Blood in the Water

The Director of Schools in Maury County has joined those in Memphis and Nashville in calling for a pause in TNReady as a result of repeated problems with the testing platform.

The Columbia Daily Herald reports Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak said he agrees with the letter sent by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville. Marczak offered an alternative:

“I believe it would be best for us to focus solely on the ACT and align ourselves with outcomes that can affect students’ college acceptance and scholarship ability,” Marczak said.

Maury County district leadership has indicated the results from this year’s botched test administration are of limited value:

“Due to the issues with testing, we will not be adding TNReady/EOC data to the Keys’ scorecards for either the district or the school levels when they eventually come in,” Marczak said in an email sent to staff in July. “In light of the numerous testing issues, please know that the results of the assessments will be used to inform conversation only. These are the conversations we will have with principals and the principals will have with teachers/staffs.”

In response to the ongoing testing issues, Marczak shared accounts of students completing 75-minute long examinations in 10 minutes. When reviewing the examinations, Marczak said the district had over 600 missing scores. Questar, the contractor hired by the state to administer the test, reported that 600 individual assessments were incomplete.

Despite the growing concern over the inability to effectively administer the TNReady test, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen has said the test is still an important tool:

TNReady serves as a vital feedback loop for teachers, parents, and administrators to tell us where we are, and the results inform what steps we need to take to help all students and schools succeed.”

TNReady might be an important feedback loop if it ever worked the way it was intended. But it hasn’t. Instead, it’s been fraught with problems since the beginning. Now, education leaders are standing up and speaking out.

The push to pause TNReady and possibly move forward with a different measure comes at the same time the TDOE is being taken to task for a failure to properly execute Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolios. Knox County’s School Board last night voted to send a message that they have “no confidence” in the portfolio process or in the TDOE.

The push against TNReady from key district leaders figures to make the test and overall administration of the Department of Education a key issue in the 2018 gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

 

 

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


 

Stand Up, Fight Back

Just days after the state’s two largest school districts sent a letter to Governor Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressing “no confidence in TNReady, the school board in the third largest district (Knox County) voted 8-1 to have their Director of Schools send a letter expressing “no confidence” in the Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio process and in the Tennessee Department of Education as a whole.

The move comes after a study session last week in which board members characterized the TN DOE’s administration of portfolios and of teacher evaluation as an “abject failure.”

While the DOE blames the problems with scores on this year’s Pre-K/K portfolios on teachers, individual teachers continue to provide evidence they followed every instruction and guideline from DOE and yet still faced sections of their portfolio submissions that were not scored at all. When a section was not scored, teachers saw their score for that section default to a “1”, the lowest possible score.

I’ve reported before on the discrepancies between rubrics provided to teachers and those provided reviewers. Reviewers received rubrics reflecting more difficult standards, meaning teachers who complied with the rubrics they were given likely lost ground in the final scoring.

I’ve since talked with teachers who indicated they received scores of “5” on three sections and a score of “1” on another. While this created a composite score of “4,” it’s not a logical outcome. It’s highly unlikely that a teacher who receives the top score in three categories would then receive the lowest possible score on the fourth.

As I learn more about this issue, it seems clear that many teachers had submissions that simply weren’t scored at all. The problems in May and June with submission review indicate the state was ill-prepared to execute the scoring of this year’s portfolios.

Now, the TDOE faces significant criticism from the state’s three largest districts in terms of how it handles both student assessment and teacher evaluation. It will be interesting to see if additional districts follow suit.

 

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


 

An Abject Failure

One Knox County school board member described the Tennessee Department of Education as an “abject failure” when it comes to measuring student outcomes and teacher effectiveness while another suggested there was “plenty of incompetence” to go around at the Department.

Sandra Clark in KnoxTNToday.com reported on a School Board meeting in which board members expressed frustration with the Tennessee Department of Education’s implementation of Pre-K and Kindergarten portfolios.

According to Clark’s story, members of the Knox County School Board directed Director of Schools Bob Thomas to send a strongly-worded letter to Commissioner McQueen about the problems with this year’s portfolio evaluation.

The Knox County meeting came as the DOE was putting out information casting blame on teachers for the portfolio problems.

While the state DOE repeatedly misses deadlines and frequently changes portfolio and testing vendors due to a range of issues, whenever a problem occurs with testing or evaluation, everyone is to blame EXCEPT leaders at the Department.

Now, with a new vendor coming on-board by August 24th, teachers are starting the year without guidance on portfolios. In fact,

Of course, teachers will be trained — but the training will happen during the school year and be on the teacher’s own time.

According to the document titled “TEAM Portfolio: Implementation Survey Action Brief” provided by the DOE:

Regional Teacher Trainings for Early Grades Portfolios Fall 2018 Fall trainings will provide teachers an opportunity to network and learn more about the portfolio platform, purposeful sampling, and developmentally-appropriate use of scoring rubrics.

Content-specific Webinars Ongoing

Throughout the year, the department will provide teacher-led, content-specific webinars that showcase exemplars and improve practice. •

Math Standards Guidance Document Spring 2019

To support teachers in developing in-depth, conceptual understanding of math standards, this guidance document will highlight the standards and scoring rubrics included in the early grades portfolios.

Yes, you read that correctly — the Math Standards Guidance Document will be available sometime in Spring 2019. That’s after the teachers have had students in class for months and well after the recommended time for collecting evidence for “Point A” of a portfolio.

Also, while it sounds nice that DOE is offering this (uncompensated) training, it should be pointed out that the portfolio is moving to a new platform AND that the DOE has a track record of missing deadlines.

Will teachers receive relevant, useful training in time to actually help them meet portfolio requirements? Unfortunately, that’s unclear. The evidence from this past year suggests that answer is NO.

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


 

Refused

One parent in Knox County has had enough and raises concerns over student privacy issues as the Tennessee Department of Education and Questar allege hacking of the state’s TNReady testing system.

Here’s the letter she sent to Knox County School leaders today:

TNReady has failed again. This time, there is serious concern about the safety of our students’ data.  If Questar has truly been hacked in the last 24 hours, then there is no way they can assure me that my student’s data is safe. To continue testing under these circumstances is irresponsible and possibly open to lawsuits re FERPA violations.

 

Until I can be assured that everything is safe and secure, my son, xxxxxx, simply cannot participate in these tests. Because he is in high school, and because GPA matters, I insist that he be given an opportunity to make up any tests once the above criteria are met.

 

I anticipate a certain amount of push-back on my decision and requirements for make-up.  I realize every one of you, the BOA, the principals, KCS admin, and the TN Legislature are scrambling today to figure out the ramifications and make decisions on future actions. I also see zero accountability or ownership of this problem by TNDOE.  However, since the testing resumes at 1pm for him, and no answers will be forthcoming by that time, I, as his parent, have to make this difficult decision until there is consensus among you.

 

I’m sure there will be no time for individual responses at this late time and on this busy day, however, rest assured, I will fight like a momma bear to make sure this fiasco doesn’t impact my son’s grades.

 

Thank you for your attention and a special thanks to those of you who are working so hard today to make sure we do what is best for our children.

 

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


 

Early Warning

At last night’s Knox County School Board meeting, Director of Schools Bob Thomas reported that the district has been informed that 2017-18 TNReady quick scores for grades 3-8 will likely not be returned within five days of the end of the school year. He noted that per the district’s policy, this means TNReady scores will not be included in student report cards. Thomas also said that since the high school EOC tests are being delivered online, there should not be a problem with timely delivery this year.

The good news is districts are learning about this likely delay in December, instead of in May as was the case last year.

The bad news is, well, it’s still TNReady and Tennessee is still clearly not ready. Last year was the fourth consecutive year of problems with the release of quick scores — the scores used in student grades. This year, it looks like districts will again be faced with a decision: Wait for quick scores and delay report cards OR release report cards without using TNReady scores.

Senator Bill Ketron, who is introducing legislation that would place a moratorium on TNReady testing for two years, asked a very simple question: Why can large states like Texas, California, and New York handle testing and score reporting while Tennessee, with significantly fewer students, struggles with this year after year?

It’s a fair question. What policy barriers or other challenges in Tennessee prevent us from successfully administering a test and delivering the test results in a timely fashion?

As Ketron notes, until that question is answered, maybe we should just stop giving the test.

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


 

More TNReady Fallout

As the state continues to experience challenges with TNReady implementation, districts are speaking out. In October, the Williamson County school board adopted resolutions asking for changes to how the state will assign letter grades to schools and asking that TNReady scores not be included in report cards for students in grades 3-5.

This week, Knox County adopted three resolutions relevant to the current testing troubles.

All three were sponsored by Board Member Amber Rountree.

One addresses the proposed letter grading of individual schools and asks:

The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges the Senate to amend legislation SB 535 in the upcoming session by assigning a school level designation that aligns with the district designation, rather than assigning a letter grade to each school; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges Governor Haslam, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly to consider a moratorium in using any school or district designation based on data obtained via the TNReady assessment which was administered in School Year 2016-17.

Another relates to the use of TNReady data for student grades and teacher evaluation:

The Knox County Board of Education opposes the use of TCAP data for any percentage of teacher evaluations and student grades for School Year 2017-2018 and urges the General Assembly and the State Board of Education to provide a one-year waiver, as was previously provided for School Year 2015-2016.

And then there’s one similar to Williamson’s request to exclude TNReady data from report cards for students in grades 3-5:

WHEREAS, the Knox County Board of Education submits student scores on the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program’s grades 3-5 achievement test scores should not comprise a percentage of the student’s final grade for the spring semester in the areas of mathematics, reading/language arts, science and social studies.

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 amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-1-617 to remove the requirement of using any portion of the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program scores as a percentage of the students in grades 3-5 spring semester grade

 

No word yet on a response to these two districts speaking out on the proper use of TNReady data.

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


 

A Message for Tennessee Teachers

Knox County School Board Vice-Chair Amber Rountree recently sent out this message addressed to all Tennessee teachers. The letter comes as the state both celebrates some TNReady scores and grapples with the latest round of TNReady troubles. It’s an interesting contrast to the letter sent to educators who are having their evaluation scores adjusted due to TVAAS errors this year.

Here’s the Rountree letter:

Dear Tennessee Teachers:

While the commissioner was celebrating at a handful of schools on Friday, I was volunteering at a Knox County elementary school. My first stop was a 2nd grade classroom to help during the English/Language Arts block. The teacher gave me the perfect center rotation — reading Otis with small groups and facilitating a writing activity based on the text! I wish I could bottle the giggles and discussion we had about learning a new meaning for “skirt.”

Then I moved onto 4th grade, where the students were engaged in writing thank you notes to several donors who made a field trip possible earlier in the week. The smile a student gave when she got to show me her note and her beautiful cursive could have lit up the entire room!

Next I visited 3rd grade, and helped work with a small group on constructing a response based on the story they had been studying about penguins. They were able to remember key facts from the text and transform what they learned in their own words.

Finally, I wrapped up my visit by talking with the principal about her to desire to apply for a Read to Be Ready grant for her school for the upcoming summer. She spoke about using her lunch hour to have a book club with her students at the nearby park.

I have been honored to work as an educator in Knox County, to serve on the Board of Education, and to currently continue my education as a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee. You might say I have the inside track on the amazing things happening in our schools, but most aren’t lucky enough to have this experience and are relegated to reading about it in the local paper.

Perhaps the TDOE missed the irony in the reporting of TNReady errors immediately prior to unfurling banners celebrating schools who have improved based on said assessment. There is no reason to celebrate an assessment that lacks validity because the data from TNReady is incomparable to TCAP.

Here’s what we should celebrate: the SRO who received a thank you note from a student, the chorus teacher finding a place for every student in the musical, the child who wouldn’t pick up a book last year and can’t put one down this year, the innovative library with a student run coffee shop, the teacher using an outdoor classroom to teach science, and you. You are in each of these stories and I am grateful.

I hope no matter what label the Department of Ed applied to your school, you are proud of the work you do daily to help grow your students. 

 

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


 

Knox Leaders Demand State Accountability on TNReady

Education leaders in Knox County called on the Tennessee Department of Education to take responsibility for the latest round of TNReady troubles.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports:

The Tennessee Department of Education is to blame for more than 9,400 incorrectly scored TNReady tests, the Knox County school board chair said Monday.

“If I had one entity to blame, it would be the department of education,” Chair Patti Bounds said Monday. “They still haven’t taken any responsibility. Last time they blamed the vendor and we got a new vendor.

“We’ll see who they blame this time — not themselves. No reflection there.”

Lauren Hopson, immediate past president of the Knox County Education Association, added:

“Our state department of education, our state school board, and our legislators must be held accountable for this continuing debacle,” said Lauren Hopson, past president of KCEA. “If they have a problem being held accountable for the services of another entity, then they finally understand how teachers have been evaluated in the state for years.”

Stay tuned as the legislature conducts hearings and teachers, parents, and school leaders wait for the Department of Education to accept responsibility.

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


 

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