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


 

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


 

“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:

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


 

Support TNEdReport!

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


 

Haslam’s TNReady Pit

Chalkbeat has a story demonstrating just how out of touch outgoing Governor Bill Haslam is. The story details Haslam’s belief that tying teacher evaluation to TNReady results is a key element in Tennessee’s recent education success.

Here’s some truth: Over the past few years, Tennessee has seen high school graduation rates and average ACT scores climb while also seeing the number of students requiring remediation at state schools decline. All of that is encouraging. All of it happened in a climate where the TNReady test was unreliable and poorly administered. In other words, Tennessee’s testing system had nothing to do with student performance. All other indicators point to teachers getting the job done and students hitting ever higher marks.

Here’s more truth:

Does basing teacher evaluation on student test scores get results that impact student outcomes?

No.

That’s the conclusion from a years-long study funded by the Gates Foundation that included Memphis/Shelby County Schools.

It’s also worth noting that while Haslam touts the “fastest-improving” NAEP results from back in 2013, further evidence suggests the results then were likely an outlier.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

Gov. Bill Haslam says he had a “pit” in his stomach every day of Tennessee’s testing season this spring when a parade of technical problems vexed students and teachers in the bumpy transition to computerized exams.

He also worries that three straight years of frustrations with the state’s 3-year-old standardized assessment, TNReady, could unravel policies that he believes led to students’ gains on national tests.

“Do we really want to go back? Do we really want to go back to when Tennessee was in the 40s out of the states ranked 1 to 50?”  the outgoing Republican governor asked recently in an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat.

First, no serious policymaker is suggesting Tennessee adopt weaker or lower standards for students.

Second, as noted above, other significant indicators demonstrate Tennessee students are improving — even without a reliable annual test.

Third, Haslam’s “beliefs” about policies have not been tested on a statewide level – in part due to the failure of his own Administration to execute the tests. Haslam has allowed Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen to keep her job despite multiple testing failures with different vendors. In fact, Haslam joined McQueen in touting a “new” testing vendor that turned out to actually be the parent company of the current vendor.

More from Chalkbeat:

“Hopefully Tennessee and the new administration won’t have the same struggles we’ve had this year with testing. But there will be some struggles; there just are by the very nature of it,” he said. “I worry that the struggles will cause us to say, ‘OK, we give. We’re no longer going to have an evaluation that’s tied to an assessment.’

To this, I’d note that experts suggest no state has had a more tumultuous transition to online testing than Tennessee:

“I’m not aware of a state that has had a more troubled transition” to online testing, said Douglas A. Levin of the consulting group EdTech Strategies.

In terms of an evaluation tied to an assessment, even if TNReady had gone well, the results in the initial years would not be in any way valid for use in teacher evaluation. That’s because the nature of value-added assessment requires multiple years of similar testing in order to produce results that are even vaguely reliable predictors of teacher performance. Here’s a bit more on that:

Here’s what Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) had to say in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

And they concluded:

Our results provide a clear example that caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects because there is the potential for teacher performance to depend on the skills that are measured by the achievement tests.

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

But, TNReady hasn’t gone well. At all. It’s been so bad, the Department of Education has been unveiling a bunch of pie charts to demonstrate how they are attempting to correlate test scores and teacher evaluation. First, it went like this:

Second, this chart is crazy. A teacher’s growth score is factored on tests from three different years and three types of tests.

15% of the growth score comes from the old TCAP (the test given in 2014-15, b/c the 2015-16 test had some problems). Then, 10% comes from last year’s TNReady, which was given on paper and pencil. Last year was the first year of a full administration of TNReady, and there were a few problems with the data calculation. A final 10% comes from this year’s TNReady, given online.

So, you have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.

There is no way this creates any kind of valid score related to teacher performance. At all.

After teachers expressed outrage that the DOE was going to count this year’s scores in their evaluations, the legislature finally took action and passed legislation that said teachers could face “no adverse action” based on this year’s test results.

So, now the Department of Education has more pie charts and a lot of explanations:

What is included in teacher evaluation generally?

There are many factors that go into a teacher’s overall evaluation. One of those, the individual growth component (in gray in the charts in this document), is typically based on a three-year TVAAS measure if data is available. However, for the phase-in period there are two key items to note for the growth component:

• If the current single-year year growth score – in this case, 2017-18 data – provides the educator with a higher overall composite, it will be used as the full growth score.

• Additionally, if a teacher has 2017-18 TNReady data included in any part of their evaluation, they will be able to nullify their entire LOE this year.

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.

And if you only have one or two years of TVAAS data or if you teach in a non-tested subject? Well, the key line continues to apply: Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

What does this mean? Well, it means you’d have a year with no evaluation score. Sounds fine, right? No. It’s not fine. In order to achieve tenure, a teacher must have consecutive years of evaluation scores at Level 4 or 5. But a year with no score at all means that teacher would then need to have TWO MORE YEARS of high scores in order to be tenure eligible. While it seems unlikely a teacher would choose to nullify their entire score if they achieved a high rank, it also seems only fair to allow that teacher to simply exclude the TNReady data and receive their LOE rating based on all the other factors that go into a TEAM rating.

But wait, excluding 2017-18 TNReady data is NOT an option provided. It’s either count it as 10%, count it as 35%, or nullify your entire LOE score. Doing so could certainly have an adverse impact on a teacher.

In short, the TNReady mess has made teacher evaluation a mess. Still, a host of indicators suggest Tennessee’s teachers are hitting the mark. One might conclude that tying a suspect teacher evaluation model to an unreliable test is, in fact, not the key to educational progress in our state. Unfortunately, Governor Bill Haslam has concluded the opposite.

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

Help keep the education news coming!


 

Meaningless Scores Make Big Splash

The Tennessee Department of Education today released results from this year’s troubled administration of TNReady testing.

This Tennessean story indicates Commissioner McQueen is taking the results seriously in spite of what has become an annual inability to get the job done right:

“We see reason to be encouraged, but we also have a lot of work to do to meet our higher expectations for all students,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. “While we’ve focused extensively on early grades reading and are starting to see a shift in the right direction, we know middle school remains a statewide challenge across the board. 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.”

Umm…what?? Are you even serious, Candice? THE TESTS DIDN’T WORK! Also, you were caught lying time and again about WHY they didn’t work.

The legislature passed legislation at the end of session, during testing to account for the failure of TNReady.

This isn’t even the first year the tests didn’t work. It happens EVERY year.

Here’s the deal: These scores can’t credibly be used to tell us ANYTHING. Students in schools all across the state faced disruptions caused by dump trucks and hacking (also known as the ineptitude of DOE leadership). Some kids got the wrong test and the extent of that problem is not totally known.

Note to district leaders: If you use these results to say your district or a given school are “doing well,” you have ZERO credibility. Treating these results as anything other than the complete trash that they are is unacceptable.

Some districts have already begun pushing for change in either how TNReady happens next year or even a totally different type of test.

Oh, and note that the DOE makes it sound like they are making improvements:

The Tennessee Department of Education also announced changes after this year’s problems, including searching for a new vendor. It also adjusted how fast it will phase-in online testing.

That sounds great, but the truth is, the DOE and Governor Haslam are treating Tennesseans like we’re stupid:

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.

So, we had a testing season full of lies, deception, disruption, and mixed-up tests but we’re supposed to look at the “results” of those tests and take them seriously? No thanks.

 

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

Help keep the education news coming!


 

Not Working

That’s the verdict on Tennessee’s Achievement School District from a new study analyzing five years of data and comparing the state-run district to schools receiving no intervention.

Chalkbeat reports:

After five years of trying to turn around low-performing schools, Tennessee’s state-run schools aren’t performing any better than schools that haven’t received any intervention, according to new research released Tuesday.

This story is not surprising to those who’ve been keeping up with the ASD’s antics across multiple Superintendents and two Commissioners of Education.

But, don’t worry — Commissioner McQueen is on the case.

Chalkbeat notes:

In a statement, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said, “We have not seen the success in the ASD that we want, and that is something we’re addressing.”

 

That’s not exactly reassuring given that McQueen has also repeatedly said she and her department are addressing concerns about TNReady.

This is the same McQueen who is insisting Shelby County place additional schools under the control of the failing ASD.

I reported on research from Gary Rubinstein back in February that told a familiar story:

Though my own calculations made it clear that the six original ASD schools had not made it out of the bottom 5% after six years, it doesn’t become ‘official’ until Tennessee releases its next ‘Priority List’ which it does every three years.  But a few days ago, they released something just as good, the so-called ‘Cusp List’ showing all the schools in the bottom 10% which includes what percentile each school is at.

Here are the results:

School Percentile
Cornerstone 8.2%
Brick Church 4.3%
Humes (closed down and became Frayser Achievement Elementary School 1.3%
Corning 2.2%
Frayser 1.3%
Westside 2.2%

The report out of Vanderbilt confirms what many observers have been saying all along: The ASD is not working. It’s not helping kids. It’s disruptive and problematic.

We don’t need more mission creep, we need a plan that helps kids — you know, like the district-run iZone that’s actually getting results.

 

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


 

It’s All Been a Pack of Lies

By now, it should come as no surprise that our Commissioner of Education and the department she leads has a troubled relationship with the truth. That said, today’s revelation at a legislative hearing that an alleged hack of the state’s TNReady test didn’t actually happen again raises the question: Why does Candice McQueen still have a job?

Back on April 17th, the day after TNReady failed to work on day one of this year’s testing, the Tennessee Department of Education noted that the Day 2 failures were related to someone hacking the vendor:

At a legislative hearing today, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) indicated there was no evidence of a hack.

Additionally, the Department of Education issued this statement, which notes:

  • It appears, thankfully, that there was not an outside actor who attacked Questar’s data system. No student data was breached.
  • It is now clear that the event that Questar initially thought presented like a denial of service attack on Tuesday, April 17 was not created by an external actor with malicious intent, but, rather, can be traced in large part to the caching issues connected to how text-to-speech was configured by Questar.
  • Questar implemented a significant and unauthorized change to text-to-speech, which had previously operated successfully during the state’s fall administration. We now know this decision led to the severity of other issues we experienced during online testing.
  • Questar continues their internal investigation and is cooperating with additional external audits to make sure we have all of the facts.

Questar’s Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner has provided this statement: “Questar’s internal and external investigations indicate that the source of the anomalous data pattern is believed to be the result of a configuration with the cache server. We have applied a configuration change and believe to have resolved the issue. We will continue to work with our internal technology team and external partners to validate this.”

The text-to-speech feature was also blamed for students receiving the wrong tests.

While at the time, the hacking excuse sounded pretty far-fetched, today’s hearing confirms that the Department advanced a lie offered by the state’s testing vendor. Of course, later on in the testing cycle, a dump truck was blamed for disrupting testing. That excuse was also later proven untrue.

All of this may explain why at least one school district is calling for a significant reduction in TNReady testing next year.

If this year had been the first time our state had faced testing challenges, one might understand (and forgive) the excuse-making. However, this is now the fifth consecutive year of some sort of problem and the fourth year testing administration has been, to say the least, a challenge.

One may recall the saga of Measurement, Inc. The company that hired test graders from Craigslist and was ultimately fired in 2016 after that year’s TNReady test failed.

The bottom line: If TNEdu tells you something about testing, you should question it. The track record shows that to our state’s Department of Education, truth is a relative concept.

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


 

Your support keeps the education news coming!

If this is what success looks like…

In a story about the Tennessee Department of Education scaling back the requirements for online testing next year in light of this year’s testing challenges, this caught my attention:

Even with the problems this year, it was one of the most successful online administrations for the state to date. More than 2.5 million TNReady tests were administered this spring, with about 300,000 students taking the test online. Only high school students were required to take the online version this year.

What does the word “success” mean? Because my recollection of this year’s TNReady administration is that it was a debacle.

I’m not the only one. As I noted last week:

While lots of states are moving to online testing, one expert says Tennessee is unique:

“I’m not aware of a state that has had a more troubled transition” to online testing, said Douglas A. Levin of the consulting group EdTech Strategies.

And there’s this helpful explainer:

Why is Tennessee in the unique position of having the worst online testing transition in the country?

The reality is that Tennessee’s online-testing mess has left everyone in a difficult position, said Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, a consulting organization.

“The state has not [made] stability a key priority in their testing vendors,” Aldeman said.

Nevertheless, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen says:

The state will put out a request for contract proposals in the fall, with a new vendor to be identified in the spring. Questar Assessment could again win the contract, but McQueen said who wins the proposal will have to show the ability and history of seamlessly administering an online test.

“We look for a company with a track record of success in administering online testing and who can manage our test well.”

Haven’t we heard that before?

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Keep the education news coming!