Key Driver

Much is being made of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system as a “key driver” in recent “success” in the state’s schools.

A closer look, however, reveals there’s more to the story.

Here’s a key piece of information in a recent story in the Commercial Appeal:

The report admits an inability to draw a direct, causal link from the changes in teacher evaluations, implemented during the 2011-12 school year, and the subsequent growth in classrooms across the state.

Over the same years, the state has also raised its education standards, overhauled its assessment and teacher preparation programs and implemented new turnaround programs for struggling schools.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that BEFORE any of these changes, Tennessee students were scoring well on the state’s TCAP test — teachers were given a mark and were consistently hitting the mark, no matter the evaluation style.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that “growth” as it relates to the current TNReady test is difficult to measure due to the unreliable test administration, including this year’s problems with hackers and dump trucks.

While the TEAM evaluation rubric is certainly more comprehensive than those used in the past, the classroom observation piece becomes difficult to capture in a single observation and the TVAAS-based growth component is fraught with problems even under the best circumstances.

Let’s look again, though, at the claim of sustained “success” since the implementation of these evaluation measures as well as other changes.

We’ll turn to the oft-lauded NAEP results for a closer look:

First, notice that between 2009 and 2011, Tennessee saw drops in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math. That helps explain the “big gains” seen in 2013. Next, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math, our 2017 scores are lower than the 2013 scores. There’s that leveling off I suggested was likely. Finally, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading, the 2017 scores are very close to the 2009 scores. So much for “fastest-improving.”

Tennessee is four points below the national average in both 4th and 8th grade math. When it comes to reading, we are 3 points behind the national average in 4th grade and 5 points behind in 8th grade.

All of this to say: You can’t say you’re the fastest-improving state on NAEP based on one testing cycle. You also shouldn’t make long-term policy decisions based on seemingly fabulous results in one testing cycle. Since 2013, Tennessee has doubled down on reforms with what now appears to be little positive result.

In other words, in terms of a national comparison of education “success,” Tennessee still has a long way to go.

That may well be because we have yet to actually meaningfully improve investment in schools:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving (Since Bill Haslam became Governor). At least not faster than other states.

We ranked 44th in the country for investment in public schools back in 2010 — just before these reforms — and we rank 44th now.

Next, let’s turn to the issue of assessing growth. Even in good years, that’s problematic using value-added data:

And so perhaps we shouldn’t be using value-added modeling for more than informing teachers about their students and their own performance. Using it as one small tool as they seek to continuously improve practice. One might even mention a VAM score on an evaluation — but one certainly wouldn’t base 35-50% of a teacher’s entire evaluation on such data. In light of these numbers from the Harvard researchers, that seems entirely irresponsible.

Then, there’s the issue of fairness when it comes to using TVAAS. Two different studies have shown notable discrepancies in the value-added scores of middle school teachers at various levels:

Last year, I wrote about a study of Tennessee TVAAS scores conducted by Jessica Holloway-Libell. She examined 10 Tennessee school districts and their TVAAS score distribution. Her findings suggest that ELA teachers are less likely than Math teachers to receive positive TVAAS scores, and that middle school teachers generally, and middle school ELA teachers in particular, are more likely to receive lower TVAAS scores.

A second, more comprehensive study indicates a similar challenge:

The study used TVAAS scores alone to determine a student’s access to “effective teaching.” A teacher receiving a TVAAS score of a 4 or 5 was determined to be “highly effective” for the purposes of the study. The findings indicate that Math teachers are more likely to be rated effective by TVAAS than ELA teachers and that ELA teachers in grades 4-8 (mostly middle school grades) were the least likely to be rated effective. These findings offer support for the similar findings made by Holloway-Libell in a sample of districts. They are particularly noteworthy because they are more comprehensive, including most districts in the state.

These studies are based on TVAAS when everything else is going well. But, testing hasn’t been going well and testing is what generates TVAAS scores. So, the Tennessee Department of Education has generated a handy sheet explaining all the exceptions to the rules regarding TVAAS and teacher evaluation:

However, to comply with the Legislation and ensure no adverse action based on 2017-18 TNReady data, teachers and principals who have 2017-18 TNReady data included in their LOE (school-wide TVAAS, individual TVAAS, or achievement measure) may choose to nullify their entire evaluation score (LOE) for the 2017-18 school year at their discretion. No adverse action may be taken against a teacher or principal based on their decision to nullify his or her LOE. Nullifying an LOE will occur in TNCompass through the evaluation summative conference.

Then, there’s the guidance document which includes all the percentage options for using TVAAS:

What is included in teacher evaluation in 2017-18 for a teacher with 3 years of TVAAS data? There are three composite options for this teacher:

• Option 1: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 10%, TVAAS data from 2016-17 will be factored in at 10% and TVAAS data from 2015-16 will be factored in at 15% if it benefits the teacher.

• Option 2: TVAAS data from 2017-18 and 2016-17 will be factored in at 35%.

• Option 3: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 35%. The option that results in the highest LOE for the teacher will be automatically applied. Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

That’s just one of several scenarios described to make up for the fact that the State of Tennessee simply cannot reliably deliver a test.

Let’s be clear: Using TVAAS to evaluate a teacher AT ALL in this climate is educational malpractice. But, Commissioner McQueen and Governor Haslam have already demonstrated they have a low opinion of Tennesseans:

Let’s get this straight: Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen think no one in Tennessee understands Google? They are “firing” the company that messed up this year’s testing and hiring a new company that owns the old one and that also has a reputation for messing up statewide testing.

To summarize, Tennessee is claiming success off of one particularly positive year on NAEP and on TNReady scores that are consistently unreliable. Then, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner is suggesting the “key driver” to all this success is a highly flawed evaluation system a significant portion of which is based on junk science.

The entire basis of this spurious claim is that two things happened around the same time. Also happened since Tennessee implemented new teacher evaluation and TNReady? Really successful seasons for the Nashville Predators.

Correlation does NOT equal causation. Claiming teacher evaluations are a “key driver” of some fairly limited success story is highly problematic, though typical of this Administration.

Take a basic stats class, Dr. McQueen.

 

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Students Will Suffer

Knox County School Board member Jennifer Owen offers an inside view of how Governor Haslam’s “listening tour” went down in Knoxville.

Her conclusion gets to the heart of why Tennessee education policy is where it is today:

While some of our legislators, in this ELECTION SEASON, are suddenly declaring that they disagree with all of this, we know that they have not stopped it, after EIGHT YEARS.  And if they haven’t stopped this after EIGHT YEARS, they sure as hell aren’t going to stop it just because there is a new governor in town.

As long as we keep these legislators, Tennessee students will continue to suffer, while parents, teachers, and the public are lied to, regarding trumped up visions of “successes” used to make the governor look like he has actually done something while in office.

If we keep doing the same thing, we’ll keep getting the same results. If we keep sending lawmakers to Nashville who support TNReady or get behind minor changes around the edges, we won’t see anything new in 2019 or beyond.

Owen was in the meeting in Knoxville and her full description of how it went down is worth a read.

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Graphs!

I’ve written a lot about school funding and teacher pay in Tennessee. About how our state pays teachers at a discount rate and hasn’t really been improving that much.

Now, I’ve found a couple of helpful graphs to demonstrate that in spite of all the rhetoric you might hear from Governor Haslam and some legislators, Tennessee still has a long way to go in order to be making proper investments in our schools.

First, we’ll look at per pupil spending in inflation-adjusted (2016) dollars:

To translate, in 2010 (the year before Bill Haslam became Governor), Tennessee spent an average of $8877 per student in 2016 dollars. In 2016 (the most recent data cited), that total was $8810. So, we’re effectively spending slightly less per student now than in 2010. The graph indicates that Tennessee spending per student isn’t really growing, instead it is stagnating. Further evidence can be found in noting that in 2014, Tennessee ranked 43rd in the nation in spending per student. In 2015, that ranking dropped to 44th. 2016? Still 44th.

Here’s the graph that shows per pupil spending by state for 2016:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving. At least not faster than other states. I’ve written about how we’re not the fastest-improving in teacher pay, in spite of Bill Haslam’s promise to make it so:

Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

School spending doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it’s not like when Tennessee spends, other states stop. So, to catch up, we have to do more. Or, we have to decide that remaining 43rd or 44th in investment per student is where we should be.

 

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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.

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Not Really Listening

Governor Bill Haslam was in Knoxville today on his “listening tour.”

Here’s what TEA President Beth Brown had to say about how the event unfolded:

A message from TEA President Beth Brown:

I am a high school English teacher, so word choice is very important to me. When the governor announced his TNReady “listening tour” earlier this week, I envisioned Tennessee teachers and parents finally having a real opportunity to share their experiences and frustrations with TNReady failures. I envisioned Gov. Haslam and department officials listening to teachers and parents – the real experts on this topic – about how the state could improve assessments in the best interest of all students.

What I did not envision was a closed-door, invitation-only, inconveniently scheduled, no-parents-allowed event that only created more frustration and distrust among teachers and parents. What happened in Knoxville today tells teachers and parents this administration doesn’t really want to listen at all. Instead, this event just shut down a school library and provided another example of TNReady creating more work and inconvenience for students and educators. Meaningful change in the best interest of our students will never happen if the state sticks with this dog-and-pony show model.

The good news is the governor has five more opportunities to get this right and provide a forum to truly listen to teachers and parents. Our students need those in positions of power to swallow their pride and have the tough conversations. Our students deserve better.

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.”

 

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TEA on TNReady Tour

Yesterday, Governor Bill Haslam announced a TNReady listening tour that will start Friday in Knoxville.

Today, Tennessee Education Association (TEA) President Beth Brown emailed the association’s members with a message about the tour:

There are many education accomplishments Gov. Bill Haslam can be proud of, including the consistent increases in state investment in our schools during his tenure. However, repeated failures of his administration’s high-stakes testing system are a major shortcoming in his education record.

Gov. Haslam’s announced “listening tour” is a positive step toward making state assessments something that we can all agree improves teaching and learning. If a stop is planned in your district, I encourage you to participate and share your honest experience with this testing system and your meaningful feedback for how to improve this for our students.

Assessments need to improve teaching practice and identify students who need additional assistance. We do that with mandatory benchmark testing, which allows differentiated instruction to more effectively meet students’ needs.

TNReady has not provided meaningful data to improve teaching practices or help students because of serious failures in administration, the lateness of data getting to teachers and schools, and major questions on what constitutes grade level-work. TEA supports high academic standards, but when proficiency rates of TNReady do not match other important measures like ACT scores and graduation rates, there is growing concern the test isn’t fair or measuring student achievement properly.

TEA hopes part of the dialogue includes transparency of state tests, where parents and teachers can gain access to a large portion of actual questions and answers in any given year. Publishing state tests allows teachers, parents and all Tennesseans to review how constructive responses are scored, what is being asked of students, and assurance that tests align with what schools are directed to teach.

I know how many demands you have on your time, but this is an important opportunity to ensure teachers’ voices are part of the discussion on how to improve testing in Tennessee. According to the governor’s website, the tour will begin this Friday, Aug. 24, in Knoxville, and be followed by stops planned for Hamilton County, Shelby County, Williamson County, Greene County and Gibson County. Specific locations and times are being finalized.

Thank you for your continued to commitment to Tennessee students.

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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!

 

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“No Confidence” in TNReady

Just days after members of the Knox County School Board took the Tennessee Department of Education to task for “incompetence” and an “abject failure” to measure student achievement or teacher performance, the Directors of the state’s two largest school districts, Nashville and Memphis, sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Governor Bill Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in TNReady and asking the state to pause the test.

The letter, signed by Nashville’s Shawn Joseph and Shelby County’s Dorsey Hopson, says in part:

“We respectfully ask the State to hit the pause button on TNReady in order to allow the next Governor and Commissioner to convene a statewide working group of educators to sort out the myriad challenges in a statewide, collaborative conversation.”

The two leaders, whose districts represent 20 percent of all students in Tennessee, note:

“We are challenged to explain to teachers, parents, and students why they must accept the results of a test that has not been effectively deployed.”

The language from these two directors is the strongest yet from any district and the first to call for an outright stop to administration of the TNReady test while the state explores other options. Johnson City’s school board sent a proposal asking for a significant reduction in testing while Wilson County is exploring the possibility of administering a different test altogether. At the same time, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney expressed concern about the poor administration of this year’s test.

It seems clear there is growing concern among educators about the continued use of TNReady. As Joseph and Hopson note, taxpayer resources have been invested in a test that is poorly implemented and yields suspect results. Taking their suggestion of a pause could give the state and a new Governor and Education Commissioner time to actually develop a process for administering an aligned assessment that does not disrupt instruction and does return useful, meaningful results to teachers, parents, and students.

Here’s the letter:

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User Error

Dear Teachers,

It’s your fault.

It always is.

That’s essentially the sentiment expressed by the Tennessee Department of Education led by Candice McQueen after the latest round of problems, this time with portfolio evaluation of Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers.

The Tennessean has more:

Tennessee’s teacher union is blaming a vendor glitch for issues with some teachers’ low kindergarten and prekindergarten portfolio scores. But the state says the problems are due to user error.

“There was no error by our vendor. The vendor has double-checked all of the peer review scores and everything has been correctly and accurately reported,” according to a statement from Sara Gast, Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman.

But Gast said Monday that portfolios are reviewed and scored by peers through a rubric. In some cases, Gast said, an educator mismatched students or standards, which made it impossible to score. In that case, she said, educators were given a score of 1.

The Department of Education, an entity with a serious allergy to the truth, is blaming teachers instead of accepting responsibility.

This is the same DOE that seemed surprised when May 15th arrived this year and portfolio reviewers hadn’t been provided guidance:

The initial portfolios were to be evaluated by May 15th. Then, the portfolios with score disputes go on to the “experts.”

Here’s the text of an email about that sent on May 15th:

Dear Educator,

Thank you for all your hard work! The portfolio scoring in the general pool concludes at 11:59pm tonight. The consensus review scoring begins tomorrow, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

In the event that you were unable to meet your 10 portfolio review requirement (the same as 40 collections) AND you have demonstrated competence during the certification process and/or general pool scoring, you may receive additional portfolios to score. Reviewers who will receive additional portfolio submissions in this next phase and Expert Reviewers will be provided additional guidance to support the scoring process.

Thanks for all that you do! Please look for our next communication in 24 hours.

Here’s a follow-up email sent on May 16th:

Thanks again for your patience and support. We are still developing the guidance documents for the next phase of peer review. Our goal is to make sure you have the most comprehensive and best information to be successful. We appreciate your understanding and will communicate in the next 24-48 hours with updates.

This is also the same DOE that gave teachers one rubric for preparing their portfolios while providing reviewers with a rubric with significantly more difficult standards by which to assess those same portfolios.

Teachers received:

Reviewers were given:

This is the same DOE that set a June 15th deadline for returning scores, then moved it to June 30th, then released the scores last week — in late July.

By all means, let’s give Commissioner McQueen and her department the benefit of the doubt despite all the mishaps during her tenure at the helm.

In Candice McQueen’s world, it’s blame everyone all the time and it’s NEVER her fault or her responsibility.

Never fear, though, the state is now switching to a new platform for portfolio submissions. This means rolling out new training for teachers well after the academic year has started. For teachers in the few districts using Fine Arts Portfolios, this will be the third platform for submission in the last three years. Yes, each year is spent preparing for the portfolio collection and submission AND learning a new platform well into the school year.

If one wonders what Governor Haslam thinks of Tennessee’s teachers, let’s be clear: He’s been standing steadfastly behind Commissioner McQueen. In short, he doesn’t respect our teachers or the work they do.

Frankly, any lawmaker not demanding McQueen be held to account is complicit in this mistreatment of our teachers. The message is and has been clear: Everyone is accountable and responsible EXCEPT the Commissioner of Education. Teachers will continue to pay the price and must go along because no one with authority will stand up and make this stop.

I’d caution those sitting silently to note the teacher uprisings in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. We may be inviting just this sort of direct action here.

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