Chattanooga in Talks for Expansion Team

The state’s fourth-largest school district will soon be in talks to become the next location of an expansion franchise in the school takeover league known as the Achievement School District (ASD). With 33 schools under its control, the ASD is considered the major league in the school takeover world.

Laura Faith Kebede reports on this development at Chalkbeat:

Leaders of the Achievement School District will begin talks with district and community leaders in Hamilton County in the coming months, according to Robert S. White, the ASD’s chief of external affairs.

The development comes despite a lack of current data due to the failure of this year’s administration of TNReady.

League leaders say a lack of data won’t slow them down as they aggressively pursue expansion in 2018 and beyond:

The ASD’s next steps have been made more challenging by the lack of test score data across Tennessee due the state’s late-spring cancellation of most of its TNReady tests. But after the hiatus year, White said he expects the state-run district to continue to take control of priority schools, even as the state rolls out a new assessment by a new test maker this coming year.

“You won’t see that two years in a row,” he said of the takeover hiatus.

The league also didn’t rule out an expansion in Nashville, where a contentious battle in 2014 resulted in Neely’s Bend Middle School “winning” ASD franchise status.

Despite an initial plan focused on stellar turnarounds of struggling schools, the ASD has a reputation for taking low-performing schools, handing them over to charter-operator general managers, and watching as the results are rarely better than under previous management teams.

The Memphis franchise(s) have been plagued with unrest from “fans” expecting the league to live up to its promises.

In fact, one local group has asked the league to stop looking to Memphis for new expansion teams. Due to what it considers market saturation, that’s a request the league is likely to honor in the short term.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga awaits word regarding which eligible school(s) could get the call from the school takeover major league.

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


Testing Time

While Tennessee teachers are raising concerns about the amount of time spent on testing and test preparation, the Department of Education is lauding the new TNReady tests as an improvement for Tennessee students.

According to an AP story:

However, the survey of nearly 37,000 teachers showed 60 percent say they spend too much time helping students prepare for statewide exams, and seven out of ten believe their students spend too much time taking exams.

“What teachers recognize is the unfortunate fact that standardized testing is the only thing valued by the state,” said Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

“Teachers and parents know there are so many things that affect future student success that are not measured by these tests, like social and emotional skills, cooperative behaviors, and academic abilities that do not lend themselves to be measured this way.”

Despite teacher concerns, the Department of Education says the new tests will be better indicators of student performance, noting that it will be harder for students to “game” the tests. That’s because the tests will include some open-ended questions.

What they don’t mention is that the company administering the tests, Measurement, Inc., is seeking test graders on Craigslist. And, according to a recent New York Times story, graders of tests like TNReady have, “…the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.”  The more you grade, the more you earn, in other words.

Chalkbeat summarizes the move to TNReady like this:

The state was supposed to move in 2015 to the PARCC, a Common Core-aligned assessment shared by several states, but the legislature voted in 2014 to stick to its multiple-choice TCAP test while state education leaders searched for a test similar to the PARCC but designed exclusively for Tennessee students.

Except the test is not exactly exclusive to Tennessee.  That’s because Measurement, Inc. has a contract with AIR to use test questions already in use in Utah for tests in Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee.

And, for those concerned that students already spend too much time taking standardized tests, the DOE offers this reassurance about TNReady:

The estimated time for TNReady includes 25-50 percent more time per question than on the prior TCAP for English and math. This ensures that all students have plenty of time to answer each test question, while also keeping each TNReady test short enough to fit into a school’s regular daily schedule.

According to the schedule, the first phase of testing will start in February/March and the second phase in April/May. That means the tests are not only longer, but they also start earlier and consume more instructional time.

For teachers, that means it is critical to get as much curriculum covered as possible by February. This is because teachers are evaluated in part based on TVAAS — Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System — a particularly problematic statistical formula that purports to measure teacher impact on student learning.

So, if you want Tennessee students to spend more time preparing for and taking tests that will be graded by people recruited on Craigslist and paid bonuses based on how quickly they grade, TNReady is for you. And, you’re in luck, because testing time will start earlier than ever this year.

Interestingly, the opt-out movement hasn’t gotten much traction in Tennessee yet. TNReady may be just the catalyst it needs.

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