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


 

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


 

Listen With Your Ears

Today, Governor Bill Haslam announced a statewide “listening tour” to hear from educators about the challenges with TNReady and ways to make improvements going forward.

While I applaud the effort to listen to educators, it seems to be coming a little too late. It also seems the end goal has already been decided: Keep TNReady.

Interestingly, Commissioner McQueen has convened a “testing task force” several times during the years of TNReady. So far, no real improvements have come from these meetings.

It’s quite likely the educators on the front lines have some useful ideas about how to improve assessment in our state and I’m hopeful the next Governor will take those ideas into account.

It’s also worth noting that true listening requires significant effort and investment. As noted in the press release announcing the tour, preparation and implementation of this year’s TNReady will continue while the tour is being conducted.

Some have suggested hitting the pause button on TNReady this year and spending the year listening and working to improve assessment for the 2019-2020 school year. This would give the next Governor time to digest recommendations and move forward with improvements.

Here’s another interesting statement from the release:

“Tennessee’s unprecedented improvement in education is the result of high academic standards and an assessment that measures knowledge of those standards,” Haslam said. “Without aligned assessments, we don’t know where our students stand and where we need to improve. We finally have a test that is aligned to Tennessee’s strong academic standards, and I don’t want recent assessment delivery issues to cause us to lose sight of why we have these tests in the first place. Delivering the test without disruption is essential and we must get it right. I am confident this listening tour and process will inform the critical work ahead of us.”

The “unprecedented improvement” Haslam mentions is the whole “fastest-improving” line he so often uses in reference to the 2013 NAEP results. Of course, that happened BEFORE a single administration of TNReady. In fact, TNReady hadn’t even been invented at that point. Since 2013, Tennessee’s NAEP scores have (predictably) leveled off a bit.

In other words, if, as Haslam suggests, an aligned assessment (even one never successfully administered) is the key to “unprecedented” improvements for students, our test must not be that great. Or, maybe having an aligned assessment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Let me go on record as saying I think some form of assessment of student progress is useful. I also believe (as my past writing indicates) that attaching student grades or teacher evaluations to such an assessment is of dubious value.

I appreciate what Governor Haslam is trying to do with this listening tour. While I certainly have some ideas about alternatives to the current testing regime, I think policymakers should take some time and just listen. Listen to the professionals — the teachers in the classrooms who are with students each and every day. Don’t listen with the outcome in mind, don’t listen while also building an implementation process for this year, just listen.

PERSONAL NOTE: This is my 800th post on TNEdReport — your investment helps make the work sustainable!

 

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


 

 

 

Letters!

While district and school TNReady and TVAAS scores were released today, there’s an ongoing battle of letters between some educators and policymakers suggesting a pause in TNReady due to a history of problems and those who suggest that our state’s assessment is the reason for so much recent success.

Chalkbeat has the story on 11 Directors of Schools suggesting the state push forward with TNReady and 18 legislators from Nashville and Memphis who support the letter sent by Directors in those districts calling for a pause while the state transitions to a new Governor and Education Commissioner.

Here’s more:

“As members of the Tennessee General Assembly responsible for helping set policies and appropriate taxpayer funds for public education, we have been dismayed at the failed implementation of and wasted resources associated with a testing system that is universally considered — by any set of objective measures – to be a colossal failure,” said the letter, signed by legislators from Davidson and Shelby counties, where Nashville and Memphis are located.

Those who signed include: John Ray Clemmons, Bo Mitchell, Sherry Jones, Dwayne Thompson, Brenda Gilmore, Darren Jernigan, Antonio Parkinson, Jason Powell, Bill Beck, Mike Stewart, Barbara Ward Cooper, Larry Miller, G.A. Hardaway,  Karen D. Camper, Harold Love,  Johnnie Turner, Sara Kyle, and Joe Towns.

Meanwhile, a small group of Directors of Schools said:

“Test items and question types are directly linked to the standards and are pushing students to deeper critical thinking,” the email said. “The comprehensive accountability model holds schools and districts accountable for improved student performance…. Challenges remain, but together we must be positive as we continue the work.”

Superintendents from Maryville, Alcoa, Sevier, Johnson, Dyersburg, Loudon, Clinton, Marshall, McKenzie, Trousdale, and Lenoir signed the statement, which they said was also sent to McQueen.

Here’s a brief review of the last few years of testing in Tennessee.

2015 – TCAP tests (and quick score problems)

2016 — Online TNReady w/Measurement Inc. (disaster)

2017 — Paper TNReady with new vendor (Questar) — long delay before results are returned

2018 — Online TNReady II — this time, with dump trucks

How can you hold schools and districts accountable for improved student performance when you can’t consistently, reliably assess student performance?

What Dorsey Hopson, Shawn Joseph, and the group of lawmakers backing them are suggesting is simply to take a year to re-examine our testing program and take the necessary steps to get it right. All of them see some value in an annual assessment.

In fact, when addressing this issue and expressing his support for Hopson and Joseph, Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak indicated his support for moving to the ACT suite of assessments. Likewise, Wilson County Schools is seeking options that would allow the use of different assessments.

There may well be more letters as this discussion keeps moving.

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


 

Perspective

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released district and school scores from this past year’s TNReady.

Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney puts the release in perspective:

Today’s release of value-added and achievement data punctuates last year’s statewide assessment challenges. We have made note of the state’s report. Our school community remains focused on providing WCS students with a balanced educational experience which promotes academics, athletics, and the arts.

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


 

Arts Teacher Alert

The ongoing saga that is the portfolio scoring process for teachers includes those submitting Fine Arts portfolios. While Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers received their scores in late July, well after the Department of Education’s stated deadline, Fine Arts portfolio scores have yet to be returned to teachers.

Yes, those teachers completed their portfolios by April 15th, but the results are still not back yet. That means Fine Arts teachers submitted portfolios 124 days BEFORE they will receive any feedback.

Here’s more from an email sent by one district about the portfolio process:

We got more guidance last night from the State Department on reporting these portfolio submissions…heads up, the fines arts comes out Friday, August 17th and has the same issues but the deadline is the same for early grades and fine arts so we will have to work fast to get this done. Please let your music/art people know to be looking in Educopia for submission errors such as mismatch standards, etc. on Friday the 17th.

The “submission errors” this email references are those the TDOE is blaming on teachers in what has been a huge headache of a process.

Now, the state is offering to provide further review IF a district requests it on behalf of certain teachers:

while we will not allow resubmissions, we will re-review educators’ collections in select cases. If a district reviews its submission error cases with impacted teachers and believes it has identified a case in which there was not in fact a submission error, the district can request to have those collections re-reviewed.

 

By Aug. 27, districts will be asked to submit one form with the names of the teacher(s) whom you believe do not have a submission error but were noted as having one, along with their portfolio collection. Those collections will be peer reviewed again. If it is confirmed there is a submission error, the educator will still receive a 1 on that collection and have the opportunity to vacate his or her overall portfolio score. They will also receive feedback on what error they made. If the peer reviewer determines there was no submission error, the collection will be scored and the department will review and post the new score in TNCompass.

This means Fine Arts teachers will only have a few days to review their graded portfolios and ask the district to submit the form requesting further review. If the portfolio score ends up being vacated, teachers will then receive the school score (from TNReady) for 35% of their TEAM evaluation score. Of course, this year’s TNReady administration was a complete disaster. As a result of the DOE’s interpretation of legislation passed in April, teachers who have a TEAM score based in any part on TNReady may choose to vacate their score for this year entirely.

It is still unclear what the long-term consequences are for a teacher who does not have a TEAM score for a year of service. These scores are used to apply for tenure and to renew a teaching license, so it seems there may well be an “adverse impact” if the score ends up being vacated altogether. Perhaps the 2019 Commissioner of Education will have some idea of what this all means.

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


 

Battle Lines Being Drawn

Last week, the School Superintendents in Memphis and Nashville wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen calling for a pause in TNReady. The letter indicated the leaders had “no confidence” in TNReady. Following the letter, the Knox County School Board voted 8-1 to send a letter to Governor Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in the Department of Education. Later that week, the Director of Schools in Maury County said he agreed with the idea of pausing TNReady and suggested moving to the ACT suite of assessments.

Today, Commissioner McQueen issued a response. According to Chalkbeat, her response indicates that pausing TNReady would be “illegal and inconsistent with our values as a state.”

McQueen cites federal and state law requiring test administration. Here’s the deal: The entity that determines the penalty for violating state law regarding testing is the Department of Education. The penalty they can use is withholding BEP funds. This is the threat they used back in 2016 to force districts to back down on threats to halt testing then.

Let’s be clear: The Tennessee Department of Education is the enforcer of the state testing mandate. The DOE could refuse to penalize districts who paused testing OR the DOE could take the suggestion made by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville and just hit the pause button for this year and work toward an effective administration of testing for 2019-20.

Next, McQueen cites federal law. I’ve written about why this is misguided. Here’s more:

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

That’s right, the federal government tends to leave decisions regarding punishment up to the states. Of course, Tennessee could also request a 1-year waiver of ESSA requirements in order to further clarify the need to get testing right. In short, the only problem now is McQueen’s unwillingness to admit failure and take aggressive steps to make improvement.

McQueen also says that halting testing is “inconsistent” with Tennessee values.

While in McQueen’s world, halting testing is inconsistent with our state’s values, lying about why testing isn’t working is apparently perfectly fine. Oh, and playing a game with testing vendors? No problem!

McQueen claims that we need the tests to help identify gaps in education delivery in traditionally under-served students. Yes, having a working annual assessment can be a helpful tool in identifying those gaps. But, when the test doesn’t work — when students get the wrong test, when the testing climate is not consistent — then we get results that are unreliable. That helps no one.

What should be consistent with Tennessee values is taking the time to get testing right. That means ensuring it’s not disruptive to the instruction process and the results are useful and returned to students, teachers, and parents in a timely fashion.

Will McQueen’s letter deter other district leaders from speaking out on TNReady? Will there be additional fallout from the DOE’s failure to effectively administer Pre-K/K portfolios?

Stay tuned.

 

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


 

The State Backs Down

Just one day after the Knox County School Board voted 8-1 to indicate they had “no confidence” in last year’s Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio evaluation by the TDOE, Commissioner Candice McQueen issued a reprieve of sorts for teachers impacted by what her department has deemed “user error.”

In a communication to district leaders today, McQueen states:

while we will not allow resubmissions, we will re-review educators’ collections in select cases. If a district reviews its submission error cases with impacted teachers and believes it has identified a case in which there was not in fact a submission error, the district can request to have those collections re-reviewed.

 

By Aug. 27, districts will be asked to submit one form with the names of the teacher(s) whom you believe do not have a submission error but were noted as having one, along with their portfolio collection. Those collections will be peer reviewed again. If it is confirmed there is a submission error, the educator will still receive a 1 on that collection and have the opportunity to vacate his or her overall portfolio score. They will also receive feedback on what error they made. If the peer reviewer determines there was no submission error, the collection will be scored and the department will review and post the new score in TNCompass.

Finally, the DOE is beginning to work to correct a process that was time-consuming, disruptive, and not at all helpful to improving instruction.

I was recently able to listen to a group of more than 20 Kindergarten teachers describe their experience with the portfolio process in the 2017-18 school year. All 20 indicated they had at least one collection that received a score of “1.” While this may not have resulted in an overall score below a three for that teacher, it does seem problematic that every single teacher I heard had the exact same experience. At least one collection was given a “1” and there was no explanation — no feedback as to whether it was a submission error or the teacher simply didn’t meet the expected standard.

As someone who has taught college courses for 20 years, if I gave an assignment or test and ALL my students made the same error, I’d think the problem was with the test — either my instructions or the question weren’t clear. My default response would not be that it must be student error, but instead, to ask what can I do to make this item more clear in the future.

Let’s think about this issue some more. McQueen says teachers will get feedback about submission errors if those existed. Shouldn’t these teachers be getting clear, constructive feedback if this evaluation process is actually intended to help improve instruction?

McQueen indicates the scores will be re-reviewed if a district believes there was no submission error. That’s a step in the right direction. However, it raises the question: Who will do the reviewing? Last year ended with questions about whether or not the state had enough reviewers to complete the work. Now, questions have been raised about reviewers not being paid for the many hours they spent assessing portfolios. Will the state be offering additional compensation for those portfolios requiring additional review? Where will they find these reviewers? Will the checks actually arrive?

For now, at least, Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers know their organized, focused action has gotten some result. I know many have been communicating with both district leaders and their legislators. Next, we’ll see if the “new” process for 2018-19 takes into account teacher and district leader feedback and actually creates a reasonable, usable portfolio process.

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


 

Blood in the Water

The Director of Schools in Maury County has joined those in Memphis and Nashville in calling for a pause in TNReady as a result of repeated problems with the testing platform.

The Columbia Daily Herald reports Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak said he agrees with the letter sent by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville. Marczak offered an alternative:

“I believe it would be best for us to focus solely on the ACT and align ourselves with outcomes that can affect students’ college acceptance and scholarship ability,” Marczak said.

Maury County district leadership has indicated the results from this year’s botched test administration are of limited value:

“Due to the issues with testing, we will not be adding TNReady/EOC data to the Keys’ scorecards for either the district or the school levels when they eventually come in,” Marczak said in an email sent to staff in July. “In light of the numerous testing issues, please know that the results of the assessments will be used to inform conversation only. These are the conversations we will have with principals and the principals will have with teachers/staffs.”

In response to the ongoing testing issues, Marczak shared accounts of students completing 75-minute long examinations in 10 minutes. When reviewing the examinations, Marczak said the district had over 600 missing scores. Questar, the contractor hired by the state to administer the test, reported that 600 individual assessments were incomplete.

Despite the growing concern over the inability to effectively administer the TNReady test, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen has said the test is still an important tool:

TNReady serves as a vital feedback loop for teachers, parents, and administrators to tell us where we are, and the results inform what steps we need to take to help all students and schools succeed.”

TNReady might be an important feedback loop if it ever worked the way it was intended. But it hasn’t. Instead, it’s been fraught with problems since the beginning. Now, education leaders are standing up and speaking out.

The push to pause TNReady and possibly move forward with a different measure comes at the same time the TDOE is being taken to task for a failure to properly execute Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolios. Knox County’s School Board last night voted to send a message that they have “no confidence” in the portfolio process or in the TDOE.

The push against TNReady from key district leaders figures to make the test and overall administration of the Department of Education a key issue in the 2018 gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

 

 

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