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

 

 

 

Not Yet Ready for Teacher Evaluation?

Last night, the Knox County Board of Education passed a resolution asking the state to not count this year’s new TNReady test in teacher evaluation.

Board members cited the grace period the state is granting to students as one reason for the request. While standardized test scores count in student grades, the state has granted a waiver of that requirement in the first year of the new test.

However, no such waiver was granted for teachers, who are evaluated using student test scores and a metric known as value-added modeling that purports to reflect student growth.

Instead, the Department of Education proposed and the legislature supported a plan to phase-in the TNReady scores in teacher evaluations. This plan presents problems in terms of statistical validity.

Additionally, the American Educational Research Association released a statement recently cautioning states against using value-added models in high-stakes decisions involving teachers:

In a statement released today, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) advises those using or considering use of value-added models (VAM) about the scientific and technical limitations of these measures for evaluating educators and programs that prepare teachers. The statement, approved by AERA Council, cautions against the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions regarding educators.

So, regardless of the phase-in of TNReady, value-added models for evaluating teachers are problematic. When you add the transition to a new test to the mix, you only compound the existing problems, making any “score” assigned to a teacher even more unreliable.

Tullahoma City Schools Superintendent Dan Lawson spoke to the challenges with TVAAS recently in a letter he released in which he noted:

Our teachers are tasked with a tremendous responsibility and our principals who provide direct supervision assign teachers to areas where they are most needed. The excessive reliance on production of a “teacher number” produces stress, a lack of confidence and a drive to first protect oneself rather than best educate the child.

It will be interesting to see if other school systems follow Knox County’s lead on this front. Even more interesting: Will the legislature take action and at the least, waive the TNReady scores from teacher evaluations in the first year of the new test?

A more serious, long-term concern is the use of value-added modeling in teacher evaluation and, especially, in high-stakes decisions like the granting of tenure, pay, and hiring/firing.

More on Value-Added Modeling

The Absurdity of VAM

Unreliable and Invalid

Some Inconvenient Facts About VAM

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

 

Quickly Dropped?

Some members of the Knox County School Board are considering action that would result in removing standardized testing “quick scores” from a student’s final grades.

This follows a year of changes to quick score calculations that created confusion for school districts across the state.

Discussing the matter, board member Karen Carson said:

“I think it’s one of those laws that generally you do it to hold students accountable and motivate them to do their best, but frankly it only increases the stakes for students,” she said.

“I don’t see that it benefits our students in any way. I don’t think student test scores, this test, should impact a student’s grade.”

Because of the transition to TNReady, scores will not be ready in time to be included in student grades this year. This prompted the Knox County Board to ponder asking the General Assembly to remove the requirement altogether.

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

Dear Jim

Tomorrow, Knox County’s Director of Schools, Jim McIntyre, will testify before the Senate HELP Committee as part of ESEA reauthorization hearings being held by Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Ahead of his testimony, 9th District Knox County School Board member Amber Rountree sent McIntyre her thoughts on what he should say. This is her letter:

Dear Jim:
Thank you for the opportunity to give input on your upcoming testimony regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”).

As you stated in your email to the Board, you have been bestowed an honor to represent our students, our staff and the great state of Tennessee. I know you will share the wonderful innovation happening in Knox County Schools, but I implore you to provide a realistic picture of how NCLB (and its waiver) has impacted our schools.  I hope as you prepare your testimony you find courage to speak hard truths about the current state of our schools, including the following points:

More accountability≠better education. While we need a way to measure student progress, we must discontinue high-stakes testing that is not developmentally appropriate.  Punishing students, teachers and schools for results of these tests is simply unethical, especially while companies like Pearson profit from this punishment.

Restore local control.  Top down mandates from the federal government via NCLB have not led to a better outcome for students.  In fact, in our own district the achievement gap is widening.  Return the decision making to the hands of our state and local boards of education, along with controls to ensure punitive high-stakes testing does not continue.

Rethink the “Teacher Incentive Fund.”  Would you pay a firefighter based on the number of fires they successfully extinguished? Merit pay does not directly correlate to increased student performance.  A wiser choice would be to use the funding for smaller teacher-student ratios, which directly improve student outcomes.

Public dollars, public schools.  Vouchers and charters are a path to privatize public education.  When President Johnson signed ESEA into law, his intent was to help public schools succeed, not see those dollars funneled into private ventures which are not held to the same rigorous standards as public schools.
I concur with President Johnson’s remark that “there is no higher ground than a schoolroom or a more hopeful place than a classroom.”  The brightness of hope for our students and teachers has dimmed under the oppressive mandates of NCLB.  You’ve been given a gift to help restore that hope; my wish is that you use it wisely.
Yours in education,
Amber Rountree,  District 9 Representative

 

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

SPEAK Members Seek KCEA Posts

Lauren Hopson, whose remarks at a Knox County School Board meeting gained national attention, is seeking the Presidency of the Knox County Education Association. Hopson is joined in campaigning by Amy Cate, who is seeking the Vice Presidency, and Linda Holtzclaw, running for Secretary.

Hopson’s speech was the catalyst for a movement that become SPEAK: Students, Parents, and Educators Across Knox County.

The group speaks out on education issues and even recruited and supported some successful candidates in the recent school board election.

Hopson sought to draw attention to Knox County Schools policies that she believed harmed both teachers and their students. Now, SPEAK keeps Knox County citizens informed of relevant education issues and regularly engages local policymakers in discussions about how to improve Knox County Schools.

Here is the video that helped launch Hopson:

 

SPEAK Members Marching:

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

Shiny, Happy Teachers

It seems the Knox County Board of Education wants only shiny, happy teachers to speak at public meetings.

That’s the implication from a Board policy discussed this week.

Here’s the basic thrust of the policy:

The policy says that an employee may come before the board after they have exhausted the normal chain of command.

The board says they want teachers and other KCS employees to put their concerns in writing, and document each step up the chain of command, so that if the process breaks down, they will know where the break down occurred and be able to address it at that point.

Essentially, an employee must demonstrate, in writing, that they’ve exhausted all other channels before appearing before the Board.

One Board member said they didn’t want the system to look bad because teachers raise concerns on TV.

Board member Karen Carson worried that “bringing concerns up, on TV, is not good for public education”

Perhaps the Board, which has seen some contentious meetings recently, wants to prevent scenes like this:

 

 

 

In any case, the policy certainly appears to be intended to chill discourse.  While citizens who are not teachers are free to complain about policy in public, teachers must have written documentation to justify their appearance.  This type of double standard for speakers at public meetings just might run into some constitutional issues.  If some citizens can speak without a note from the Board Chair and others must have permission based on written evidence, you create two classes of citizens for the purpose of speech.

If public comment is allowed at public meeting, the rules must be uniform for all participants.  It would seem the Knox County Board policy may violate that precept.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, is done with this policy in coming months.

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

TEA Files Second TVAAS Lawsuit

Suit Names Haslam, Huffman as Defendants

The Tennessee Education Association has filed a second lawsuit challenging the use of TVAAS data for teacher merit pay.  This suit, like the one filed last week, was filed in Knox County.

In this case, a science teacher was denied a bonus under the APEX system as a result of TVAAS scores associated with just 16% of the students he teaches.

Here, it seems the principles behind incentive pay didn’t work.  That is, proponents of merit pay suggest that teachers will be more motivated to perform if they know there’s a monetary incentive attached to their performance.  In this case, the teacher knew his pay was tied to performance in only one of the classes he taught and yet it was the scores in that class that were not high enough on TVAAS to earn him a bonus.

The perverse incentive created by such a system is that a teacher would focus on only a few of his or her students in order to achieve a raise.

In this case, it could be that the teacher wasn’t at his best in this particular class.  Or, it could be he treats all his courses the same and the results he achieved in this particular class were good, but not high enough to reach the bonus level.

The challenge of merit pay is that it assumes that if there’s a monetary bonus attached to pay, teachers will work harder than they are.  The very premise is insulting because it assumes that teachers aren’t working at their best right now and if only they had a small financial incentive, they’d work a little harder. The facts of this specific case suggest otherwise.

Another takeaway from this case is that the system is not paying teachers based on the totality of their work.  This teacher taught other, upper level science courses that were not tested.  He didn’t have TVAAS data for those, but there is surely some form of test data that could be used to assess value-added if that’s the desired way to establish performance.  That’s not being done, either.  Maybe this teacher does an outstanding job in the upper level courses.  We don’t know.  And, based on the pay structure in place in Knox County, the system sends that message that his performance in those courses is irrelevant to his pay.

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

 

 

TEA Files TVAAS Lawsuit in Knox County

Use of TVAAS is Arbitrary and Violates 14th Amendment, TEA Alleges

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Knox County teacher who was denied a bonus under that school system’s pay plan after Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data for 10 of her students was unknowingly attributed to her.

TVAAS is Tennessee’s system of measuring student growth over time. It generates data based on student test scores on TCAP and end of course tests.

In this specific case, the teacher, Lisa Trout, was assigned TVAAS data for 10 students after being told her evaluation would be based on system-wide TVAAS data because she taught at an alternative school.

The TEA lawsuit cites two different memos which indicated that Ms. Trout could expect an evaluation (and bonus eligibility) to be based on system-wide data. At the conclusion of the school year, Ms. Trout was informed that her overall evaluation score, including observations and TVAAS data was a 4, making her eligible for a bonus under the Knox County pay plan.

When she did not receive the bonus as expected, she began asking questions about why the bonus had not been paid.  She ultimately determined that without her knowledge, a school counselor had assigned 10 students to Ms. Trout for the factoring of TVAAS scores.  The students were in an Algebra II course Ms. Trout taught, even though she does not hold an endorsement for teaching Alegbra II.

Though the suit does not specifically mention this, it should be noted that 10 students is a particularly small sample size subject to significant statistical anomaly.

The TEA lawsuit contends that Ms. Trout was owed the bonus based on Knox County School Board policy and in this specific instance, the bonus should have been paid.

Arbitrary?

The TEA goes on to contend that Ms. Trout and similarly situated teachers for whom there is little or no specific TVAAS data are held to an arbitrary standard in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Specifically, the suit notes: ” … the majority of teachers in the Knox County Schools … have had their eligibility for additional compensation (under the APEX bonus system) determined on the basis of the test scores of students they do not teach and/or the test scores of their students in subjects unrelated to the subjects they teach.”

The suit alleges that such a system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because some teachers are evaluated and receive bonuses based on the scores of their own students while other teachers are held accountable for students they do not teach and over which they have no influence or control.

In short, the entire system is flawed and should be discarded.

A spokesperson for TEA confirmed that the organization does not believe that teacher pay should be tied to TVAAS data.

On a related note, the Metro Nashville Public Schools recently announced it is putting plans to pay teachers in part based on TVAAS scores on hold indefinitely.

A TEA press release announcing the Knox County suit indicated that the organization anticipates additional lawsuits along these lines.

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