Despite Concerns, Knox Board Passes Budget

I noted yesterday that KCEA President Lauren Hopson had concerns with the proposed Knox County Schools budget for 2017-18. It turns out, she was not alone. Despite concerns being raised, the budget won approval from the Board with an 8-1 vote.

Here’s how the Knoxville News Sentinel reported it:

…the move didn’t come without frustrations from a majority of members who criticized staffing cuts, the elimination of assistive technology staff and teacher raises that were deemed too low. But beyond the line-item changes, the board was nearly unanimous in its irritation over a complicated budget document that wasn’t posted publicly until five days before the meeting.

According to new Superintendent Bob Thomas, just one week into the job, some of those concerns could be addressed later in the process. For now, the Board’s budget moves on to the countywide budgeting process.

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


 

KCEA President Questions Budget

Knox County Education Association President Lauren Hopson is questioning a proposed 2017-18 budget that she says doesn’t live up to promises made.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

The president of the local teacher’s union on Monday criticized Knox County School’s proposed budget for offering teacher raises below the-agreed-upon goal of 4 percent despite an estimated $18 million revenue increase.

Hopson said of the framing of the budget decision:

“The choice should never be between a raise for certified staff and a raise for classified staff,” said Lauren Hopson, head of the Knox County Education Association. “Knox County Schools needs to prioritize their budget so that the memorandum of understanding (with the union) can be honored and our classified staff can be given a raise to show that they are an invaluable part of our school system as well.”

The budget issue will be before the Knox County School Board for a vote tonight, and Hopson plans to bring her concerns directly to the board.

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


 

Knox County Approves Resolution Opposing A-F School Grading System

The Knox County School Board tonight approved a resolution urging the state to overturn the A-F school grading system set to go into effect this year.

Knox County joins a growing resistance to the model being proposed by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Here’s the resolution the Knox County School Board adopted:

 

WHEREAS, the Knox County Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, by March 2016 legislative approval and signature of Governor Bill Haslam of House Bill 155 and Senate Bill 300, has directed the Tennessee Department of Education to develop a grading system for assigning letter grades A through F on the state report cards for Tennessee schools, implementation of which will begin with the 2017-18 school year; and

WHEREAS, after operating under federally-mandated No Child Left Behind guidelines, Tennessee received a waiver of NCLB standards and adopted Race To The Top guidelines, which were subsequently replaced by the new federally-mandated Every Student Succeeds Act in an effort to close achievement gaps for economically disadvantaged students; and

WHEREAS, a rating system utilizing A through F grades for schools, and districts creates a false impression about students, ignores the unique strengths of each school, and unfairly reduces each student’s worth to the school’s assigned grade; and

WHEREAS, at least 16 states have implemented a similar rating system utilizing A through F grades for schools and districts and, to date, there is no definitive research that suggests these ratings have improved student or school performance; and

WHEREAS, the 2016-17 school year is already set to be a transition year for the Tennessee Department of Education to seek input for developing an accountability system for federally mandated ESSA requirements, it is now additionally tasked with developing a letter grading system at the same time;

WHEREAS, we embrace meaningful accountability that informs students, parents, and teachers about the learning needs of each student and each school; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION AS FOLLOWS: The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal legislation reducing schools to a single letter grade designation and, instead, in the best interest of students and schools, allow schools to publish multiple measures alongside any summative designation, as outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act Final Regulations, which were not available at the time this legislation was passed. (ESSA, Final Regulations, pg. 101).

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this new system should reduce the use of high-stakes, standardized tests, encompass multiple assessments, reflect greater validity, and, more accurately reflect what students know and can do in terms of the rigorous standards.

 

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


 

 

Knox Parents, Teachers Speak Out Against DeVos

Despite a factually inaccurate defense of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos from Senator Lamar Alexander, parents and teachers from Knox County spoke out in opposition to DeVos yesterday.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

Knox County teachers, parents and community members railed against President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, at a Tuesday evening meeting, lambasting her as “categorically unqualified” and attacking her policy positions.

Attendees took issue with DeVos’s lackluster defense of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

Attendees also excoriated DeVos for asserting at her confirmation hearing that states should have the right to choose whether to enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a piece of legislation that allows students with disabilities to receive an education tailored to their needs.

DeVos is scheduled for a committee vote before the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Tuesday, January 31st. That committee is chaired by Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander.

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


 

Conflict Call

The Tennessee State Board of Education meets on Thursday, December 15th via conference call to discuss the A-F school grading system and to take action on high school policy, specifically as it relates to grading.

The high school policy includes a proposed change to the way End of Course tests are factored in to student grades — which is pretty important, since the semester is ending very soon and high school students on block schedules will be finishing courses in the next few days.

The EOC grade policy is noteworthy as two of the largest school districts in the state (Nashville and Knox County) have passed resolutions asking the state NOT to count any TNReady test in student grades or teacher evaluations for the 2016-17 academic year.

Here’s the language of the proposed policy change as it relates to EOC tests:

Results of individual student performance from all administered End of Course examinations will be provided in a timely fashion to facilitate the inclusion of these results as part of the student’s grade. Each LEA must establish a local board policy that details the methodology used and the required weighting for incorporating student scores on EOC examinations into final course grades. If an LEA does not receive its students’ End of Course examination scores at least five (5) instructional days before the scheduled end of the course, then the LEA may choose not to include its students’ End of Course examination scores in the students’ final course grade. The weight of the EOC examination on the student’s final average shall be ten percent (10%) in the 2016-2017 school year, fifteen percent (15%) in the 2017-2018 school year; and shall be determined by the local board from a range of no less than fifteen (15%) and no more than twenty-five (25%) in the 2018-2019 school year and thereafter.

 

Note, the 2016-17 academic year is happening right now. Students have already taken these EOC exams and their semesters will be ending soon. But, the policy change won’t happen until Thursday, assuming it passes. Alternatively, the State Board of Education could be responsive to the concerns expressed by the school boards in Nashville and Knoxville and prevent this year’s EOC exams from impacting student grades.

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


 

 

Knox County Takes a Stand

Last night, the Knox County School Board voted 6-3 in favor of a resolution calling on the General Assembly and State Board of Education to waive the use of TCAP/TNReady data in student grades and teacher evaluations this year.

The move comes as the state prepares to administer the tests this year with a new vendor following last year’s TNReady disaster. The lack of a complete testing cycle last year plus the addition of a new vendor means this year is the first year of the new test.

The Board passed the resolution in spite of Governor Haslam warning against taking such a step.

In his warning, Haslam said:

“The results we’ve seen are not by accident in Tennessee, and I think you have to be really careful about doing anything that could cause that to back up,” Haslam said.

He added:

Haslam attributed that progress to three things, including tying standardized tests to teacher evaluations.

“It’s about raising our standards and expectations, it’s about having year-end assessments that match those standards and then I think it’s about having assessments that are part of teachers’ evaluations,” Haslam said. “I think that you have to have all of those for a recipe for success.”

Haslam can present no evidence for his claim about the use of student assessment in teacher evaluation. In fact, it’s worth noting that prior to 2008, Tennessee students achieved at a high level according to what were then the state standards. While the standards themselves were determined to need improvement, the point is teachers were helping students hit the designated mark.

Teachers were moving students forward at this time without evaluations tied to student test results. Policymakers set a mark for student performance, teachers worked to hit that mark and succeeded. Standards were raised in 2008, and since then, Tennessee has seen detectable growth in overall results, including some exciting news when NAEP results are released.

To suggest that a year without the use of TVAAS scores in teacher evaluations will cause a setback is to insult Tennessee’s teachers. As if they’ll just relax and not teach as hard.

Another argument raised against the resolution is that it will somehow absolve teachers and students of accountability.

Joe Sullivan reports in the Knoxville Mercury:

In an email to board members, [Interim Director of Schools Buzz] Thomas asserted that, “We need a good standardized test each year to tell us how we are doing compared to others across the state and the nation. We will achieve greatness not by shying away from this accountability but by embracing it.” And he fretted that, “This resolution puts that at risk. In short, it will divide us. Once again we could find ourselves in two disputing camps. The pro-achievement folks on the one side and the pro-teacher folks on the other.”

Right now, we don’t know if we have a good standardized test. Taking a year to get it right is important, especially in light of the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience.

Of course, there’s no need for pro-achievement and pro-teacher folks to be divided into two camps, either. Tennessee can have a good, solid test that is an accurate measure of student achievement and also treat teachers fairly in the evaluation process.

To be clear, teachers aren’t asking for a waiver from all evaluation. They are asking for a fair, transparent evaluation system. TVAAS has long been criticized as neither. Even under the best of circumstances, TVAAS provides a minimal level of useful information about teacher performance.

Now, we’re shifting to a new test. That shift alone makes it impossible to achieve a valid value-added score. In fact, researchers in the Journal of Educational Measurement have said:

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.

Changing to a new type of test creates value-added uncertainty. That means results attributed to teachers based on a comparison of this year’s tests and the old tests will not yield valid results.

While insisting that districts use TVAAS in teacher evaluations this year, the state is also admitting it’s not quite sure how that will work.

From Sullivan’s story:

When asked how these determinations will be made, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education acknowledges that a different methodology will have to be employed and says that, “we are still working with various statisticians and experts to determine the exact methodology we will use this year.”

Why not at take at least a year, be sure there’s a test that works, and then build a model based on that? What harm would come from giving teachers and students a year with a test that’s just a test? Moreover, the best education researchers have already warned that testing transitions create value-added bumps. Why not avoid the bumps and work to create an evaluation system that is fair and transparent?

Knox County has taken a stand. We’ll soon see if others follow suit. And if the state is listening.

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


 

 

Teacher Issues ARE Student Issues

Thoughts from Knoxville via the SPEAK blog:

This leads me to my final point. I want the media to understand that “teacher issues” ARE student issues. At what point did things that are good for teachers became unequivocally bad for students? Even if we take the most basic stereotypical notion that teachers just want a higher salary, how is that bad for students? If paying higher salaries means getting and keeping high quality educators instead of allowing them to escape across county or state lines, that action directly helps students. Meat and potatoes issues that teachers care about…class size, plan time, discipline, turnover, professional development, toxic testing, under staffing, inadequate funding, etc. all have a direct impact on the success and well-being of our students

READ MORE>

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


 

 

What’s the Purpose of School?

A Knox County educator writes about the purpose of school in a blog post on SPEAK’s blog.

Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

The best answer to why that I have ever heard came from a student. This student had just moved here from another country and was very frustrated, bored and confused by the test prep, test based high stakes accountability and focus that she was encountering for the first time. In expressing her frustration to me she said, “I thought school was supposed to be about us learning to be the best person we can be?” Nothing could be more true. When all is said and done, everything I do as a teacher, everything we do as a school should be in support of that ultimate purpose, helping every child become the best person they can be.

What are your thoughts? What is the purpose of our public schools?

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


 

 

(NOT) Ready on Day One

It’s campaign season and candidate after candidate is telling voters they are the clear choice because they will be “ready on day one.”

Likewise, it’s the beginning of statewide testing season in Tennessee and districts have been told the state’s new system would be ready on day one.

Except it wasn’t.

Brian Wilson at the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reports:

A technology failure from a state vendor halted standardized testing across Tennessee on the first day that TNReady, the state’s new online exam program, was set to be administered on a widespread basis.

The state’s testing platform “experienced major outages across the state” Monday morning because of network issues with Measurement, Inc., who is contracted to administer the standardized exams, according to a memo Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent to schools directors across the state.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you …

As problems began this morning, the Department of Education sent the following notice to school districts:

At 8:25 a.m. CST the MIST platform experienced major outages across the state. These outages were caused because the network utilized by Measurement Inc. experienced a failure. We are urgently working with Measurement Inc. to identify the causes and correct the problem. At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information. However, if you have students that are successfully testing, please allow them to complete the current session.

Note, this problem affects both the MICA and MIST platforms. 

The MIST Help Desk is aware of the problem and will be not accepting additional phone calls on this issue. Please encourage your technology directors to call the department’s TNReady Focus Room.

We will provide frequent updates as information becomes available. Thank you for your patience.

It’s not clear how today’s delay will impact testing schedules across the state or whether the TNReady platforms will be ready tomorrow.

Williamson County Schools had already pushed the start of their TNReady testing back to Wednesday as a precaution against the sort of testing glitches that occurred today.

A Call for Fairness

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement from their President, Barbara Gray, calling for fair treatment of teachers in light of the TNReady problems:

TEA has long had concerns about this transition to a statewide online  assessment. We have seen problems with pilot assessments and practice tests in the past, and unfortunately the first day of TNReady resulted in more issues and frustrations for our students and teachers.

 

Leading up to today’s testing, we have heard from educators and parents statewide about concerns with the state’s capacity to handle so many students on the server at one time, as well as concerns about local districts having enough resources to complete the testing with so little funding from the state.

 

It is unacceptable to have this kind of statewide failure when the state has tied so many high-stakes decisions to  the results of this assessment. Our students and teachers have enough stress and anxiety around these assessments without adding additional worries about technical issues.

 

The state must grant a one-year waiver – at a minimum – from including TNReady scores in teacher evaluations. It is unfair and inappropriate to stake our teachers’ professional standing on flawed, unreliable test scores in any year, but there are even greater implications and uncertainty while implementing a new assessment.

School Boards Expressing Concern

Ahead of the TNReady tests, several school boards have expressed concern about the use of the results in teacher evaluations this year.

MNPS and Knox County are among those asking the state to waive the results this year.

No word on whether state officials are still perplexed about why teachers are wary having TNReady count toward this year’s evaluations.

Again, it’s not clear when we’ll actually be TNReady, just that it wasn’t on day one.

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

 

McIntyre to Step Down

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre announced today he will step down from his current role in July of this year.

His tenure in Knox County has been controversial, with teachers speaking out about his leadership and emphasis on TVAAS scores to evaluate and pay teachers.

The decision comes as recent votes by the School Board and County Commission indicate a lack of strong support for McIntyre.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported:

McIntyre’s contract recently was extended on a 5-4 vote of the school board, but McIntyre acknowledged that the 2016 election will shift the balance in favor of opponents of the superintendent.

He said that he decided to step down over the weekend, after conversations with Knox County Schools Board of Education Chairman Doug Harris.

McIntyre mentioned efforts by Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong to discredit his recent contract, and a vote by Knox County Commission to not support that contract. The 9-2 vote had no impact on his contract, which was between McIntyre and the Board of Education, but symbolic in showing a groundswell of dissent for the schools administrator.

More on McIntyre:

Knox County Turmoil

Dear Jim

A Matter of Fairness

Big Monday for McIntyre

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