The TN Poverty Test

TCAP is Tennessee’s standardized test for grades 3-8.  At least until next year, when it is replaced with something designed by Measurement, Inc. that meets new Tennessee Standards.

TCAP stand for Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.  But, it could just as easily stand for Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment of Poverty.

Here’s why:

An analysis of TCAP performance over time indicates that those school systems with consistently high levels of poverty tend to have consistently low scores on TCAP. Likewise, those systems with the least amount of poverty tend to have consistently higher scores on TCAP.

Much attention was focused on Tennessee and our “rapid gains” on the NAEP. Less celebrated by state officials was the attendant expansion of the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

One possible explanation for the expanding achievement gap is the investment gap among districts. That is, those districts with lower levels of poverty (the ones scoring higher on TCAP) also tend to invest funds in their schools well above what the state funding formula (BEP) generates. The top ten districts on TCAP performance spend 20% or more above what the BEP formula generates. By contrast, the bottom 10 districts spend 5% or less above the formula dollars.

It’s no accident that the districts that spend more are those with less poverty while the districts with less investment above the BEP have higher poverty levels. And, I’ve written recently about the flaws in the present BEP system that signal it is well past time to reform the formula and increase investment.

Of further interest is an analysis of 3-year ACT averages. Here again, 9 of the top 10 districts on ACT performance spend well above the state average in per pupil spending. The top 10 districts in ACT average spend an average of $900 more per student than the state’s average per pupil expenditure.

And, on ACT scores again, those districts with the highest poverty rates make the least investment above BEP dollars and typically see results below the state average ACT score.

While Tennessee may be moving to a new test in 2016, it’s not clear yet whether that test will do more than identify the poverty level and education investment of the state’s school districts.

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

Virtually Unchecked

The Virtual Public Schools Act, which authorized the creation of the Tennessee Virtual Academy run by K12, Inc. is set to expire this year.

Already, legislation (HB 4) has been filed to extend the Act until 2019. No Senate companion yet exists, but it seems likely that K12, Inc.’s top legislative champion, Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, will carry the bill in the Senate.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy has come under fire the last several years as its students have posted the lowest scores in academic achievement in the state. The situation is so bad that this year, former Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman recommended the school not be allowed to enroll additional students.

The Union County School Board (the system that hosts TNVA) denied that request and collected a check from K12, Inc.

I’d anticipate significant pushback this year against any unchecked continuation of K12, Inc.’s operation in Tennessee. That said, both legislators and Governor Haslam have expressed concerns in the past only to see K12, Inc. continue with business as usual.

Will K12’s lobbyists be successful this year, or will this legislative session finally put a cap on the unchecked growth of TNVA?

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

Will Haslam Raise Teacher Pay?

He’s not saying.

Yet.

Blake Farmer over at WPLN has the story.

Basically, both Haslam and incoming Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen say they are committed to improving teacher pay, but make no commitment about a specific raise this year.

Haslam does think he should be given credit for giving teachers raises early in his term, though.

Here’s what he said:

“What gets lost in there is we were one of the few states, in our first three budgets, who actually did give teachers raises,” Haslam said in an interview with WPLN.

What he failed to mention is that Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the nation in rate of improvement of teacher pay as well as total teacher compensation. And the disparity among districts in terms of teacher pay is reaching proportions previously rule unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

In short, a failure to address both the level of teacher pay and the resources provided to schools could result in more than just angry teachers. Some are even beginning to suggest a school funding lawsuit is in order.

Will 2015 be the year Bill Haslam makes a serious attempt to both improve teacher pay and provide needed resources to Tennessee schools?

He just won’t say.

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

RTI Rollout Rushed?

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a story about Tennessee’s RTI2 program implementation in which she notes that the program’s mandates have come largely unfunded by the State of Tennessee.

The Response to Intervention and Instruction program is designed to identify students who are struggling and get them extra assistance before they fall too far behind.

In practice, the program means many students miss related arts or even social studies and science in order to spend extra time in remediation for math and reading, the two subjects tested on the state’s TCAP test.

Additionally, many districts report they lack the funding to provide subject-matter teachers and so individuals not certified in math or reading may be in charge of certain remediation classrooms.

Tatter notes:

Districts have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments, and don’t have the money to hire educators with the expertise required to work with the highest needs students. Some schools are using their general education teachers, already stretched thin, and others are using computer programs.

The state’s RTI2 policy identifies the intervention levels for students:

According to the state RTI2 policy, students should be divided into three groups: the majority, on grade level, are in Tier 1, students in the bottom 25th percentile of students across the country  are in Tier 2, and students in the bottom 10th percentile are in Tier 3.

All students, regardless of tier, get an hour of intervention time a day. For Tier 2 and Tier 3, intervention time is spent in small groups, ideally of fewer than five students, working on specific skills, while for kids in Tier 1 it might be enrichment activities.

Tatter notes that Metro Nashville Public Schools is among the districts taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the state to serve a smaller pool of students.

Essentially, if a district feels it lacks adequate resources to provide services to the bottom 25 perfcent of students, it can shift down to a smaller number, 16% in Tier 2 in MNPS for example, and the bottom 7% in Tier 3.

The shift at MNPS means they can focus on a smaller pool, but it also highlights the challenge faced by districts across the state. That is, those districts with higher concentrations of poverty (and likely to have higher numbers of students needing intervention) also have the least resources available to assist students.  The poorest districts, then, are left further behind as a result of a well-intentioned unfunded state mandate.

Tatter notes that education researchers and practitioners believe RTI2 can work and work well, but without proper support, many districts are struggling to make that happen.

More on RTI2 from our friends over at Bluff City Ed

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

 

 

Little Value Added?

 

That’s the conclusion teacher Jon Alfuth draws about Governor Bill Haslam’s recently announced changes to teacher evaluation and support.

Alfuth notes with frustration that Haslam appears happy to support teachers in ways that don’t involve any new money.

Reducing the weight given TVAAS on a teacher’s evaluation, for example, doesn’t cost anything. Adding a few teachers to a “cabinet” to give feedback on tests is welcome change, but also doesn’t carry a price tag.

Haslam’s changes still unfairly assess teachers in non-tested subjects, in Alfuth’s view:

While reducing the percentage from 25 to 15 percent achievement data for non-EOC teachers is a step in the right direction, I don’t feel that it goes far enough. I personally think it’s unfair to use test scores from courses not taught by a teacher in their evaluation given the concerns surrounding the reliability of these data systems overall.

And, Alfuth says, the financial support teachers and schools need is simply not discussed:

Consider the teacher salary discussion we’ve been having here in Tennessee. This is something that Tennessee Teachers have been clamoring for and which the governor promised but then went back on this past spring. There’s no mention of other initiatives that would require extra funding, such as BEP2.0, which would provide millions of additional dollars to our school districts across the state and do much to help teachers. There’s also no mention of expanding training Common Core trainng, which is essential if we’re going to continue to enable teachers to be successful when the three year phase in of growth scores winds down.

In short, while the proposed changes are step forward, at least in the view of one teacher, much more can be done to truly support teachers and their students.

More on the importance of investing in teacher pay:

Notes on Teacher Pay

More on the state’s broken school funding formula, the BEP:

A BEP Lawsuit?

The Broken BEP

What is BEP 2.0?

For more from Jon Alfuth and education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

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

And the Winner Is …

Jason Vance, Director of Schools in Loudon County.

Jason claimed victory in Education Commissioner Madness.

The contest was a fun way to take a look at who might be Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education.

Vance posted a brief statement after his victory about what’s important in the next Commissioner.

He mentions the need for increased teacher compensation, improved professional development, and clear and direct communication between the Department of Education and school district leaders.

As the candidate who emerged as the finalist from the policymakers and advocates side of the bracket, let me say that I’m honored to have received support round after round. I also want to congratulate Jason on his victory.

I believe the next Commissioner of Education should be a Tennessee educator who is committed to putting students first and who understands the challenges teachers face every day. Jason definitely meets that standard.

The contest also allowed me to learn more about the outstanding work going on in schools all around Tennessee. It has been exciting to hear about what so many of Tennessee’s school leaders are doing every single day to improve the quality of education in our state.

It is my belief that when these leaders are supported with investment in their schools and in the personnel that staff them, Tennessee students will achieve amazing results.

It is long past time to fix Tennessee’s broken BEP.

Adjusting the funding formula is not enough. New investment must be made in order to give our students the resources they need to succeed.

The next education commissioner should be a tireless advocate for our schools and students. It has been great to see so many outstanding leaders who make this their life’s work.

 

For more on education commissioner madness and other education issues, follow @BluffCityEd

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

ASD vs. Nashville Middle Schools

The Tennessee Achievement School District is holding meetings this week at Madison Middle and Neely’s Bend Middle to determine which of those two schools it will takeover and likely hand to a charter operator in 2015.

Back in October, it was announced that five Nashville middle schools were on the potential takeover list. They included Jere Baxter, Bailey, and Joelton.

Now, it’s down to Madison and Neely’s Bend.

As the discussion moves forward, it’s worth noting how these schools have been doing relative to the ASD average.

In Reading/Language Arts, Neely’s Bend and Madison Middle outperform all ASD schools except LEAD Academy at Brick Church. While the two year gains are slightly lower than the ASD average, the number of students scoring proficient or advanced is nearly 7 points higher than the ASD average.

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 2 year gains
Achievement School District Brick Church – LEAD 23.7% 12.8% 37.20% 13.50%
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 25.0% 21.60% 24.30% -0.70%
Davidson Madison Middle School 23.0% 23.60% 24.00% 0.98%
ASD C1 – Humes Upper 15.2% 27.6% 18.8% 3.6%
Achievement School Distrit Achievement School Distrit Average 15.60% 13.60% 17.00% 1.40%
ASD C2 – Whitney Elementary 18.7% 9.6% 16.3% -2.4%
ASD C1 – Westside Middle 16.9% 14.2% 15.5% -1.4%
ASD C1 – Cornerstone Prep (Lester) 10.0% 4.3% 15.4% 5.4%
ASD C1 – Corning Achievement Elementary 20.6% 12.1% 12.4% -8.2%
ASD C1 – Frayser Elementary 13.1% 4.8% 8.9% -4.2%
ASD C2 – Georgian Hills 11.1% 15.9% 8.4% -2.7%
ASD C2 – Hanley Elementary 11.2% 10.4% 5.0% -6.3%

 

In Math, Madison Middle is slightly below the ASD average while Neely’s Bend is slightly above. Again, LEAD at Brick Church outperforms all others.

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 2 year gains
Achievement School District Brick Church – LEAD 17.5% 24.20% 41.20% 23.70%
ASD C1 – Corning Achievement Elementary 18.3% 32.8% 31.0% 12.7%
ASD C1 – Cornerstone Prep (Lester) 8.3% 10.6% 25.3% 17.0%
ASD C2 – Whitney Elementary 17.7% 18.5% 24.1% 6.4%
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 15.7% 23.20% 23.70% 8.00%
ASD C1 – Humes Upper 18.6% 17.9% 22.1% 3.5%
Achievement School Distrit Achievement School Distrit Average 15.1% 19.60% 21.80% 6.70%
ASD C1 – Westside Middle 18.6% 18.8% 16.6% -2.0%
Davidson Madison Middle School 16.20% 12.30% 16.30% 0.10%
ASD C1 – Frayser Elementary 10.8% 13.3% 14.6% 3.8%
ASD C2 – Georgian Hills 10.6% 23.6% 11.6% 1.0%
ASD C2 – Hanley Elementary 15.4% 22.7% 8.1% -7.3%

 

When compared with Jere Baxter, Bailey, and Joelton, both Neely’s Bend and Madison Middle score higher than the other three in RLA

 

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 TVAAS 2014 Enrollment
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 25.0% 21.60% 24.30% 2 548
Davidson Madison Middle School 23.0% 23.60% 24.00% 1 756
Davidson Bailey STEM Magnet Middle 17.30% 17.10% 16.20% 1 445
Davidson Jere Baxter Middle 24.00% 17.70% 15.80% 1 435
Davidson Joelton Middle School 15% 21.40% 21.50% 4 277

Neely’s Bend is solidly in the middle in Math, while Madison is at the bottom there.

 

School   Name 2012 2013 2014 TVAAS 2014 Enrollment
Neely’s Bend Middle School 15.7% 23.20% 23.70% 2 548
Madison Middle School 16.20% 12.30% 16.30% 4 756
Bailey STEM Magnet Middle 11.40% 11.80% 19.90% 3 445
Jere Baxter Middle 24.70% 26.10% 25.50% 5 435
Joelton Middle School 19.70% 25.10% 25.80% 5 277

The data analysis raises some questions in my mind:

1) Why were these two schools targeted for potential takeover when other schools in MNPS show a lower performance?

2) Why would parents want their schools, which outpeform the ASD average, to be taken over by the ASD?

3) Why is LEAD an ASD anomaly? What’s going right at LEAD that can be replicated? Or, is it even practical to replicate what LEAD is doing across Metro Schools?

4) In Shelby County, iZone schools outperform ASD schools. Why not consider an iZone conversion for these Nashville schools?

5) What are the plans to provide resources/assistance to Jere Baxter, Joelton, and Bailey? These schools clearly need help and the ASD takeover in Madison won’t make that happen.

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

The Final Four

So, Education Commissioner Madness is down to the Final Four.

The entire process has been a fun way to engage people across Tennessee in a friendly conversation about who should be our next Education Commissioner.

I’m honored to be among the four finalists.

But, more importantly, I’m delighted to see so much engagement around education issues.

More than personalities, this contest has demonstrated that people are paying attention and really do care about the future of schools in our state.

I’m encouraged to hear stories about great education leaders and advocates from all parts of Tennessee.

Take just a few minutes and vote today!

For more from Bluff City Ed, follow @BluffCityEd

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

Replacing TCAP

Measurement, Inc. has been hired by the State of Tennessee to design new assessments in ELA and Math.

The contract came about because the General Assembly passed legislation calling on the state to open bidding for new assessments rather than continue as planned with administration of the PARCC tests.

Here’s an email sent to educators today explaining the upcoming changes:

Over the past several months, Gov. Haslam and his administration, including the state department of education, have participated in a number of ongoing conversations with you and your colleagues about K-12 education in Tennessee. These conversations have reflected both the historic progress Tennessee has made through your work as well as your concerns and recommendations for improvement. One emerging theme from these discussions has been the challenges experienced by educators due to the uncertainty of the state’s assessments in English language arts (ELA) and math and the impact of administering the existing TCAP exams while meeting the current ELA and math academic standards.
We are excited to report to you that this week the state of Tennessee completed the process to replace the state’s current TCAP assessments in ELA and math. The new measurements of learning for ELA and math will be called Tennessee Ready (TNReady). These assessments, to be administered by Measurement Inc., were selected through a fair, thorough and transparent process established by the General Assembly and administered by the state’s Central Procurement Office.
TNReady will be administered beginning in the 2015-16 school year and will assess our state standards in ELA and math. These standards are located on the department of education website (ELA is here and math is here).
You’ll find additional information about TNReady below:

  • By Tennessee, For Tennessee: Tennessee educators – both at the K-12 and higher education levels – were significantly involved in the selection process and chose an assessment that is both fully aligned to the state’s academic standards but also adaptable to future improvements. Tennessee will make decisions about item selection, test length and composition, and scoring. In the future, Tennessee will decide on changes to the test based on changes to standards, and Tennesseans will be engaged in item development and review.
  • Higher Expectations and Critical Thinking:  TNReady will expand beyond just multiple choice questions to include: writing that requires students to cite text evidence at all grade levels; questions that measure math fluency without a calculator; and questions that ask students to show their work in math with partial credit available.
  • Resources for Parents and Teachers:  Online tools will be available for schools and teachers to develop practice tests that can provide students, teachers, and parents with valuable and immediate feedback. These resources will be available before the end of the 2014-15 school year.
  • Comparability:  While the assessments will be unique to Tennessee, TNReady will allow Tennesseans to compare our student progress to that of other states. Through a partnership between Measurement Inc. and American Institutes for Research, TNReady will offer Tennessee a comparison of student performance with other states, likely to include Florida and Utah.
  • Training:  The Tennessee Department of Education will provide training for educators across the state during the summer of 2015.
  • Test Administration & Scoring: TNReady will have two parts. The first portion, which will replace the state’s current comprehensive writing assessment, will require extended written responses in ELA and math and will be administered in February/March. The second portion will include selected responses, such as multiple choice and drag-and-drop items, and will be administered in April/May.
  • Technology: TNReady will be administered online and available for use on multiple devices with minimal bandwidth. As most states move their tests for all grade levels online, we must ensure Tennessee students do not fall behind their peers in other states. However, all districts will have the option of administering paper-pencil exams.

We look forward to sharing additional details about the new assessments in the coming months.  Additional information will be posted on the new TNReady page of our website.
Finally, as previously noted, Tennessee will make appropriate revisions to assessments in the future to reflect any change in the academic standards. Recently, Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education announced a public review process in which all Tennesseans will have an opportunity to provide input on our ELA and math standards. These public comments will then be reviewed by committees of Tennessee educators, which will make recommendations to the state board. We encourage all of you to be engaged in this process in an effort to ensure our academic standards continue to reflect higher expectations for our students. To participate in the standards review process, visit https://apps.tn.gov/tcas/. We want to thank you for your patience and acknowledge the tremendous dedication you have shown in improving the life outcomes for Tennessee students and their families. Thank you for what you do every day.

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

Ravitch: Ed Reform is a Hoax

Education scholar and activist Diane Ravitch spoke at Vanderbilt University in Nashville last night at an event hosted by Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), the Tennessee BATs (Badass Teachers), and the Momma Bears.

Ravitch touched on a number of hot-button education issues, including vouchers, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and testing. Many of these issues are seeing plenty of attention in Tennessee public policy circles both on the local and state levels.

She singled out K12, Inc. as a bad actor in the education space, calling the Tennessee Virtual Academy it runs a “sham.”

Attempts have been made to cap enrollment and shut down K12, Inc. in Tennessee, but they are still operating this year. More recently, the Union County School Board defied the State Department of Education and allowed 626 students to remain enrolled in the troubled school. The reason? Union County gets a payoff of $132,000 for their contract with K12.

Ravitch noted that there are good actors in the charter sector, but also said she adamantly opposes for-profit charter schools. Legislation that ultimately failed in 2014 would have allowed for-profit charter management companies to be hired by Tennessee charter schools.

On vouchers, an issue that has been a hot topic in the last two General Assemblies, Ravitch pointed to well-established data from Milwaukee that vouchers have made no difference in overall student performance.

Despite the evidence against vouchers, it seems quite likely they will again be an issue in the 2015 General Assembly. In fact, the Koch Brothers and their allies spent heavily in the recent elections to ensure that vouchers are back on the agenda.

Ravitch told the crowd that using value-added data to evaluate teachers makes no sense. The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) has been around since the BEP in 1992. It was created by UT Ag Professor Bill Sanders. Outgoing Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman made an attempt to tie teacher licenses to TVAAS scores, but that was later repealed by the state board of education. A careful analysis of the claims of value-added proponents demonstrates that the data reveals very little in terms of differentiation among teachers.

Ravitch said that instead of punitive evaluation systems, teachers need resources and support. Specifically, she mentioned Peer Assistance and Review as an effective way to provide support and meaningful development to teachers.

A crowd of around 400 listened and responded positively throughout the hour-long speech. Ravitch encouraged the audience to speak up about the harms of ed reform and rally for the reforms and investments our schools truly need.

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