The State Backs Down

Just one day after the Knox County School Board voted 8-1 to indicate they had “no confidence” in last year’s Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio evaluation by the TDOE, Commissioner Candice McQueen issued a reprieve of sorts for teachers impacted by what her department has deemed “user error.”

In a communication to district leaders today, McQueen states:

while we will not allow resubmissions, we will re-review educators’ collections in select cases. If a district reviews its submission error cases with impacted teachers and believes it has identified a case in which there was not in fact a submission error, the district can request to have those collections re-reviewed.

 

By Aug. 27, districts will be asked to submit one form with the names of the teacher(s) whom you believe do not have a submission error but were noted as having one, along with their portfolio collection. Those collections will be peer reviewed again. If it is confirmed there is a submission error, the educator will still receive a 1 on that collection and have the opportunity to vacate his or her overall portfolio score. They will also receive feedback on what error they made. If the peer reviewer determines there was no submission error, the collection will be scored and the department will review and post the new score in TNCompass.

Finally, the DOE is beginning to work to correct a process that was time-consuming, disruptive, and not at all helpful to improving instruction.

I was recently able to listen to a group of more than 20 Kindergarten teachers describe their experience with the portfolio process in the 2017-18 school year. All 20 indicated they had at least one collection that received a score of “1.” While this may not have resulted in an overall score below a three for that teacher, it does seem problematic that every single teacher I heard had the exact same experience. At least one collection was given a “1” and there was no explanation — no feedback as to whether it was a submission error or the teacher simply didn’t meet the expected standard.

As someone who has taught college courses for 20 years, if I gave an assignment or test and ALL my students made the same error, I’d think the problem was with the test — either my instructions or the question weren’t clear. My default response would not be that it must be student error, but instead, to ask what can I do to make this item more clear in the future.

Let’s think about this issue some more. McQueen says teachers will get feedback about submission errors if those existed. Shouldn’t these teachers be getting clear, constructive feedback if this evaluation process is actually intended to help improve instruction?

McQueen indicates the scores will be re-reviewed if a district believes there was no submission error. That’s a step in the right direction. However, it raises the question: Who will do the reviewing? Last year ended with questions about whether or not the state had enough reviewers to complete the work. Now, questions have been raised about reviewers not being paid for the many hours they spent assessing portfolios. Will the state be offering additional compensation for those portfolios requiring additional review? Where will they find these reviewers? Will the checks actually arrive?

For now, at least, Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers know their organized, focused action has gotten some result. I know many have been communicating with both district leaders and their legislators. Next, we’ll see if the “new” process for 2018-19 takes into account teacher and district leader feedback and actually creates a reasonable, usable portfolio process.

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


 

Eric Goes Back to School

As the 2017-18 school year came to a close, we reviewed the Kindergarten experience of a student named Eric and his teacher. Eric’s teacher was participating in an exciting new mandate from the Tennessee Department of Education known as a portfolio. The idea was to assess that teacher’s ability to impart knowledge by looking at her ability to move Eric and other students from Point A to Point B according to state standards.

Here’s how Eric’s year ended:

Eric has now just about completed Kindergarten. He knows no other “normal” environment for school. Complete the task, be recorded, do it again at the end of the year.

The story doesn’t note the hours his teacher spent tagging evidence and uploading it instead of (or in addition to) preparing for learning activities for her class. The story also isn’t over. The results of the first year of statewide, mandatory Kindergarten portfolios have not been recorded.

Now that the 2018-19 school year is about to start, we return to the questions posed as teachers waited on portfolio review and scoring:

How many parents are aware that their child is spending time in Kindergarten working as evidence collection specimens for a system used to assign a 1-5 number for their child’s teacher? How many know just how much instructional time is lost to this process?

Results?

Teachers were initially told by the Department of Education that results would be back by June 15th. Then, they were told it would be June 30th. Since the TN DOE has never met a deadline it could find ways to miss, June 30th came and went with no scores available to teachers. Also missing: Any clear explanation or accountability from the state.

Finally, on July 26th, the Department of Education sent a memo that included these lines teachers across the state had been waiting for:

The department is excited to announce that early grades portfolio scores (pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade) are now available. TNCompass displays the Teacher Effectiveness Indicator, which will be used as the 35 percent student growth measure in calculating the level of overall effectiveness (LOE);

Finally, after a frustrating year of jumping through hoops and losing instructional time, teachers could see the results. According to the state’s propaganda, these results would help teachers improve future instruction, so all that lost time helping kids would be worth it in the long haul. Plus, all that frustration was just because the system was new, it would get better with time.

But wait, this is the Tennessee Department of Education we’re talking about. It’s not like they have a track record of treating teachers fairly or getting evaluation and assessment right.

So, you’re saying there were problems?

Yes!

Initially, teachers noted relatively low scores. That might be expected in the first year of a new evaluation. However, closer examination revealed the low scores were the result of a grading error. For many teachers, entire sections were not reviewed. When a section was not reviewed, that section’s assessment score defaulted to a 1 – the lowest possible score. Because of this default to a low score, a teacher’s entire portfolio score was impacted.

A number of teachers shared score reports that had one or more sections that had not been reviewed.

What’s going on?

Well, it’s time for another memo from the Department of Education. Here’s what they say happened:

Portfolios are designed to demonstrate student growth across time and for standards which teachers select and are assessed through student work. In cases where evidence of student growth is significantly below expectations, these collections would receive a score of 1.

Collections could also receive a score of 1 because of a mismatch either between samples of students or between the standards that were chosen at Point A and the standards that were chosen at Point B. When the standards are mismatched in either of these ways, those portfolio collections/submissions were both flagged by a peer reviewer and autoscored as a 1. • It’s important to note that, for teachers who used all standards consistently from Point A to Point B for all three samples of students, no autoscore was generated, and the collection was scored by a peer reviewer and an expert reviewer if needed. If the difference between these two scores is more than one performance level, an expert reviewer scores the collection/submission, providing an additional level of review. If an expert reviewer scores a collection/submission, those scores are considered final.

So, a teacher who has the highest possible score on three sections and a 1 on a single section either demonstrated below expectations growth OR mismatched the collection and the standard — in other words, it was the teacher’s fault.

An analysis of department guidance by staffers at the Tennessee Education Association noted:

Based on the TDOE’s initial guidance, the cause of the debacle is a glitch in the Educopia platform that allowed a “mismatch” to occur between the two data collection points.  According to TDOE, this mismatch could result in one of two ways, either from a lack of continuity in the student sample or in the standard selected.  Apparently, the Educopia platform allowed erroneous mismatched data to be submitted without alerting the submitter to the apparent mismatch.  When that happened, the platform proceeded to “autoscore” the mismatched collections assigning a default score of “1” rather than flagging such collections for further human review and possible correction. This procedure was not in accordance with the TDOE’s published guidance.

 

The Hotline reviewed all of the TDOE guidance prior to the release of the portfolio scores and it appears there was nothing to advise teachers that errant mismatched data submissions were possible, or that such mismatches could result in an autoscore of “1” for the collection.  To the contrary, TDOE’s guidance repeatedly suggests all collections would be subjected to a progressive human review process in response to any discrepancies greater than one performance level.  So not only does it appear there was no way teachers reasonably could have known these mismatch errors could occur, there was nothing to alert teachers to the possibility such mismatched collections could receive an autoscore of 1 without later being reviewed.

Look at that again: The Tennessee Department of Education — the same department that blamed this year’s TNReady problems on non-existent hackers and incredibly powerful dump trucks — is now blaming the Pre-K/K portfolio problems on a computer glitch. Boy, we sure do have bad luck with testing and evaluation vendors. I’m sure glad our DOE is not to blame, that’d be terrible if they were held accountable for all these crazy coincidences.

A New Approach

Thankfully, Eric has been happily enjoying his summer, blissfully ignorant of the challenges his teacher is having with all that portfolio madness. Now, though, he’s ready to go back to school and the teachers are feeling defeated as their Commissioner of Education and the department she leads continue to disrespect them.

Good news! Now, the DOE is going to provide a new portfolio vendor — one without all those pesky glitches! Here’s more on that:

One way that we plan to reduce the amount of time for portfolio development and provide enhanced support is through a partnership with Portfolium, Inc. to give educators a new e-portfolio platform: TNPortfolio. TNPortfolio will house TEAM portfolios in 2018-19, and in the future, it will support educator micro-credentialing and Work-Based Learning Student ePortfolio systems. In supporting the TEAM student growth portfolios, the platform provides functionality that will automate and improve several processes associated with portfolio development. The improved platform will allow schools to track student work samples longitudinally across multiple years. The TEAM Portfolio element of the platform will be available for teacher use on Aug. 24. On that date, you will receive an email from portfolium.com to access the system for the first time. All portfolio scoring guides and other resources will be available on that date.

YAY! A new, better vendor. Where have we heard this before? This is coming from the same Department of Education that fired Measurement, Inc. from TNReady and hired Questar. Both of them flopped. Then, in an attempt at trickery, the DOE announced Questar was being replaced by the company that owns Questar?!?

Still, there’s hope, right? I mean, this new vendor, Portfolium, is a tried and true teacher evaluation provider ready for the task, right? Well, maybe…

Here’s a bit more about the new company taking over the portfolio process — not just for Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, but for all teachers submitting portfolios:

SAN DIEGOJuly 26, 2018 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded the contract for its TEAM student growth portfolio, student Work-Based Learning, and educator micro-credential ePortfolio systems to Portfolium, Inc., the only Student Success Network.

Portfolium’s TNPortfolio platform, which can accommodate up to 500,000 users, will allow Tennessee teachers to demonstrate the impact of classroom instruction on student growth through the TEAM student growth portfolio, allow students to demonstrate the value of the education they’re receiving through work-based learning, and allow educators to acquire and maintain micro-credentials earned through personalized professional learning. The TEAM Portfolio element of the platform will be available for teacher use starting August 24; other elements of the platform will be available for use during the 2019-20 school year.

Note that the Portfolium press release announcing the awarding of the State of Tennessee contract came on July 26th, the same day as the state’s memo to teachers regarding this year’s portfolio scores.

Who is Portfolium?

Portfolium is a startup company designed to provide college students with a way to highlight accomplishments and work samples for future employers. Yes, you read that right: The new evaluation platform is a startup company that was founded in 2013 and just three years ago, began raising a small amount of capital to launch:

Portfolium, a Web-based social network for students preparing to start their careers, said it has closed on $1.2 million in new venture funding, bringing its total funding to $2.1 million since 2013, when the San Diego-based startup was founded.

I mean, sure, this could work out great. But let’s be cautious — this is a partnership between a Department of Education with a record of failed testing ventures and a startup company seeking to expand market share. What could go wrong?

Oh, and all that time and energy teachers spent learning how to use Educopia? Gone out the window. Time to learn a new platform and see if it works.

In fact, the DOE plans to roll out training for the new platform via webinar on August 23rd. Teachers will have login credentials for Portfolium on August 24th.

Parents, you should be aware that your child’s Pre-K/K teachers may be just a tad frustrated as the year starts — it’s probably not your kid (I mean, it might be). It’s most likely the poor treatment they are receiving at the hands of the Tennessee Department of Education.

How much longer must we tell Eric’s story before policymakers in Nashville make changes that support rather than deflate our teachers?

Have a portfolio experience you’d like to share? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

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


 

 

 

Shrinking TNReady

That’s the hope behind a resolution passed by the Johnson City Board of Education this week.

The Johnson City Press reports:

Some changes included shrinking testing timing back from three weeks to one week for grades 3 through 8, pushing the writing assessment back to February to give the state more time to get grades in by the end of the school year, and drawing back on pre-K and kindergarten ELA assessments to be less time-consuming for teachers.

The proposal comes after another year of testing trouble in Tennessee. In fact, a recent report noted that while most states transitioning to online testing are doing so smooth, Tennessee is the one glaring exception.

Broad Support?

Now that the Johnson City School Board has given unanimous approval to this proposal, the Director of Schools hopes to spread the message to other districts and build support for changing TNReady:

What I’d like to do if the board approves this resolution is reach out to all the other school superintendents and talk to them about the resolution and get feedback from them,” Barnett said at the meeting. “I think we’d have some support.”

It’s possible this is the beginning of a move that will see district leaders stand up to the state and say “Enough!”

The Board also referenced the problematic implementation of portfolios to evaluate teachers in Pre-K/Kindergarten:

Anderson said that the state estimated those assessments would take about 15 to 17 hours, but some teachers reported spending as many as 44 hours on the project, most of that time being spent in the English Language Arts component of the assessment.

She added that portfolio assessment is considered an appropriate avenue to track student learning in those early grades, and the portfolios can be completed with video or audio taping or with written assessment.

“I don’t think anybody has anything against the concept of portfolios for pre-K (and kindergarten),” she said. “Though the piloting process went fairly well, it ended up morphing into a process this past year that I think was just very complicated and very unwieldy.

It will be interesting to see how the state moves forward in revising those portfolios and if there is any move toward making significant change in the TNReady tests.

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