2018 Legislative Preview

The Tennessee General Assembly is back in session today. Here’s an overview of some education topics that are likely to be considered this year. Of course, more issues always arise, but these issues will most certainly be given attention.

Testing

Senator Bill Ketron has indicated he’s proposing legislation that will place a moratorium on any new testing until the current TNReady tests are successfully administered. Initially, it sounded like his proposal would stop all testing, but Ketron has since clarified that to indicate he wants to see the current test done right before any new tests are added.

Representative Jeremy Faison has proposed separating TNReady test scores from student grades and teacher evaluations. There have been significant problems with getting scores back in a reliable way in order to include them in student grades. Additionally, the apples to oranges comparison of TNReady to the old TCAP tests renders any teacher growth scores essentially meaningless.

Representative Matthew Hill has proposed shifting high school testing from TNReady to the ACT suite of assessments. Hill says there’s too much emphasis on testing and too many hours spent away from instruction.

Combined, these initiatives represent a shift in attitude about TNReady and testing in general that could lead to some changes in how tests impact students and teachers. Decoupling tests from student grades and teacher evaluations would likely have the effect of reducing the influence they have over instructional time.

RTI

Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTI2) has been a state mandate for several years now, but state funding to carry out the program’s demands has not been provided. This has led to some creative (and not terribly effective) implementation strategies. Districts are responding to the mandate to the best of their abilities, but due to lack of financial support, this doesn’t always lead to the best outcome for students.

In her budget presentation to Governor Haslam, Commissioner Candice McQueen indicated she’d propose dedicated funding for RTI in a BEP update. It was not immediately clear how much funding or how it would be integrated into the school funding formula. Rep. Joe Pitts offered a possible option last year, but his proposal was not embraced by the Administration.

It’s encouraging to see this item being discussed. Many districts have used the state’s salary increase funding for teachers to hire RTI teachers — which means lower or no raises for teachers across a district. Providing dedicated RTI funding would allow districts to use state salary funds to boost pay across the board, and that’s good news in a state that pays teachers 30% less than similarly educated professionals.

Teacher Pay

Following up on the RTI discussion as it relates to overall teacher pay, Governor Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has approved BEP salary fund increases of 4% per year over the past three years. Because of issues like RTI and the general inadequacy of the BEP, teachers haven’t always seen 4% raises. The average, in fact, has been just under 2% per year. Still, Governor Haslam gets some credit for maintaining investment in teacher compensation. Some speculate he’ll go a step further in his last year in office, adding 5% to teacher compensation through the BEP. If this is coupled with a significant investment in RTI, it could mean the largest raise teachers have seen in years. The cost of making this investment would be around $125 million. With revenue continuing to outpace projections, this level of investment is both possible and wise. Tennessee still has a long way to go in terms of improving teacher compensation and support, but these two steps would signal a positive trend.

Vouchers

Both the House and Senate sponsors of voucher legislation have indicated they will not pursue the idea this year. In fact, both have said they want to focus on finding ways to invest in teacher pay and RTI, signaling a level of agreement with Governor Haslam. Last year marked the fifth consecutive year vouchers were defeated. It seems, for now at least, that advocates of using public tax dollars for private schools will wait to fight another day.

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


 

A Late Call

Yesterday, the State Board of Education met and amended the state’s high school policy, including how End of Course exams factor into a student’s final grades.

As I reported earlier, this meeting happened just days before the semester ended for many students.

Here’s a note from Commissioner McQueen’s latest message to educators on the topic:

Yesterday, the State Board of Education voted on final reading to approve the department’s proposal to phase in EOC scores into high school students’ grades beginning this school year and continuing during the next few years. Also in the proposal, the department recommended to provide districts with students’ raw score points earned out of the total available instead of the conversion score that the department provided previously, commonly called quick scores. Please reference this memo (here) and FAQ document (here) for additional context. This policy becomes effective immediately for all 2016 fall block courses taking EOCs. The exams will account for 10 percent of students’ course grades this year.

Remarkably, the memo McQueen cites notes that the first reading of this policy change was in October. However, the special called meeting on adopting the change and making it official didn’t happen until yesterday. While the October meeting may have signaled the Board’s intent, there was no official policy change until just days before the semester ended.

Between October and now, of course, two large school districts have seen their boards pass resolutions asking the State Board and General Assembly to not count these tests in either student grades or teacher evaluations as we transition to a new test with a new vendor. Those concerns were apparently ignored at yesterday’s meeting.

The legislature could take action on the issue in 2017, but doing so may create confusion since students on block scheduling will have completed courses and received grades.

One provision of the change that is worth noting is that if EOC scores are not available to districts at least five instructional days before a course ends, the district may elect NOT to use those scores in a student’s final grade. For many districts, that day was yesterday.

If districts do decide to use the scores for this semester and next, they may only count for 10% of a student’s final grade.

I’d suggest that the more prudent course is for districts to not count the scores at all this year as we are in a transition year.

The late call (why not a special meeting a few weeks after the first meeting?) raises questions about the State Board’s responsiveness to the concerns of those officials doing the day-t0-day work of running a school district.

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


 

 

Who is Sara Heyburn?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed has an interview with the former teacher who is now the Executive Director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

One note that struck me in the interview was her expressed desire to hear more from teachers in the policy making process. Here’s what she had to say:

“We need to hear from teachers who are interested in policy making. Continue to persevere and look for those opportunities and find ways to make your voices heard.”

She also speaks to the strengths of existing policy outlets, and advises teachers to take part in them.

“The outlets we have now in our state are great. There are lots of opportunities for teachers to get involved.” However, she also emphasizes that teachers aren’t seeing what they want, they should work to create additional opportunities.

I absolutely agree that policymakers should look to teachers for guidance and insight on education policy decisions. Heyburn’s words sound like a welcome invitation for teachers to offer their perspective as policy is being made.

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

 

Education Monday

Monday will see two events focused on the state of education policy in Tennessee.

The first is sponsored by newly-launched TREE and will be held at 9:30 AM in Legislative Plaza Room 31.

The event features Elaine Weiss discussing Race to the Top, Poverty, NAEP Scores, and the state of Tennessee schools.  Weiss is the National Coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

The next event is hosted by SCORE. At 11 AM SCORE will release and discuss its “State of Education” Report highlighting Tennessee’s education status and listing priorities for 2014.

SCORE has released such reports in the past. They have focused on student achievement, educator quality, teacher evaluation, and teacher preparation among other topics.

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