Candice Clarifies

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen issued an email to teachers today clarifying an email she sent Monday regarding Tennessee standards and the upcoming TNReady tests.

It seems there was some confusion about what standards to teach in the 2015-16 academic year and what Tennessee standards may look like going forward.

Below is today’s email followed by the one sent Monday:


I’m writing to clarify information I shared on Monday about the standards review and development process. We have received several questions about which standards teachers should use during the 2015-16 school year. We want to make sure that your questions are answered quickly, so you can move into summer with clear expectations for the upcoming school year.

Tennessee teachers should continue to use the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not the previous SPI’s. The current state standards are available on our website.

TNReady, the state’s new and improved TCAP test in English language arts and math, will assess the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not SPI’s.

As we shared on Monday, the standards review and development process that Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education established last fall will continue. Teams of educators will work to review public input and will then recommend new sets of math and English language arts standards to the State Board of Education to be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year. TNReady will evolve as our math and English language arts standards do, ensuring that our state assessment will continue to match what is being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

Please feel free to reach out with additional questions or clarifications. We look forward to sharing more information about TNReady and the standards review and development process in the coming weeks.


Date: Monday, May 11, 2015 3:20 PM
To: Tennessee teachers
Subject: Update on Standards Review Process


The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted to support our administration’s efforts to ensure that Tennessee students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or the workforce.

The vote complements the academic standards review and development process established by Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education last October, and it will maintain the participation of Tennessee educators and parents in the process.

At the conclusion of the review process, Tennessee’s new academic standards, which will include public input and are established by Tennessee educators, will replace the existing set of standards in English language arts and math. These standards will be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year.

In addition to the teams of educators established by the State Board of Education that will review the existing standards, the adopted legislation also provides for a 10-member standards recommendation committee appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House. This committee will review the recommendations of our educator groups and will then make a final recommendation to the State Board of Education for consideration and approval.

In addition, the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts will also inform and help guide the state’s new assessment, TNReady. TNReady begins during the 2015-16 school year, and it will be aligned to the state’s existing academic standards in math and English language arts. TNReady will then evolve as the standards do, ensuring that our state assessment matches what is actually being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

As I travel around the state listening to teachers, I continue to hear teachers’ confidence in Tennessee’s higher standards and the positive impact they are having on students. I also continue to hear your desire for stability and alignment, so teachers and school leaders can make informed decisions about what works best for your students. We hope this process encourages you to continue on the path that you boldly started – great teaching to high expectations every day – as we all continue to work together to improve the standards during the review process.

We are proud that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement, and your work this year to ensure that Tennessee stays on a path of high academic standards to help continue that success has been critical. Thank you to those that commented on the math and English language arts standards on the review website,

I am confident that the process that the General Assembly has now adopted will only enhance our efforts to improve outcomes for all of our students.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you as the standards review and development process continues this summer. Thank you again for all you do in support of Tennessee families and students.


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

TNReady … Already?

Back in November, the State of Tennessee awarded a contract to Measurement Inc. to develop the new assessment that would replace TCAP.

This assessment is to be aligned to state standards (largely based on Common Core State Standards) and should take into account feedback from Tennesseans.

Measurement Inc. will be paid $108 million for the contract.

Chalkbeat noted at the time the contract was awarded:

Measurement Inc. is subcontracting to AIR, a much larger player in the country’s testing market. AIR already has contracts with Utah and Florida, so Tennessee educators will be able to compare scores of Tennessee students with students from those states “with certainty and immediately.” AIR is also working with Smarter Balanced, one of two federally funded consortia charged with developing Common Core-aligned exams. That means that educators in Tennessee will also likely be able to measure their students’ progress with students in the 16 states in the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

The Department of Education notes on its website:

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.

While Measurement Inc. has an interesting approach to recruiting test graders, another item about the contract is also noteworthy.

The Department and Chalkbeat both noted the ability to compare Tennessee test scores with other states, including Utah and Florida.

Here’s why that’s possible. On December 5th, the Utah Board of Education approved the use of revenue from test licensing agreements with Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee based on contracts with AIR, the organization with which Measurement Inc. has a contract, as noted by Chalkbeat.

The contract notes that Utah’s expected arrangement in Tennessee is worth $2.3 million per year (running from 2015-2017) and that Tennessee will use questions licensed for the Utah assessment in Math and ELA in its 2015-16 assessment.

So, Tennessee’s new test will use questions developed for Utah’s assessment and also licensed to Florida and Arizona.

The contract further notes that any release of the questions either by accident or as required by law, will result in a fee of $5000 per test item released. That means if Tennessee wants to release a bank of questions generated from the Utah test and used for Tennessee’s assessment, the state would pay $5000 per question.

While Tennessee has said it may change or adapt the test going forward, it seems that the 2016 edition of the test may be well underway in terms of its development.

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


Core Support

The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) released a letter yesterday urging the General Assembly to support the Common Core State Standards as they are rather than delaying their full implementation and developing new standards.

Legislation has been filed that would lead to the creation of new Tennessee Standards and delay testing aligned to those standards until the 2017-2018 academic year.

Here’s the text of the news release from TOSS and a list of the signers:

The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) today released a letter to all members of the General Assembly signed by 114 Tennessee superintendents and school district directors who are asking lawmakers not to change the state’s academic standards during this legislative session.
The leaders who signed the letter represent school districts that are educating more than 850,000 students, or nearly 86 percent of public school students in Tennessee. The letter points out that in the past seven years Tennessee’s K12 education system has undergone significant changes that have led to unprecedented progress in the quality of education that students receive.

Another major change will occur in the spring of 2016, when TNready, a new
statewide assessment aligned to Tennessee’s State Standards, is introduced.
“This work is paying off,” said TOSS Board Chairman Randy Frazier, Director of Weakley County Schools. “Tennessee has received national attention for historic gains in student achievement. That’s why we say to the
General Assembly, please do not derail this momentum. We are asking the members to make no adjustments to Tennessee’s State Standards before we have the results of the public review process set up by the Governor and the
State Board of Education. We also are asking that the implementation of TNready be allowed to proceed with no delays.”
The public review process allows Tennessee residents to review each standard for math and English language arts, to recommend whether the standard should be retained or changed, and to explain why.
“There has been unprecedented participation in the review process, especially by Tennessee teachers,” the TOSS letter says. “We ask that their input be valued and that we move forward with efforts to improve and enhance our
current standards and truly make them our own, while also giving educators and students the stability they desire and deserve.”
“The superintendents who signed these letters believe the input from those closest to the classroom should be valued and more of it should be gathered through the online review,” Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Dr.
Lyle Ailshie said. “We also believe that our teachers, principals, and students deserve some much-needed stability. For those reasons, we urge the General Assembly to allow the review to continue and to refrain from passing
legislation this year that disrupts standards or assessment.”
TOSS represents the state’s superintendents and directors of schools and is the leading advocate organization for public education in the state of Tennessee. The TOSS mission encompasses advancing public education, promoting
the work and interest of the superintendency, gathering and circulating information on general school matters, and providing pertinent information on sound education legislation to the General Assembly. TOSS also proposes and analyzes legislation that impacts local school systems.
These school district leaders signed the letter to the General Assembly:

Brian Bell, Alcoa City Schools
Larry Foster, Anderson County Schools
Robert Greene, Athens City Schools
Don Embry, Bedford County Schools
Mark Florence, Benton County Schools
Jennifer Terry, Bledsoe County Schools
Rob Britt, Blount County Schools
Dan Black, Bradford Special District
Gary Lilly, Bristol City Schools
Barbara Parker, Cannon County Schools
Johnny McAdams, Carroll County Schools
Kevin Ward, Carter County Schools
Stan Curtis, Cheatham County Schools
Troy Kilzer, Chester County Schools
Connie Holdway, Claiborne County Schools
B.J. Worthington, Clarksville-Montgomery
County Schools
Jerry Strong, Clay County Schools
Martin Ringstaff, Cleveland City Schools
Vicki Violette, Clinton City Schools
Manney Moore, Cocke County Schools
LaDonna McFall, Coffee County Schools
Robert Mullins, Crockett County Schools
Donald Andrews, Cumberland County
Mike Latham, Dayton City Schools
Mark Willoughby, DeKalb County Schools
Danny Weeks, Dickson County Schools
Dwight L. Hedge, Dyer County Schools
Neel Durbin, Dyersburg City Schools
Cory Gardenhour, Elizabethton City Schools
James Teague, Fayette County Schools
Janine Wilson, Fayetteville City Schools
Mike Jones, Fentress County Schools
Rebecca Sharber, Franklin County Schools
David L. Snowden, Franklin Special School
Eddie Pruett, Gibson County Special District
J.B. Smith, Giles County Schools
Edwin Jarnagin, Grainger County Schools
Vicki Kirk, Greene County Schools
Linda Stroud, Greeneville City Schools
David Dickerson, Grundy County Schools
Dale P. Lynch, Hamblen County Schools
Rick Smith, Hamilton County Schools
Troy Seal, Hancock County Schools
Warner Ross, Hardeman County Schools
Michael Davis, Hardin County Schools
Steve Starnes, Hawkins County Schools

Teresa Russell, Haywood County Schools
Steve Wilkinson, Henderson County Schools
Sam Miles, Henry County Schools
Jerry W. Nash, Hickman County Schools
Cathy Harvey, Houston County Schools
Versie Ray Hamlett, Humboldt City Schools
James L. (Jimmy) Long, Humphreys County
Pat Dillahunty, Huntingdon Special District
Joe Barlow, Jackson County Schools
Verna Ruffin, Jackson-Madison Co. Schools
Charles Edmonds, Jefferson County Schools
Mischelle Simcox, Johnson County Schools
Lyle Ailshie, Kingsport City Schools
James McIntyre, Knox County Schools
Sherry Darnell, Lake County Schools
Shawn Kimble, Lauderdale County Schools
Bill Heath, Lawrence County Schools
Scott Benson, Lebanon Special District
Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City Schools
Susan Bunch, Lexington City Schools
Wanda Shelton, Lincoln County Schools
Jason Vance, Loudon County Schools
Mark Griffith, Marion County Schools
Mike Winstead, Maryville City Schools
Edward (Eddie) Hickman, Maury County
Lynn Watkins, McKenzie Special District
Mickey Blevins, McMinn County Schools
John Prince, McNairy County Schools
Don Roberts, Meigs County Schools
Jesse Register, Metropolitan Nashville Public
Mary Reel, Milan Special School District
Tim Blankenship, Monroe County Schools
Chad Moorehead, Moore County Schools
Edd Diden, Morgan County Schools
Linda Arms Gilbert, Murfreesboro City
Steve Thompson, Newport City Schools
Bruce Borchers, Oak Ridge City Schools
Russ Davis, Obion County Schools
Ann Sexton, Oneida Special School District
Mike Brown, Paris Special School District
Eric Lomax, Perry County Schools
Diane Elder, Pickett County Schools
Jerry Boyd, Putnam County Schools
Jerry Levengood, Rhea County Schools
Cindy Blevins, Richard City Special District

Gary Aytes, Roane County Schools
Mike Davis, Robertson County Schools
Rebecca C. Isaacs, Rogersville City Schools
Don Odom, Rutherford County Schools
Bill Hall, Scott County Schools
Johnny G. Cordell, Sequatchie County
Jack A. (Jackie) Parton, Sevier County Schools
Dorsey Hopson, Shelby Unified County
Tony Tucker, South Carroll Special District
Jubal Yennie, Sullivan County Schools
Beth Litz, Sweetwater City Schools

Sandra Harper, Trenton Special School
Clint Satterfield, Trousdale County Schools
Denise H. Brown, Unicoi County Schools
Jimmy Carter, Union County Schools
Cheryl Cole, Van Buren County Schools
John R. (Bobby) Cox, Warren County Schools
Ron Dykes, Washington County Schools
Gailand Grinder, Wayne County Schools
Randy Frazier, Weakley County Schools
Eric D. Williams, West Carroll Special District
Sandra Crouch,White County Schools
Donna Wright, Wilson County Schools


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

Still Opposed

After mistakenly suggesting that she might actually be listening to the teachers in her district on education issues, Dolores Gresham quickly issued a clarifying statement today setting the record straight.

The confusion began when Gresham reportedly told the Associated Press  she was “OK” with the Common Core State Standards.

The AP reported that Gresham said:

“I have talked to teachers who have told me in so many words, at last, we are no longer dumbing down our children,” she said. “That kind of encouragement is very important when other people are not so enthusiastic.”

Gresham’s statements appeared to be a reversal of position, as she is the prime sponsor of legislation that would repeal Common Core in Tennessee and replace it with Tennessee Standards.

Gresham has historically been more responsive to her donors than to teachers in her district, carrying legislation that authorized K12, Inc.’s failing Tennessee Virtual Academy and supporting a voucher scheme backed by Koch-brothers funded Americans for Prosperity.

Just this summer, she seemed to be on the hunt for an attack on teacher tenure when she requested an Attorney General’s opinion on the issue.

However, when it appeared she might be asking for and responding to educator input on education policy, Gresham was quick to put out a statement saying she still opposes Common Core and wants it repealed in Tennessee.

According to the Tennessean, Gresham wasn’t available to further clarify her statement. But it seems her momentary intimation that she may actually be further considering her stance may have been a verbal lapse rather than a thoughtful reflection.

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


Tipton County vs. Common Core

The Tipton County Board of Education passed a resolution last week calling on the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal the Common Core State Standards and replace them with Tennessee Standards that ensure students are prepared for college, career, and/or the military.

The resolution notes that the Common Core Standards, currently guiding Tennessee schools, were developed without input from Tennessee educators.

The Board is asking the state to develop its own standards and include Tennessee educators in the process. Governor Haslam has essentially promised the same thing, calling for a review of the Common Core and the development and implementation of Tennessee standards developed with input from a group of Tennessee educators.

Here’s the resolution:

Tipton Resolution




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

PARCC Delayed is PARCC Denied?

The Conference Committee Report on HB 1549/SB 1835 — legislation that would delay Common Core implementation — is out.

While the report does NOT recommend a delay in implementation per se, it does set out requirements for legislative notification prior to adoption of Common Core standards in science and social studies. Which may ultimately mean those standards are not adopted.

Perhaps most interesting is the section related to PARCC — the Pearson test associated with Common Core.

The Conference Committee Report contains language that would DELAY PARCC tests for one year — so, they wouldn’t start in 2015 as planned.  It goes further by requiring that the Department of Education accept bids for a test of Tennessee’s standards, including the Common Core in English/Language Arts and Math.

It’s possible, of course, that PARCC could still be the chosen option in Tennessee.  Then again, the state could go the way of Kentucky and Florida and drop out of PARCC altogether and contract for a different test.

Unless the General Assembly wants to stay in session for a few more days, it seems likely that this report will be adopted as the compromise position — allowing Tennessee to proceed with the Common Core as currently adopted and taking a step back to assess which test best meets the state’s needs.

Read the full Conference Committee Report.

Thoughts on PARCC and Other Tests


This article was written by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. The article notes that the road ahead for PARCC and for other Common Core connected assessments is complex and requires careful navigation.

There has been a renewed focus on the role of testing across the United States. This has opened a new dialogue among stakeholders, as well as policymakers. It is clear that new policies are needed to reflect the changing landscape in education and maximize changes in technology. As assessments will also be changing, data protection is a must. The ancillary debate is “Should the state bear the expense of testing, or is it a local responsibility?”


The debate is not merely about the pending and still experimental PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessments. In fact, there will be probably 10 to 15 less expensive assessment options under consideration. Additionally, there are the assessments of the states that are not Common Core State Standard members, for a total of about 20 possible assessments designed to measure a common set of standards. Some of these options may become a necessity if a “Plan B” is needed in case the PARCC exams become too costly or are proven to not be a right fit for Tennessee.


The purpose of testing should be to determine if a student is making satisfactory progress from grade to grade in grades 3 through 12. Our belief is that a standardized test is inappropriate within the K-2 setting. The use of assessments should allow educators to better assist students who are behind their peers to ensure they receive the help they need immediately to get back on track. In addition, those students who meet or exceed expectations can be monitored to make certain that they continue to excel. In the 9-12 setting, end-of-course (EOC) exams may still be an option if they are not discontinued. How many tests are needed? How often should they be administered? What is their purpose? These questions need to be asked frequently by stakeholders and policymakers.


The attraction of emergent technology is that it will allow educators to effectively identify and address student needs, if there is timely feedback. This ongoing transformation will continue to impact student learning – and advance prescriptive teaching. Students will need to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge or skills in a range of contexts. Assessments should allow educators to gauge their students more efficiently, and provide them with concise and accurate data to permit more focused support to students on an individual basis.


Most colleges and universities across the nation use the ACT, the SAT or both as part of their admissions procedure. The vast majority of state colleges and universities admit most of their applicants, and do not require minimum scores for admission that represent college readiness. A significant number of students require remediation. Is that a fault of the K-12 community or a failure by higher education? Perhaps greater dialogue and collaboration is needed. That is a discussion for another time.


The ACT test predicts a student’s prospect of earning credit in entry-level courses, but has not been aligned to states’ K-12 academic standards. This is also true of the SAT. The SAT is not designed to specifically predict college entry-level course success. However, it does provide predictors of overall college success, retention and completion. Both the ACT and SAT are in the process of fully developing their own suite of CCSS aligned assessments.


Stakeholders and policymakers all want what is best for public education. However, the road ahead is fraught with complexity. If we are going to take the time and expense to create standards, it stands to reason we will measure to see if students have in fact learned them. The purpose of testing is to guide educators on how and what to teach students so that education goals are met within a community, state and nation. We must keep focused on achieving our educational goals as a state and a nation.

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


A Tennessee Teacher Shares Her Concerns About Common Core

This article was submitted by Lucianna Sanson, a Franklin County native, who has been teaching English Language Arts for the Franklin County public school system since graduating from Sewanee. Currently, she teaches British Literature and AP Literature at Franklin County High School. The views expressed are hers alone and do not represent the views of her employer.

I was contacted and asked to write an article about why I am not a fan of Common Core – or – more specifically, the “TN Core Standards.” As I was trying to decide what to say, I ran across an interview with Diane Ravitch in Salon. As I read the interview, I realized that her reasons for disliking the Common Core are the same as my reasons. So, without further ado, here are the wise words of Diane Ravitch- edited down to focus specifically on the Common Core bit.

“The fact is, we have no evidence that the Common Core standards are what we say they are until we’ve tried them. They haven’t been tried anywhere, they’ve been tested — and we know that where they’re tested, they cause massive failure. So I would say we need to have more time before we can reach any judgment that they have some miracle cure embedded in them.

I know, and a lot of teachers know, they’re totally inappropriate for children in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade, because when they were written there was no one on various writing committees who was an expert in early childhood education… They’re also totally inappropriate for children who have disabilities — they can’t keep up. There’s an assumption in the Common Core that if you teach everybody the same thing, everybody will progress at the same speed. And that’s not human nature. It doesn’t work that way.

“… Common Core standards should be decoupled from the testing …the standards need to be reviewed by expert teachers, and wherever a fix is needed, fix them. That’s my position. I’m not opposed to them, I’m opposed to them in their current form, and I’m opposed to the standardized testing that’s linked to them.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Make sure you click the link, read the article, and share Diane’s words of wisdom.

For more from Lucianna Sanson, follow her on Twitter @Lucianna_Sanson