Washington Co. Joins Waiver Wave

Last night, the Washington County School Board voted 6-3 in favor of a resolution asking the State of Tennessee to grant a 1-year waiver from the use of TNReady scores in teacher evaluations and student grades. The resolution is similar to those passed in Nashville and Knox County and comes after the State Board of Education voted to change the way End of Course tests are counted in student grades.

The Washington County resolution comes just days before the Tennessee General Assembly returns to action (January 10th). Barring action by the State Board to grant a waiver, the only way it will happen is if lawmakers force the issue.

Similar resolutions were passed last year ahead of TNReady testing that ultimately failed. That makes this year the first year of new tests, now administered by Questar.

Tune in next week and beyond to see if more school boards pass resolutions asking for a waiver or if the State Board or legislature take action.

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


 

 

Candice is Listening

Or, she will be. The Commissioner of Education is going on a statewide tour to talk about testing in light of new flexibility offered to the states under the federal ESSA law, which replaced No Child Left Behind.

From the DOE’s press release:

Commissioner Candice McQueen and senior department leaders are launching a statewide listening tour to gather input from educators, key advocates, parents, students, and the public to determine how to implement specific components of the nation’s new federal education law: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The feedback will inform a Tennessee-specific ESSA plan that will guide the department’s work over the coming years and help the state capitalize on the new law’s empowerment of local leadership. These conversations will also build off feedback the commissioner has received on her Classroom Chronicles tour, during which she has met with more than 10,000 Tennessee teachers to learn how policies impact the classroom.

 

“We need to continue to elevate educators’ ideas to strengthen our education system, and the new federal law provides an opportunity to do that,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “We look forward to hearing from a variety of educators – from classroom teachers to directors of schools – as well as advocates, parents, and students as we craft a plan for Tennessee to transition to ESSA.”

The release notes that some policy changes might be in order:

Over the summer and fall, department leadership will draft a plan for transitioning to ESSA based on stakeholder and public feedback. Stakeholders and the general public will have another opportunity to provide input on the draft plan later this fall. In spring 2017, the department will work with stakeholder groups, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly as needed to recommend changes to state law and policy, as well as develop further guidance for school districts.

 

In addition to the various feedback loops and meetings across the state, the department will also be guided by its strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which was developed with input from thousands of stakeholders over the course of several months to establish a clear vision for the future of Tennessee’s schools. It also has established a solid foundation in preparing to transition to ESSA.

Interestingly, the strategic plan referenced includes this under the category of Accountability:

Pilot first grade and career and technical education portfolio models in 2016, and continue to develop additional portfolio options for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects

Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them

Perhaps one improvement that will be suggested is that in addition to developing portfolio models for teacher evaluation (they already exist for related-arts teachers), the state should also provide funding to districts to support their implementation. Few districts use the state’s approved portfolio model for non-tested related arts teachers, likely because the cost of doing so is not covered by the state. Assessment includes both additional staff time and compensation for those performing the portfolio assessments.

The second item of note is: Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them.

This statement assumes that current methods of evaluating student growth (TVAAS) are valid and reliable. To put it simply, they’re not. Additionally, the most common method of assessing student growth is through standardized testing. This raises the possibility that additional tests will be provided for subjects not currently tested. After this year’s TNReady failure, it seems to me we should be exploring other options.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that this summer’s listening tour will lead to a new dialogue about Tennessee’s direction in education in light of ESSA. States like Hawaii are already taking student test scores out of the teacher evaluation process and moving toward new measures of evaluation.

Out of the chaos of TNReady, there is opportunity. Educators, parents, and students should attend these summer meetings and share their views on a new path forward for our state’s schools.

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

 

 

A Matter of Fairness

A coalition of education advocacy groups released an online petition today calling for a one year waiver from using student test scores in teacher evaluations in Tennessee.

Here’s the press release:

A coalition of groups supporting public education today launched an online petition asking the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Bill Haslam to grant teachers a grace period from the use of student test scores in their evaluations in the first year of new TNReady tests. The petition tracks language adopted unanimously by the Knox County School Board, which passed a resolution last week opposing the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation for this academic year.

“The state has granted waivers so that TNReady scores aren’t required to be counted in student grades for this year,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE). “If TNReady won’t count in student grades, it’s only fair that it shouldn’t count for teacher evaluation.” Hoyt noted that the transition to the new test means entering uncharted territory in terms of student scores and impact on teacher evaluation scores. As such, she said, there should be a one year or more grace period to allow for adjustment to the new testing regime.

“TNReady is different than the standardized tests we’ve had in the past,” Hoyt said. “Our students and teachers both deserve a reasonable transition period. We support the Knox County resolution and we are calling on the General Assembly to take notice and take action. Taking a thoughtful path transitioning to the new test can also build confidence and trust in the process.”

Hoyt also cited a recent policy statement by the American Educational Research Association that cautions against using value-added data in teacher evaluations and for high-stakes purposes. “Researchers who study value-added data are urging states to be cautious in how it is used to evaluate teachers,” Hoyt said. “The transition to TNReady is the perfect time to take a closer look at how test scores are used in teacher evaluations. Let’s take a year off, and give our students and teachers time to adjust. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness.”

Groups supporting the petition include:

Strong Schools (Sumner County)
Williamson Strong (Williamson County)
SPEAK (Students, Parents, Educators Across Knox County)
SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment)

Middle TN CAPE (Coalition Advocating for Public Education)
Momma Bears Blog
Advocates for Change in Education (Hamilton County)
Concerned Parents of Franklin County (Franklin County)
Parents of Wilson County, TN, Schools
Friends of Oak Ridge Schools (City of Oak Ridge Schools)
TNBATs (State branch of National BATs)
TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence)
TEA (Tennessee Education Association)

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

 

PET Looks to 2015

A response to Governor Haslam’s recently announced teacher support initiatives by JC Bowman and Samantha Bates of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

 

The announcement by Governor Bill Haslam addressing testing, evaluations, local control and teacher input was a much needed statement, as Tennessee is heading into the 2015 legislative session. Keeping in mind that each branch of government has a distinct and separate role, it is appropriate for Governor Haslam to identify changing priorities. As always, the key is in implementation of policies. Many policies sound good. They simply have to be executed correctly.

It is always good to step back and put some political philosophy behind the policy. However, the real message educators need to hear from elected leaders is that they are trusted. We need to start a fresh conversation on evaluating how we assess our educators, which may mean a change in the way we measure engagement.

When did test results became the be-all and end-all of our education experience? Is standardized testing so reliable that it has ended the search for something better to determine the quality of our education experience? And while numbers may help us understand our world, we recognize that they do not tell us the entire story.

Most local school districts understand that ability of their instructional personnel is the only real differentiator between them and other local districts. Therefore, it is imperative that we start treating our educators like one of our most important assets. And it is only common sense that one of the key items policymakers need to address in 2015 will be teacher salaries.

However, educators do not enter this field of public education for the income; they are there for the outcomes. If the perception within Tennessee is that teaching is not a celebrated profession, we certainly will not get the young talented people to pursue a career in public education as a profession.

We have steadfastly maintained that requiring school districts to simultaneously implement new standards, new teacher evaluations and perhaps a new curriculum, as well as new testing demands, will continue to place enormous pressure at the local level. More information and feedback on state assessments to help teachers improve student achievement is a welcome addition to the discussion. The use and/or overuse of testing remain a conversation worthy of public debate.

Tennessee will need to continue allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have argued, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators.

The key item we took away from Governor Haslam’s latest proposal is his willingness to hear teacher concerns. It has taken us a long time to get to that point. However, it was a welcome relief to many educators, as we are now positioned to reset the dialogue. The area of improved teacher communication and collaboration has long been needed. We hope a new commissioner of education will truly embrace this concept.

If the right people are brought together for the right purpose, we believe anything is possible for Tennessee children and those who choose to educate our students. Dreaming big should not be just for the children in our classrooms, it should be for the stakeholders and policymakers in our state as well.

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

Value Added Changes

 

In what is certain to be welcome news to many teachers across the state, Governor Bill Haslam announced yesterday that he will be proposing changes to the state’s teacher evaluation process in the 2015 legislative session.

Perhaps the most significant proposal is to reduce the weight of value-added data on teacher evaluations during the transition to a new test for Tennessee students.

From the Governor’s press release explaining the proposed changes:

The governor’s proposal would:
•        Adjust the weighting of student growth data in a teacher’s evaluation so that the new state assessments in ELA and math will count 10 percent of the overall evaluation in the first year of
administration (2016), 20 percent in year two (2017) and 35 percent in year
three (2018). Currently 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation is comprised of
student achievement data based on student growth;
•        Lower the weight of student achievement growth for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects
from 25 percent to 15 percent;
•        And make explicit local school district discretion in both the qualitative teacher evaluation model that is used for the observation portion of the evaluation as well as the specific
weight student achievement growth in evaluations will play in personnel
decisions made by the district.

 

The proposal does not go as far as some have proposed, but it does represent a transition period to new tests that teachers have been seeking.  It also provides more local discretion in how evaluations are conducted.

Some educators and critics question the ability of value-added modeling to accurately predict teacher performance.

In fact, the American Statistical Association released a statement on value-added models that says, in part:

Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores

Additional analysis of the ability of value-added modeling to predict significant differences in teacher performance finds that this data doesn’t effectively differentiate among teachers.

I certainly have been critical of the over-reliance on value-added modeling in the TEAM evaluation model used in Tennessee. While the proposed change ultimately returns to using VAM for a significant portion of teacher scores, it also represents an opportunity to both transition to a new test AND explore other options for improving the teacher evaluation system.

For more on value-added modeling and its impact on the teaching profession:

Saving Money and Supporting Teachers

Real World Harms of Value-Added Data

Struggles with Value-Added Data

An Ineffective Teacher?

Principals’ Group Challenges VAM

 

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