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

Validating the Invalid?

The Tennessee House of Representatives passed legislation today (HB 108) that makes changes to current practice in teacher evaluation as Tennessee transitions to its new testing regime, TNReady.

The changes adjust the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that is dependent on TVAAS scores to 10% next year, 20% the following year, and back to the current 35% by the 2017-18 academic year.

This plan is designed to allow for a transition period to the new TNReady tests which will include constructed-response questions and be aligned to the so-called Tennessee standards which match up with the Common Core State Standards.

Here’s the problem: There is no statistically valid way to predict expected growth on a new test based on the historic results of TCAP. First, the new test has (supposedly) not been fully designed. Second, the test is in a different format. It’s both computer-based and it contains constructed-response questions. That is, students must write-out answers and/or demonstrate their work.

Since Tennessee has never had a test like this, it’s impossible to predict growth at all. Not even with 10% confidence. Not with any confidence. It is the textbook definition of comparing apples to oranges.

Clearly, legislators feel like at the very least, this is an improvement. A reasonable accommodation to teachers as our state makes a transition.

But, how is using 10% of an invalid number a good thing? Should any part of a teacher’s evaluation be made up of a number that reveals nothing at all about that teacher’s performance?

While value-added data alone is a relatively poor predictor of teacher performance, the value-added estimate used next year is especially poor because it is not at all valid.

But, don’t just take my word for it. Researchers studying the validity of value-added measures asked whether value-added gave different results depending on the type of question asked. Particularly relevant now because Tennessee is shifting to a new test with different types of questions.

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.

Or, if the state is determined to use growth scores (and wants to use them with accuracy), they will wait several years and build completely new growth models based on TNReady alone. At least three years of data would be needed in order to build such a model.

It seems likely that the Senate will follow the House’s lead on Monday and overwhelmingly support the proposed evaluation changes. But in doing so, they should be asking themselves if it’s really ok to base any part of a teacher’s evaluation on numbers that reliably predict nothing.

More on Value-Added:

Real World Harms of Value-Added Data

Struggles with Value-Added Data


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

Commissioner McQueen

Though she didn’t make it to the Final Four in Education Commissioner Madness, Lipscomb University Senior Vice President Candice McQueen looks to be Governor Haslam’s choice to serve as Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education. This according to Joey Garrison at the The Tennessean.

In addition to serving as Senior Vice President at Lipscomb, McQueen is the Dean of the College of Education at the school.

Here’s more on McQueen from her bio at Lipscomb:

Dr. Candice McQueen was appointed as a Senior Vice President at Lipscomb University in January 2014 where she also serves as the Dean of the College of Education.  In her new senior role, McQueen serves on the executive leadership team of the university and oversees both her college and the 1,300 Pre-K-12th grade students in three schools at Lipscomb Academy – the largest private school in middle Tennessee.

McQueen’s college and teacher preparation programs have been highlighted at both the state and national levels for excellence in both teacher preparation design and teacher candidate outcomes.  The programs in McQueen’s college have been consistently highlighted as one of the top teacher training programs in the state of Tennessee for quality and effectiveness based on the Tennessee Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs and was most recently pointed out as the second highest ranking program in the nation by the National Council on Teacher Quality.  In addition, in her six years as dean, the college has grown by 54% with 72% growth at the graduate level while adding 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and creating innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.

In 2012, McQueen and the College of Education partnered with the Ayers Foundation to initiate The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation.  The institute has a focus on supporting higher academic standards, embedded professional learning and new approaches to leadership training and support.  The institute initially partnered with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to create pre-service teacher resources and web-based videos on teachers modeling the usage of college and career readiness standards.  Tennessee’s higher education institutions and alternative preparation programs are currently utilizing the resources to prepare new teachers and leaders.  Also, many Tennessee school districts and other states are using the resources for professional development.  In addition, the institute’s innovative MOOCs (massive open online courses) in teacher preparation were recently released.  The first three MOOCs released in September and October 2014 already have almost 10,000 users.

Before coming to Lipscomb and serving as a department chair, Dr. McQueen taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools where she was awarded multiple awards for both her teaching and the curriculum design of a new magnet school. Dr. McQueen has a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb, a master’s degree from Vanderbilt, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas.


McQueen has been a strong supporter of Common Core, testifying before state legislators on the issue. She also spoke about the standards and their importance at Governor Haslam’s Education Summit held earlier this year.

Tennessee Education Association statement on McQueen:
“TEA looks forward to working with Dr. McQueen to provide a quality public education to every student in Tennessee,” said Barbara Gray, Shelby County administrator and TEA president. “We hope she will listen to veteran educators in the state when making important policy decisions. The people who work with children in the classroom every day are the real experts and should have a significant voice in decision-making at the state level.”

“TEA is hopeful she will use this new position to forcefully advocate within the administration to improve per student investment in Tennessee,” the TEA president continued. “As a former educator herself, I’m sure she agrees that it is unacceptable for our state to rank below Mississippi in what we invest in our children.”

Professional Educators of Tennessee statement on McQueen:

We look forward to working with Dr. McQueen on critical education issues facing Tennessee Educators. Dr. Candice McQueen is well versed in the hard work teachers’ face every day as she has taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools. She is familiar with Tennessee, one of our major concerns. “We have admired Dr. McQueen’s work from afar, and are looking forward to working with her more closely,” said Executive Director J. C. Bowman. Priorities for a new commissioner must first be student-centered. Our students must have the resources and innovative instruction to compete in a world-class economy right here in Tennessee. We are reminded that the working conditions of our educators become the learning environment of our students, therefore teachers must also be a high priority in the new commissioner’s agenda. Finally, Tennessee will need to continue to allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have maintained, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators. In this season of hope, we truly look forward to working with Dr. McQueen to move our state forward.



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


Toward Tennessee Standards

In September, Governor Bill Haslam hosted an “Education Summit” designed to help “reset the conversation” around education policy, and specifically, Common Core. Since that time, policymakers have been suggesting that Common Core is dead in Tennessee and that the state will move toward its own set of standards.

Today, Governor Haslam took a major step in that direction, announcing a review of Tennessee standards in Math and English/Language Arts. He is essentially accelerating the normal review process for Tennessee standards and using that acceleration as an opportunity to review (and potentially revise) the Common Core standards that guide Tennessee’s standards.

Haslam also announced the development of a website that will allow Tennesseans to review the Common Core State Standards and offer comments. Additionally, review committees comprised of educators will be a part of the process.

Here’s the release from Haslam’s office:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the process for a public review of
the state’s K-12 academic standards in English language arts and math.  The
process is in partnership with the State Board of Education and will include
input from educators and citizens from across the state.

Academic standards are typically reviewed in Tennessee every six years.  With these
standards now in their fourth year, and with the discussion happening in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core state standards, Haslam believes this is the appropriate time to take a fresh look.

“One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee,” Haslam
continued.  “This discussion is about making sure we have the best possible
standards as we continue to push ahead on the historic progress we’re making in
academic achievement.”

In the coming weeks, a website  will be available to every Tennessean to go online, review each current state standard and comment on what that person likes, doesn’t like, or would suggest should be changed about that particular standard.

The Southern Regional Education Board, as a third party, independent resource, will collect the data in the Spring and then turn that information over to be reviewed and analyzed by professional Tennessee educators.  The governor has asked the State Board of Education to
appoint two committees, an English Language Arts Standards Review & Development Committee and Math Standards Review & Development Committee, as well as three advisory teams for each of those committees.

The advisory teams will review Tennessee’s current standards and gather input to make
recommendations to the two committees, which will then propose possible changes
to the State Board of Education.

The two standards review committees will each be made up of six Tennessee K-12 educators and two representatives from Tennessee higher education institutions for a total of 16 Tennessee professional educators.

The two committees will receive input from three advisory teams each, for a total of six.  The advisory teams will be grouped by K-5th grade, 6th – 8th grade and 9th – 12th grade, and each team will be made up of six Tennessee K-12 educators and one representative from a
Tennessee higher education institution for a total of 42 Tennessee professional

The following have been appointed to serve:

Standards Review & Development Committee
•        Committee Chair: John Prince, McNairy County Schools, director of schools
•        Jamie Parris, Hamilton County Schools, director of secondary math and science
•        Julie Martin, Williamson County Schools, assistant principal
•        Cory Concus, Tipton County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Michael Bradburn, Alcoa City Schools, kindergarten teacher
•        Holly Anthony, Tennessee Technology University, associate professor of mathematics education
•        Stacey Roddy, Hamilton County Schools, director of elementary math and science
•        Stephanie Kolitsch, University of Tennessee Martin,
professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Math Advisory Team
•        Advisory Team Leader: Stacey Roddy, Hamilton County Schools,
director of elementary math and science
•        Kimberly Osborne, Murfreesboro City Schools, assistant principal
•        Jamelie Johns, Hamilton County Schools, elementary math coach
•        Michael Bradburn, Alcoa City Schools, kindergarten teacher
•        Theresa Feliu, Kingsport City Schools, fourth-grade teacher
•        Brandy Hays, Lebanon Special School District, 3-5 math teacher
•        Jo Ann Cady, University of Tennessee, associate professor of math education

Math Advisory Team
•        Advisory Team Leader: John Prince, McNairy County Schools,
director of schools
•        Amber Caldwell, Bradley County Schools, mathematics coordinator
•        Sherry Cockerham, Johnson City Schools, district math coach
•        Darcie Finch, Metro Nashville Public Schools, numeracy coach
•        Angela Webb, Putnam County School System, seventh-grade math teacher
•        Holly Pillow, Trenton Special School District, math coach and interventionist
•        Emily Medlock, Lipscomb University, assistant professor, College of Education

Math Advisory Team
•        Advisory Team Leader: Stephanie Kolitsch, University of
Tennessee Martin, professor, Department of Mathematics and
•        Rory Hinson, Gibson County Special School District,
assistant principal
•        Chelsea Spaulding, Rutherford County Schools,
assistant principal
•        Joseph Jones, Cheatham County School District,
district math coordinator
•        Cory Concus, Tipton County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Kimberly Herring, Cumberland County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Beth Morris, Lincoln County School System, 9-12 teacher

English Language Arts Standards Review & Development
•        Committee Chair: Shannon Jackson, Knox County Schools,
supervisor of reading and English language arts for secondary schools
•        Susan Dold, Shelby County Schools, literacy advisor
•        Jami Corwin, Sullivan County Schools, secondary English language arts curriculum coordinator
•        Jaime Greene, Hamblen County Schools, 6-12 instructional coach
•        Tony Dalton, Hamblen County Schools, pre-kindergarten-first-grade district instructional coach

Shannon Street, Cannon County School District, sixth-grade English language arts and science teacher
•        Susan Groenke, University of Tennessee, associate professor of English education
•        Candice McQueen, Lipscomb University, dean of education

English Language Arts Advisory Team
•        Advisory Team Leader: Candice McQueen, Lipscomb University, dean
of education
•        Debra Bentley, Johnson City Schools, supervisor of instruction
•        Stacy King, Greenville City Schools, instructional specialist
•        Tony Dalton, Hamblen County Schools, pre-kindergarten-first-grade district instructional coach
•        Kerri Newsom, Lake County School System, first-grade teacher
•        Cathy Dickey, Greenville City Schools, first-grade teacher
•        Kelsea Cox, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, first-grade teacher

Language Arts Advisory Team 6-8
•        Advisory Team Leader: Shannon Jackson, Knox County Schools, supervisor of reading and English language arts for secondary schools
•        Jaime Greene, Hamblen County Schools, 6-12 instructional coach
•        Meghan Little, Metro Nashville Public Schools, chief academic officer for KIPP Nashville
•        Terri Bradshaw, Blount County Schools, literacy leader
•        Jessica Daigle, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, eighth-grade English language arts teacher
•        Tequila Cornelious, Franklin Special School District, instructional facilitator
•        Terri Tilson, Tusculum College, assistant professor

English Language Arts Advisory Team 9-12
•        Advisory Team Leader: Susan Groenke, University of Tennessee, associate professor of
English education
•        Brandi Blackley, Tipton County Schools, assistant principal
•        Elaine Hoffert, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, English language arts curriculum consulting teacher
•        Autumn O’Bryan, Cleveland City Schools, principal
•        Tammy Marlow, Macon County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Jessica Mitchell, Hardeman County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        TJ Wilson, Williamson County Schools, 9-12

Recommendations are expected to be made to the State Board of Education by the end of 2015.

And here’s an email sent from Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman to all teachers in the state:

Dear teachers,

We are writing to give you some more detailed information about an announcement that Gov. Haslam is making today about our standards for English language arts and math.
As you know, while our schools have been implementing the Common Core State Standards for the past several years, we have seen significant academic progress. At the same time, we have heard many assertions about the standards, their origin, their implementation and their effectiveness.
The governor has asked the State Board of Education to lead a process of reviewing our standards in ELA and math, gathering feedback and seeking recommendations for improvement. In the normal course of business, the State Board reviews academic standards every six years in different subject areas, so this accelerates the normal process given the level of discussion about the Common Core State Standards.
The process will include:

  • An opportunity for public feedback on each standard via a website. This website will be launched as soon as possible, and no later than December 1. Kentucky is in the middle of a similar process, and you can see the website here ( to have a sense of how this may look.
  • A review of public comments by standards review committees and advisory teams. These teams will be composed of educators from K-12 and higher education, built around grade level and subject bands. The governor’s office, working through the State Board of Education, has announced the committees and teams today, and they are built around input from Tennessee educators.
  • Submission of recommendations on the standards to the State Board of Education, led by the review teams and facilitated by the Southern Regional Education Board, which has agreed to help the State Board.
This process will take time; we need to allow significant time for public comment to ensure everyone is heard, and reviewing comments and recommendations similarly will be a lengthy process. It is important to understand we will proceed with the current, state-adopted ELA and math standards and these standards will remain in place until any revisions are made by the State Board. The review process should not have any impact on your plans for instruction this year.
As you know, Tennessee previously issued an RFP for a new ELA and math assessment. The assessment selected through this process will be Tennessee’s ELA and math assessment beginning in the 2015-16 academic year. As part of the RFP process, the vendor must commit to align assessments to state standards, meaning any revisions to standards would result in appropriate adjustments to the applicable state assessments in the future. Changes to the assessment would of course have to allow for sufficient time to train teachers and field test new items.
We recognize that any time there is a standards review process, there is the potential for confusion in the field. While this process could result in revisions to the standards, we continue to hear from all parties that Tennessee must have standards that are the strongest and most rigorous in the country. In particular, we know from our employers and our universities that Tennessee’s standards must include:

  • A focus on basic skills, particularly in lower grades, with special emphasis on literacy and on math facts, and on eliminating the calculator reliance prevalent on the TCAP in younger grades.
  • An emphasis on reading complex and authentic texts.
  • Renewed focus on writing across all grade levels, with a particular emphasis on ensuring our students can defend their arguments in written communication.
  • A focus on critical thinking and problem solving in math.
  • Assessments that de-emphasize multiple choice questions, include writing at all grade levels, and measure expectations that meet or exceed the expectations of students anywhere in the country.

We have attached here a fact sheet about this process. We will continue to communicate through local school districts about the process.

Please know there is widespread recognition of the volume of work that educators have put into raising academic standards. Our state leaders are in agreement that our standards must always represent the next step forward and we want to avoid retreating from the great work of Tennessee teachers that has led our students to such significant academic progress.
In addition, we hope that many of you will submit comments and thoughts in this process. After all, you have the expertise that comes from working with Tennessee students every day. Your input can have a significant impact on the direction of standards in future years.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

What’s Going on in Williamson County?

The School Board elections in Williamson County were fought on one primary issue: Common Core. A group of candidates who strongly opposed Common Core were supported by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and won a majority on the School Board.

Some of these individuals have expressed support for vouchers and for bringing charter schools to Williamson County. Those are two primary goals of AFP.

Alvey on Education offers a view of what’s happening from a Williamson County parent’s perspective. A recent post there discusses a pending resolution at the School Board level that would denounce Common Core. Of course, it seems increasingly likely that Common Core will die an early death in Tennessee. But, the post offers some insight into what is happening now in one of the best school systems in Tennessee.

The article concludes with a prediction:

So that’s why the board will vote to approve the anti-Common Core resolution. But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself what is going to go down at the Oct. 16 board working session. Formal meeting on new board chair and vice-chair starts at 6pm. Expect lots of AFP t-shirts, and lots of crazy from 912ers. If you want to attend, and not get confused with those groups, put on a WCS or FSSD school shirt, or a Be Nice shirt, to show you’re a real local and not an import. Doors open at 5 pm, and you’ll want to get there earlier rather than later.

But the whole piece is worth a read to get some background on the players from inside and outside Williamson County seeking to disrupt what was once a quiet, and quite successful, suburban school system.

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

Is Common Core Dead in Tennessee?

That seems to be the message Tennessee leaders are sending about the controversial Common Core State Standards.

After a legislative session which saw the House of Representatives strongly denounce Common Core and ultimately the entire General Assembly vote to delay the PARCC tests, Governor Haslam convened an Education Summit to “reset the conversation” around education policy in the state.

In Williamson County, Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of dollars on School Board races to elect new members who oppose the Common Core State Standards.

Just this weekend, Scott Stroud of the Tennessean wrote:

If Common Core education standards come crashing to earth next year when the legislature reconvenes — and it looks as though they might — Gov. Bill Haslam will need to look no further than his campaign for re-election to figure out when he lost that fight.

Haslam appears now to be shifting to a conversation of why higher standards matter rather than advocating in favor of the Common Core.

And, Speaker Beth Harwell is joining him. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Harwell said:

I really think Tennessee is going to get to the point where they’ll just develop their own standards and try to make them some of the best standards in the nation.

So, it seems likely that Tennessee will shift away from Common Core. But will Tennessee policymakers use the Common Core as a guideline for new standards? And how will development of Tennessee’s own standards impact the already-issued RFP for tests aligned to the Common Core in math and reading? Will there be yet another delay in the use of assessments aligned to Tennessee standards? Will teachers be sent yet another set of standards to teach students? And how will these new standards be developed?

The shift away from the CCSS may be politically expedient, but it leaves many questions unanswered. It also presents an opportunity: To reset the conversation by involving teachers, parents, and communities in a discussion about what’s best for Tennessee.  That conversation was missing in the initial build-up to Common Core in Tennessee and it is likely among the reasons why the standards are facing challenging times now.

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

PET on Common Core Lessons

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) President Cathy Kolb and Director of Professional Development Bethany Bowman talk about lessons learned from Common Core implementation.
There are several words that are called “fighting words” these days, but “Common Core State Standards” may head the list in public education. The only other item that may come close is standardized testing.

Just the phrase “Common Core” can invoke passions, debate or a heated quarrel. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a battle about standards in the private sector.

Mark Twain popularized the adage that there were “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Research, design of study, methodologies, sample selection, quality of evidence all determine how the statistics will be shaped. The use of the data will then drive the decision-making. Policymakers can justify any position for or against an issue based on their view of the available information. Toss in a political agenda, add some cash and you have a recipe to be persuaded for or against any issue. A political maxim is: “money changes behavior, lots of money changes lots of behavior.”

We should be weary of many education reforms, and generally opposed to a one-size fits all approach – especially when there is “lots of money” involved. There is always good and bad to most issues, and reasonable people can generally argue either side. A civil debate can serve a practical purpose in public policy. Common Core is an issue that makes sense in theory, and results may show it makes sense in practice. Time will determine that debate. As an organization, we support higher standards.

Who can be opposed to raising the standards in public education? Let’s face it, our economic strength as a state and a country is linked to the performance of our public schools. Yet, not all students are educated in a traditional public school. Traditional schools are wary of being accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests which do not give an accurate picture of teacher performance.

There are a growing array of education choice options available in America such as controlled open enrollment, charter schools, charter districts, online schools, lab schools, schools-within-schools, year-round schools, charter technical career centers, magnet schools, alternative schools, vouchers, special programs, advanced placement, dual enrollment, International Baccalaureate, early admissions, and credit by examination or demonstration of competency. If you can conceive it, more than likely some school, district or state will probably try it. But will all of these options include the use of Common Core State Standards, and if not, why not?

In Tennessee, for example, any cursory review demonstrates that Common Core State Standards were superior to the standards previously employed. But it is debatable whether recommending a common set of standards for all 50 states was necessary. In fact, Common Core could be properly viewed as a disruptor. In that regard, Common Core served a useful purpose of blowing up the status quo.

In education circles people are now discussing standards, curriculum and testing. Don’t believe for one minute that Common Core State Standards are a “be all, end all.” They were not an insidious plot by the Obama Administration, but they were not exactly crafted by real public educators either. Many of the elements of Common Core were a response that has been kicked around for a quarter-century. In fact, one could pinpoint the genesis of the national curriculum debate at the feet of Chester Finn, who proposed it in an Education Week article in 1989.     Nobody should be thrilled with watered down standards. Yet we must critically scrutinize the curriculum, textbook, and testing clique that have turned into profit centers for a few corporations that seem to have garnered an inside advantage. Bluntly, there may be too many education lobbyists and corporate interests driving manufactured problems in the name of education reform. It is definite that we have tilted the debate too far to the side of the federal government in harming state sovereignty and local control of public education.

The implementation of Common Core went better in Tennessee than in many other places in the country. The real problem was the failure of many policymakers to address the legitimate concerns of stakeholders on other peripheral issues. Organizations that were engaged to take the lead in addressing criticisms were viewed as impertinent and disrespectful and operated as if they themselves were the policymakers. In fact, it bordered on arrogance.

It is accurate that those for and against Common Core have taken liberties with the truth. However, if the debate exasperates people enough perhaps it will spark needed changes such as a real review of standardized testing and a focus back on student-centered instruction. The lesson learned is that the federal government is often too prescriptive in their participation in public education, and most decisions should be left to states, districts, schools and educators.

F0r more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport