Key Driver

Much is being made of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system as a “key driver” in recent “success” in the state’s schools.

A closer look, however, reveals there’s more to the story.

Here’s a key piece of information in a recent story in the Commercial Appeal:

The report admits an inability to draw a direct, causal link from the changes in teacher evaluations, implemented during the 2011-12 school year, and the subsequent growth in classrooms across the state.

Over the same years, the state has also raised its education standards, overhauled its assessment and teacher preparation programs and implemented new turnaround programs for struggling schools.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that BEFORE any of these changes, Tennessee students were scoring well on the state’s TCAP test — teachers were given a mark and were consistently hitting the mark, no matter the evaluation style.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that “growth” as it relates to the current TNReady test is difficult to measure due to the unreliable test administration, including this year’s problems with hackers and dump trucks.

While the TEAM evaluation rubric is certainly more comprehensive than those used in the past, the classroom observation piece becomes difficult to capture in a single observation and the TVAAS-based growth component is fraught with problems even under the best circumstances.

Let’s look again, though, at the claim of sustained “success” since the implementation of these evaluation measures as well as other changes.

We’ll turn to the oft-lauded NAEP results for a closer look:

First, notice that between 2009 and 2011, Tennessee saw drops in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math. That helps explain the “big gains” seen in 2013. Next, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math, our 2017 scores are lower than the 2013 scores. There’s that leveling off I suggested was likely. Finally, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading, the 2017 scores are very close to the 2009 scores. So much for “fastest-improving.”

Tennessee is four points below the national average in both 4th and 8th grade math. When it comes to reading, we are 3 points behind the national average in 4th grade and 5 points behind in 8th grade.

All of this to say: You can’t say you’re the fastest-improving state on NAEP based on one testing cycle. You also shouldn’t make long-term policy decisions based on seemingly fabulous results in one testing cycle. Since 2013, Tennessee has doubled down on reforms with what now appears to be little positive result.

In other words, in terms of a national comparison of education “success,” Tennessee still has a long way to go.

That may well be because we have yet to actually meaningfully improve investment in schools:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving (Since Bill Haslam became Governor). At least not faster than other states.

We ranked 44th in the country for investment in public schools back in 2010 — just before these reforms — and we rank 44th now.

Next, let’s turn to the issue of assessing growth. Even in good years, that’s problematic using value-added data:

And so perhaps we shouldn’t be using value-added modeling for more than informing teachers about their students and their own performance. Using it as one small tool as they seek to continuously improve practice. One might even mention a VAM score on an evaluation — but one certainly wouldn’t base 35-50% of a teacher’s entire evaluation on such data. In light of these numbers from the Harvard researchers, that seems entirely irresponsible.

Then, there’s the issue of fairness when it comes to using TVAAS. Two different studies have shown notable discrepancies in the value-added scores of middle school teachers at various levels:

Last year, I wrote about a study of Tennessee TVAAS scores conducted by Jessica Holloway-Libell. She examined 10 Tennessee school districts and their TVAAS score distribution. Her findings suggest that ELA teachers are less likely than Math teachers to receive positive TVAAS scores, and that middle school teachers generally, and middle school ELA teachers in particular, are more likely to receive lower TVAAS scores.

A second, more comprehensive study indicates a similar challenge:

The study used TVAAS scores alone to determine a student’s access to “effective teaching.” A teacher receiving a TVAAS score of a 4 or 5 was determined to be “highly effective” for the purposes of the study. The findings indicate that Math teachers are more likely to be rated effective by TVAAS than ELA teachers and that ELA teachers in grades 4-8 (mostly middle school grades) were the least likely to be rated effective. These findings offer support for the similar findings made by Holloway-Libell in a sample of districts. They are particularly noteworthy because they are more comprehensive, including most districts in the state.

These studies are based on TVAAS when everything else is going well. But, testing hasn’t been going well and testing is what generates TVAAS scores. So, the Tennessee Department of Education has generated a handy sheet explaining all the exceptions to the rules regarding TVAAS and teacher evaluation:

However, to comply with the Legislation and ensure no adverse action based on 2017-18 TNReady data, teachers and principals who have 2017-18 TNReady data included in their LOE (school-wide TVAAS, individual TVAAS, or achievement measure) may choose to nullify their entire evaluation score (LOE) for the 2017-18 school year at their discretion. No adverse action may be taken against a teacher or principal based on their decision to nullify his or her LOE. Nullifying an LOE will occur in TNCompass through the evaluation summative conference.

Then, there’s the guidance document which includes all the percentage options for using TVAAS:

What is included in teacher evaluation in 2017-18 for a teacher with 3 years of TVAAS data? There are three composite options for this teacher:

• Option 1: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 10%, TVAAS data from 2016-17 will be factored in at 10% and TVAAS data from 2015-16 will be factored in at 15% if it benefits the teacher.

• Option 2: TVAAS data from 2017-18 and 2016-17 will be factored in at 35%.

• Option 3: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 35%. The option that results in the highest LOE for the teacher will be automatically applied. Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

That’s just one of several scenarios described to make up for the fact that the State of Tennessee simply cannot reliably deliver a test.

Let’s be clear: Using TVAAS to evaluate a teacher AT ALL in this climate is educational malpractice. But, Commissioner McQueen and Governor Haslam have already demonstrated they have a low opinion of Tennesseans:

Let’s get this straight: Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen think no one in Tennessee understands Google? They are “firing” the company that messed up this year’s testing and hiring a new company that owns the old one and that also has a reputation for messing up statewide testing.

To summarize, Tennessee is claiming success off of one particularly positive year on NAEP and on TNReady scores that are consistently unreliable. Then, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner is suggesting the “key driver” to all this success is a highly flawed evaluation system a significant portion of which is based on junk science.

The entire basis of this spurious claim is that two things happened around the same time. Also happened since Tennessee implemented new teacher evaluation and TNReady? Really successful seasons for the Nashville Predators.

Correlation does NOT equal causation. Claiming teacher evaluations are a “key driver” of some fairly limited success story is highly problematic, though typical of this Administration.

Take a basic stats class, Dr. McQueen.

 

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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


 

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.

 

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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


 

Flexible Validity

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen today provided additional information on how teacher evaluations would be handled in light of the flexibility the department is granting educators in light of TNReady troubles.

First, the email from McQueen, then some thoughts:

Dear educators,

Thank you for all of your thoughtful questions in response to Gov. Haslam’s proposal to create evaluation flexibility during our transition to TNReady. Last month, we shared an overview of the governor’s proposal (here). Earlier this week, the legislation began moving through the legislative process, so I’m writing to share more detailed information regarding the proposal, specifically how it is designed to create evaluation flexibility for you.

The department has developed an FAQ document on Evaluation Flexibility for Teachers (here) which provides detailed information regarding how this flexibility will affect teachers in different subjects and grades. I encourage you to closely read this document to learn how the flexibility applies to your unique situation.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share a few highlights. The governor’s proposal would provide you the option to include or not include results from the 2015-16 TNReady and TCAP tests within the student growth component of your evaluation, depending on which scenario benefits you the most. In other words, if student growth scores from this year help you earn a higher evaluation score, they will be used. If they do not help you earn a higher score, they will not be used. The option that helps your score the most will automatically be incorporated into your evaluation. This applies to all grades and subjects, including science and social studies.

Because Tennessee teachers will meet over this spring and summer to establish scoring guidelines and cut scores for the new assessment, achievement scores will not be available until the fall. TVAAS scores, however, will be available this summer because cut scores for proficiency levels are not required to calculate growth scores.

You can follow the progress of the governor’s proposal as it moves through the legislative process at the Tennessee General Assembly website (here). If you have additional questions about how this may apply to you, please contact TEAM.Questions@tn.gov.

We hope this evaluation flexibility eases concerns as we transition to a new, more rigorous assessment that is fully aligned to our Tennessee Academic Standards, as well as navigate the challenge of moving to a paper-based test this year. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to Tennessee students, as well as your continued flexibility as we transition to an assessment that will provide us with better information about our students’ progress on the path to college and career readiness.

My thoughts:

While flexibility is good, and the TVAAS waiver is needed, this sentence is troubling:

TVAAS scores, however, will be available this summer because cut scores for proficiency levels are not required to calculate growth scores.

The plan is to allow teachers to include TNReady TVAAS scores if they improve the teacher’s overall 1-5 TEAM rating. That’s all well and good, except that there can be no valid TVAAS score generated from this year’s TNReady data. This fact seems to have escaped the data gurus at the Department of Education.

Here’s what I wrote after analyzing studies of value-added data and teacher performance when using different types of assessments:

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

This year’s TNReady-based TVAAS scores will be invalid. So will next year’s, for that matter. There’s not enough comparative data to make a predictive inference regarding past TCAP performance as it relates to current TNReady performance. In other words, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Or, pulling a number out of your ass.

IT’S WRONG!

But, there’s also the fact that in states with both paper-based and online testing, students score significantly higher on the paper tests. No one is talking about how this year’s mixed approach (some 20,000 students completed a portion of the test online on day one) will impact any supposed TVAAS number.

How about we simply don’t count test scores in teacher evaluations at all this year? Or for the next three years? We don’t even have a valid administration of TNReady – there have been errors, delays, and there still are graders hired from Craigslist.

Let’s take a step back and get it right – even if that means not counting TNReady at all this year — not for teachers, not for students, not for schools or districts. If this 11 hour test is really the best thing since sliced bread, let’s take the time to get it right. Or, here’s an idea, let’s stop TNReady for this year and allow students and teachers to go about the business of teaching and learning.

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