, or the test kicks them out for unknown reasons. Because they do not differentiate for our vastly diverse student population. Recently, one of my students, Z, told me that he has given up on school. Z is a bright, caring EL student with significant learning disabilities. When I asked him why, he told me that none of the work that he does in the classroom matters, because he is going to fail all the tests anyway. He said, “When my teachers give me work in the classroom, I understand it. But then the tests come and I just fail. I don’t understand anything. I give up.”
Z knows that he can learn. And so do his teachers. He can’t get there by the same path as everyone else, but he can get there. But the barrage of tests, which insist on assessing everyone the same way, tell him otherwise. We have got to stop putting so much trust in these tests that tell us our students are below basic, that our teachers are ineffective, and that our schools are failures. And on behalf of Z and every student like him, I am not giving up.
At some level, the state agrees with me. The TN Department of Education has given students a grace period of a year before TN Ready counts for them. However, this test will STILL count for teacher evaluations. So I am back to wishing that the district would take teaching and learning seriously. How many teachers do you think are going to continue to commit professional suicide by getting low evaluations due to test scores? Tests that they know, and even the state knows, our students have no hope in passing? Would you stay? Are we as a district weary of the teacher retention problem?
Luckily, dear board members, there is something you can do. The Knoxville school board recently passed a resolution asking the state to not count TN Ready scores in teacher evaluations. I am asking you to do the same. The state needs to hear from district leaders as a united front on this issue. It will go a long way to show that you do take teaching and learning seriously. That is my wish.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

CAPE Flies Again

Newly-formed education advocacy group CAPE (Community Advocates for Public Education) will be in action at tonight’s MNPS School Board meeting, according to a press release:

The Coalition Advocating for Public Education (CAPE) will continue its “Use Your Teacher Voice” campaign at the MNPS school board meeting on Tuesday, December 8. The group attracted significant attention from both the media and board members when nine teachers spoke on the impact of high-stakes testing on their classrooms at the November board meeting.

Amanda Kail, one of the founders of CAPE and an EL teacher at Margaret Allen Middle Prep explains, “We are bringing the voices of professional educators back to the discussions about public education. There are so many big problems that need solving right now like over-testing, teacher retention, school closures, and the school-to-prison pipeline. These are all problems that teachers can help solve. We are the ones professionally grounded in the theory and practice of education. We are the ones that are doing the educating. We can help do what’s right for our kids.”

Kail notes that there are few professions that are so driven by policy makers who are not part of the profession. “A lot of people get involved in public education because they want to sell something. And there is nothing wrong with creating educational products and services, but it creates different goals. Earning a profit is not the same thing as educating a child. This is why CAPE encourages teachers to speak out, in order to create more balance when it comes to policy decisions.”

Board member Will Pinkston has pledged to make reducing testing a priority in the search for candidates for director of schools. Eleven teachers, nine of them who will be addressing the board for the first time, have signed up to speak at Tuesday’s meeting. Their theme will be “wish lists” for the district.

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

CAPEd Crusaders

At last night’s MNPS Board meeting, members of newly-formed education advocacy group CAPE spoke out about the time spent testing students this year as the state shifts to new TNReady tests.

Here’s what one member and teacher had to say to WSMV:

“It disrupts our schedules. It demoralizes the students. It demoralizes the teachers. It creates chaos,” Kale said. “Our students don’t even know what their schedules are … because they’re interrupted so many times for testing.”

The new state tests significantly increase the time students will spend testing, especially in the earlier grades.

The increased time spent testing comes at a time when a state task force has recommended both reduced testing and more testing transparency.

While the 2016 session of the Tennessee General Assembly may take up the issue, that likely won’t stop the administration of this year’s TNReady.

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

Education, Inc. Coming to Nashville

A coalition of education advocacy groups will be hosting a screening of the film Education, Inc. on September 1st. Here’s the press release:

Students, parents, teachers and public education advocates are gathering Tuesday, Sept. 1, for a screening and discussion on the trend of corporate takeovers of American public schools examined in the documentary Education, Inc.

Screening of the film begins at 6:00 pm followed by a panel discussion at Vanderbilt Wilson Hall 103, located at the intersection of Terrace Place and 21st Ave. (Metered parking is available around the space.) Panelists include: Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston, Nashville school teacher Amanda Kail, and Nashville parent Chelle Baldwin.

Several groups from Tennessee have come together to sponsor the event: Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Vanderbilt Students of Nonviolence and Vanderbilt Students Engaging in Education Dialogue (SEED).

“As public schools nationwide struggle for funding, complicated by the impact of poverty and politics, corporate reformers see opportunity to take away local controls of our community schools,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence (TREE). “It’s important we stop and take a look at what’s happening here in Tennessee.”

Education, Inc. was produced by documentary filmmakers and public school parents Brian and Cindy Malone. The Malones made the film to inform and
engage local communities across the country. They have made the film available for house parties and community screenings by simply purchasing a DVD. Their hope is that students, parents, citizens and public school advocacy groups will use the film to help start an important conversation about the role and value of public education in America.

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