Doing the Right Thing

Shelby County’s Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson announced that all teachers will receive a three percent raise this year, not just those who meet certain scores on the state’s flawed value-added evaluation system.

More from Chalkbeat:

Hopson told the district’s educators in an email Thursday that they’ll see the raise reflected in their Nov. 18 paychecks. The pay hikes will be retroactive and will also go to librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers, physical/speech therapists and psychologists.

The decision came after Hopson learned that the district won’t receive the state’s testing data until December.

The decision by Hopson came about as a result of last year’s TNReady debacle. It also came in the same week that Knox County’s School Board asked the state for a waiver from included this year’s TNReady test results in student grades and teacher evaluations.

Hopson made the right decision — it is unfair to ask teachers to wait to receive pay raises because of the state’s mistakes with TNReady. It’s also unfair to use data from last year’s mess of a test administration to evaluate teachers. While I’ve expressed doubts about the usefulness of value-added data in evaluating teachers, even those who haven’t should acknowledge that using data from last year (or this year) is problematic.

Shelby County educators will all see a raise this year. The next question: Will the school board there join Knox County in requesting a waiver from using test data for students and teachers this year?

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


 

A Fond Farewell

Our friends over at Bluff City Ed announced this week they are saying goodbye.

Jon even had a brief stint with us as his blog was transitioning. He’ll be keeping the content up – and there’s lots of good content.

BCE started about 6 months after we started TNEdReport. Jon, Ezra, and the other writers were often my source for information on what was happening in Memphis.

As Jon points out, Chalkbeat is here now, and they provide very solid coverage of the education landscape. But the insider perspective and the in-depth analysis from BCE will be missed.

To that end, I’d like to extend an invitation to teachers and education activists in Memphis seeking an outlet to publish about what’s happening in the education landscape there. If you have story ideas or an article to pitch, get in touch. Just email me at andy AT spearsstrategy DOT com

In the meantime, I want to wish Jon and friends well. A great blog that provided a great service — and one that will remain a great source of information and historical context.

 

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


 

Teacher Shortage Hits Tennessee Cities

Chalkbeat reports on the state’s big cities missing a significant number of teachers at the start of the school year:

About 100 Shelby County Schools classrooms still lack full-time teachers, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday, the first day of school, after a tour at Bruce Elementary.

And the problem wasn’t limited to Shelby County:

And it’s not the only district with vacancies left open. Metro Nashville, a slightly smaller district, lists nearly 80 open teaching jobs, and the third-largest district in the state, Knox County, needs more than forty. Across the board, districts are most hurting for special education teachers, though there are vacancies in nearly every subject.

The shortage noted in the big districts tracks information reported at TNEdReport back in 2014:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

While there are many reasons for the shortfall, it’s worth noting that the first days of school set the tone for the entire year. So much so that incoming MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has said it’s critical that every classroom have a full-time teacher on day one.

UPDATE: MNPS reports that the actual number of unfilled vacancies on Day 1 was 34.5, a better number than they’ve had in recent years.

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


 

 

 

Why TNReady Wasn’t

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has an informative interview with the President of Measurement Inc., the company charged with delivering TNReady this year.

As I read the interview, a couple of items stood out. First, the company had never delivered an entire state’s online testing program. Tatter notes:

It was also an unprecedented task for Measurement Inc., which had never before developed and delivered a state’s entire online testing program.

Despite this, they somehow won the bid to deliver Tennessee’s program.

Second, the magnitude of the failure. Tatter:

About 48,000 students logged on that day, and about 18,000 submitted assessments. It’s unknown the number of students who weren’t having troubles with the test, but stopped after McQueen sent an email instructing districts to halt testing.

“It was a failure in some respects because we were supposed to design a system that would take 100,000 students in at one time… We had a problem with 48,000,” Scherich said.

Read that again. Measurement Inc. was tasked with developing an online platform that could handle 100,000 students taking a test at the same time. The system they developed couldn’t handle 48,000 students. They didn’t even develop a system that could handle HALF of what they were contracted to provide.

The company president goes on to detail the challenges of printing the tests in a short timeframe. However, back in February, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressed confidence in the printed tests:

“I want to stress to you that the paper version of TNReady is still TNReady,” McQueen wrote of the new test aligned to the state’s current Common Core academic standards.

She said the paper tests are being shipped to each district at no additional taxpayer cost.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Phase I tests did arrive, albeit quite late. And Phase II tests were not delivered in time to be administered this year.

Now, the state is seeking another vendor who can deliver the test in the 2016-17 academic year.


 

 

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

 

Phase II Ready

Now that the troublesome Phase I of TNReady is over, districts in coming weeks will move to TNReady Phase II.

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has more on what Phase II means for students and schools:

The second part of TNReady features mainly multiple-choice questions (although, unlike in years past, students sometimes will be able to select several choices.) It has about 60 questions each for math and English, split up over two days. When the test originally was to be administered online, Part II also was supposed to include interactive questions in which students could use drag-and-drop tools, but those won’t be possible on the paper version.

So, multiple choice, no interactive questions, and shorter testing times for this phase.

It’s worth noting that the test is in two phases and includes significantly more total testing time than was common in years past — up to 11 hours.

Also, at least one district is seriously discussing the option of not administering Phase II at all in light of all the disruption caused by the false start on Phase I.

What do you think? Is 11 hours of testing too much for the youngest students? Should Tennessee districts skip Phase II this year and focus on instruction instead of test prep?

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

 

The Biggest Losers

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a breakdown of Governor Haslam’s BEP changes. While this year’s budget includes an influx of dollars, it also freezes BEP 2.0.

Tatter explains:

Though the governor’s plan nixes BEP 2.0, it permanently increases the state’s spending on English language learners (funding ELL teachers at a 1:20 student ratio and translators at a 1:200 student ratio), and special education students, technology and teacher pay, especially when it comes to teachers insurance. For years, the state only paid for teachers to have 10 months of health insurance. Last year, the General Assembly mandated that the state provide for 11 months of insurance. Haslam’s proposal this year finally gives teachers’ year-round insurance.

It’s important to note here that districts are already paying for year-round insurance for teachers, now they will receive some funding for it. The state funds teacher insurance at 45% of the projected cost for a district’s BEP-generated teaching positions. Until last year, it funded 45% of this cost for only 10 months, now it will shift to 12 months. It’s also worth noting that every single district in the state hires teachers beyond the BEP-generated number. Typically, around 12-15% more than what the BEP formula generates. Districts cover the full cost of salary and insurance for all teachers hired beyond the BEP number.

If districts only hired the BEP number of teachers, they could reduce local costs, but they’d also likely have some pretty unhappy parents on their hands. So, yes, the Governor’s proposed changes do direct additional funds to districts. But the changes do not address the underlying problem with the BEP. Doing so would cost another $250 to $300 million. That would be the cost of adjusting the ratios by 10-15% for teachers. That’s not to mention nurses, counselors, and other positions. And it doesn’t include capital funding.

The BEP Review Committee has been highlighting these deficiencies for years to no avail.

Additionally, Tatter mentions:

Another carryover from BEP 2.0 is the eventual elimination of a “cost differential factor,” known as CDF, that 16 districts in five counties receive to address a higher cost of living. Reducing the CDF would cut state spending by about $34.7 million. Almost half of that money would have gone to Shelby County Schools and the municipal districts in Shelby County. Other counties that would be impacted are Davidson, Anderson, Williamson and Sullivan.

While BEP 2.0 envisioned elimination of the CDF, it also envisioned the state covering 75% of teacher salaries for BEP-generated teachers. The Haslam changes makes the current 70% permanent.

Here are the districts losing money under the CDF elimination. The CDF is cut in half for the upcoming year and then completely eliminated in 2017-18.

Shelby
             30,873,136
Davidson
             17,570,727
Williamson
             11,073,924
Bartlett
                2,111,966
Collierville
                2,007,525
Germantown
                1,411,972
Franklin SSD
                1,260,978
Arlington
                1,169,503
Millington
                   672,030
Anderson
                   473,867
Oak Ridge
                   320,368
Lakeland
                   243,331
Sullivan
                      78,161
Clinton City
                      72,903
Kingsport
                      54,638
Bristol City
                      30,682
Total
69,425,713

It’s not clear whether these changes will impact the current lawsuits regarding funding adequacy. And the additional funds still don’t address the unfunded RTI mandate.

The ultimate impact of the changes will take a few years to determine. However, without significant structural changes, it is difficult to see this “new BEP” adequately meeting the needs of Tennessee’s schools.

More on the BEP:

Bill Dunn Wrong

They Noticed

Clay County and the Broken BEP

Why is TN 40th?

About BEP 2.0

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

A Little Less Bad

From a story in Chalkbeat:

Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system is more accurate than ever in measuring teacher quality…

That’s the conclusion drawn from a report on the state’s teacher evaluation system conducted by the State Department of Education.

The idea is that the system is improving.

Here’s the evidence the report uses to justify the claim of an improving evaluation system:

1) Teacher observation scores now more closely align with teacher TVAAS scores — TVAAS is the value-added modeling system used to determine a teacher’s impact on student growth

2) More teachers in untested subjects are now being evaluated using the portfolio system rather than TVAAS data from students they never taught

On the second item, I’d note that previously, 3 districts were using the a portfolio model and now 11 districts use it. This model allows related-arts teachers and those in other untested subjects to present a portfolio of student work to demonstrate that teacher’s impact on growth. The model is generally applauded by teachers who have a chance to use it.

However, there are 141 districts in Tennessee and 11 use this model. Part of the reason is the time it takes to assess portfolios well and another reason is the cost associated with having trained evaluators assess the portfolios. Since the state has not (yet) provided funding for the use of portfolios, it’s no surprise more districts haven’t adopted the model. If the state wants the evaluation model to really improve (and thereby improve teaching practice), they should support districts in their efforts to provide meaningful evaluation to teachers.

A portfolio system could work well for all teachers, by the way. The state could move to a system of project-based learning and thus provide a rich source of material for both evaluating student mastery of concepts AND teacher ability to impact student learning.

On to the issue of TVAAS and observation alignment. Here’s what the report noted:

Among the findings, state education leaders are touting the higher correlation between a teacher’s value-added score (TVAAS), which estimates how much teachers contribute to students’ growth on statewide assessments, and observation scores conducted primarily by administrators.

First, the purpose of using multiple measures of teacher performance is not to find perfect alignment, or even strong correlation, but to utilize multiple inputs to assess performance. Pushing for alignment suggests that the department is actually looking for a way to make TVAAS the central input driving teacher evaluation.

Advocates of this approach will tell suggest that student growth can be determined accurately by TVAAS and that TVAAS is a reliable predictor of teacher performance.

I would suggest that TVAAS, like most value-added models, is not a significant differentiator of teacher performance. I’ve written before about the need for caution when using value-added data to evaluate teachers.

More recently, I wrote about the problems inherent in attempting to assign growth scores when shifting to a new testing regime, as Tennessee will do next year when it moves from TCAP to TNReady. In short, it’s not possible to assign valid growth scores when comparing two entirely different tests.  Researchers at RAND noted:

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.

So, even if you buy the idea that TVAAS is a significant differentiator of teacher performance, drawing meaningful conclusions from next year’s TNReady simply is not reliable.

The state is touting improvement in a flawed system that may now be a little less bad.  And because they insist on estimating growth from two different tests with differing methodologies, the growth estimates in 2016 will be unreliable at best. If they wanted to improve the system, they would take two to three years to build growth data based on TNReady — that would mean two t0 three years of NO TVAAS data in teacher evaluation.

Alternatively, the state could move to a system of project-based learning and teacher evaluation and professional development based on a Peer Assistance and Review Model. Such an approach would be both student-centered and result in giving teachers the professional respect they deserve. It also carries a price tag — but our students are worth doing the work of both reallocating existing education dollars and finding new ways to invest in our schools.

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

 

 

 

RTI Rollout Rushed?

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

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

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

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

Tatter notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on RTI2 from our friends over at Bluff City Ed

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

 

 

The Data War

Blake Farmer of WPLN reported today on the “data war” between the state Achievement School District (ASD) and opponents of a plan to turn either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend Middle over to the ASD.

According to Farmer’s report, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic suggests that supporters or opponents can make data show whatever they want, quoting Barbic as saying:

“We can go back and forth with folks who want to do the data war,” Barbic tells WPLN. “For every data point they have, we’ve got one. The bottom line is that the schools that we’re talking about are in the bottom five percent.”

Essentially, Barbic is saying that the debate doesn’t matter, the ASD is going to takeover one of these schools because they can. He admitted as much in an earlier discussion of ASD takeovers in Memphis.

But, opponents of the takeover point to data suggesting that the ASD overall doesn’t outperform district schools and the ASD’s model is flawed.

Here’s some more information on the specific schools slated for takeover, the ASD as a whole, and the schools operated by LEAD, the charter operator named to takevover either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend.

We’ll look at the number of students testing proficient/advanced in both reading and math

2013 Reading

ASD Average:  13.6

Brick Church Prep (LEAD): 12.8

MNPS Average: 40

Brick Church Middle:  20

Madison MS:  23.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  21.6

For 2013 in reading, note that both Neely’s Bend and Madison scored higher than the ASD average AND the score at Brick Church Prep, run by LEAD, which is the model for the takeover.

2013 Math

ASD Average:  19.6

Brick Church Prep: 24.2

MNPS Average:  42.5

Brick Church MS: 7.7

Madison MS: 15.2

Neely’s Bend MS: 25.4

For 2013 in math, Madison was below the ASD average and below the Brick Church Prep scores. Neely’s Bend was above the ASD average and also outscored Brick Church Prep.

2014 Reading

ASD Average:  17

Brick Church Prep:  37.2

MNPS Average:  40.7

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  24

Neely’s Bend MS:  24.3

For 2014 in reading, Brick Church Prep saw a significant bump in reading scores. But, the TVAAS data actually indicates a -3.7 in growth year over year. Here’s what that means. Brick Church Prep’s reading proficiency score bump is a result of new students added to the overall score. Madison Middle and Neely’s Bend both showed growth year over year and the growth in reading is roughly equivalent to the growth demonstrated by ASD schools as a whole.

2014 Math

ASD Average:  21.8

Brick Church Prep:  41.2

MNPS Average:  44.6

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  18.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  26.2

Of note here, the ASD’s average gains are similar to MNPS overall — that is, the ASD is getting gains no better than would be expected of a district school.  And, Neely’s Bend is right at that average in growth. Madison falls slightly behind in this catetory.

The bottom line: The ASD performs no better than district schools overall. Even in the case of the model, Brick Church Prep, a statistical anomaly created by a growing student population (they are adding a grade each year) creates the perception of growth, but the reality is growth scores there are no more spectacular than typical MNPS schools. For the year before Brick Church Prep grew by adding students, Madison and Neely’s Bend were on par with its performance.

If taking schools over is also designed to result in improved performance, it seems the ASD model doesn’t meet this standard.

Data war aside, I found some other interesting notes in the existing reports about tonight’s meetings at both schools.

Chalkbeat reports:

ASD chief operating officer Elliot Smalley said that a desire to have parents dominate the discussion over which school will be taken over — rather than teachers, as has been the case in Memphis — caused ASD officials  to rebrand the meetings as “parent meetings” rather than “community meetings,” which is what they called the equivalent meetings in Memphis.

It seems the ASD isn’t interested in a broader community discussion or in hearing too much from teachers.

ASD’s Smalley went on to say that it wasn’t about how many people showed up, but about the substance of what they said, according to Chalkbeat:

it’s about the quality of feedback from parents, not the quantity. He said officials would be listening for what parents like about their current neighborhood school and want to maintain, and what they don’t like.

It’s not clear if Smalley or the ASD have crafted a rubric in order to evaluate the quality of individual and collective feedback provided at tonight’s meetings. Will points be deducted from speakers who are teachers at the schools, but not parents?

Finally, on why these two schools, instead of others in MNPS that are lower performing, the ASD’s Barbic notes:

The ASD had 15 schools to choose from in Nashville. Early on, Barbic made it clear that it would be a middle school and that LEAD would run it. He notes that the selection process is more involved than just evaluating test scores. For instance, Jere Baxter, which was an option, is only at half capacity. Barbic says LEAD didn’t think there were enough students to work with in the building.

“You just can’t run a full, robust middle school program if there aren’t enough kids in the building to be able to do that,” Barbic says. “And when a building is half empty, it’s tough to make the case to be able do that.”

Interesting that LEAD can’t run a full, robust middle school program at Jere Baxter but can run a full, robust high school program that just graduated 43 students.

Data wars and rhetoric aside, it seems clear the ASD will move forward after tonight’s meeting and take over one of these schools. Smalley admits as much:

Although Smalley said that parent feedback would be an important factor in the officials’ final decisions, he said that in the end, the fate of Madison and Neely’s Bend will be decided by ASD officials alone.

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

More Trouble for the ASD in Memphis

Bluff City Ed cites a Chalkbeat story noting that Green Dot is pulling out of a possible takeover of Raleigh-Eqypt High School.

The story notes that both Freedom Prep and KIPP have also pulled out of prior agreements to takeover Memphis schools.

While charter operators are pulling out of the process, the community is increasingly outspoken in opposition to the ASD takeovers.

Here’s the key takeaway noted by Jon Alfuth at BCE:

I also hope that this serves as a wakeup call for the ASD. As shown at Fairley, it is possible for communities to work with ASD authorized charters and have a positive experience. But the opposite has happened with Green Dot. Chris Barbic, the ASD Superintendent, said in the chalkbeat article, “We’re going to go back and do an autopsy once we’re done with all this.” Lets hope that autopsy helps the ASD identify how it can create more situations like Fairley and less like REHS moving forward.

Read Jon’s full story.

More stories on the ASD in Memphis:

Teachers organize against ASD takeovers

ASD faces Memphis struggles

Is the ASD working?

For more on Memphis education issues, follow @BluffCityEd

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