A Familiar Refrain

While discussing how the state’s new A-F report card that rates schools will impact districts and students, Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright pointed out that the attendance calculations could be problematic for both high school seniors and students in Kindergarten.

The Lebanon Democrat reports on Wright addressing the issue:

“That doesn’t even make sense that they would hold schools hostage and keep students in schools after they have completed all of their assignments and everything that they’ve met. But they’re looking at that 180 days of instruction. It’s getting so complex. I want this board to understand. We have to find a way to take care of our kids and particularly when you have to look at kids in kindergarten, kids in the 504 plan and kids in IEP. When you ask the Department of Education right now, we’re not getting any answers.”

Wright is referring specifically to policy implications that would result in requiring high school seniors to attend school even after they’ve completed all requirements and attended a graduation ceremony. On the other end of the spectrum, Kindergarten students often phase-in in small groups in order to ease the transition to school.

At issue is the 180-day instructional requirement. In some cases, high school seniors complete all requirements and exams ahead of graduation and end their school year several days “early.” This would result in less than 180 days of instructional time. Kindergarten students who phase-in also end up having slightly less than the 180 required days.

Strict adherence to the guidelines behind the Report Card would mean schools could be penalized for the phase-in and graduation issues Wright raises.

Final guidance from TNDOE might help address this, but as Wright noted:

When you ask the Department of Education right now, we’re not getting any answers.”

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


 

Federal Grant Helps 4,000 Students Pay for AP Exams

The U.S. Department of Education announced $28.4 million in grants to 41 states and Washington, D.C to defray costs of taking the Advanced Placement (AP) fees for low-income families.

From the U.S. Department of Education:

The grants are used to help pay for students from low-income families taking approved advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization and Cambridge International Examinations. By subsidizing test fees, the program encourages all students to take advanced placement tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree.

The grants included $362,985 awarded to the Tennessee Department of Education for the 2016 fiscal year, which means the department has already had the money and used it for students taking exams this past spring.

The Department had this to say:

More Tennessee students than ever before are taking AP exams and — more importantly — scoring high enough to become eligible for college credit. That’s key. One of our top priorities for the 2016-17 school year is strengthening pathways for students to be able to seamlessly transition into college and careers, and in order to do that, we have to provide more opportunities for students to earn postsecondary credit and industry certifications while in high school.

Sometimes these opportunities carry a price tag that may prohibit some of our students from being able to attain the college credit and/or certification they could otherwise earn if they were able to afford to take a specific exam. And in Tennessee, we want every student to be as equipped as possible when they graduate from high school. The funding announced today provided exam fee assistance on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge exams for about 4,000 economically disadvantaged students.

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


 

Emotional Rescue

Tennessee won’t be a part of a national collaboration around social and emotional learning in schools and, according to state Senator Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, we have Jim Tracy to thank (or blame?) for that.

Just last month, the Department of Education announced our state’s selection to participate in a multi-state collaboration around social and emotional learning.

Since then, the plan has faced some criticism, including from lawmakers.

Chalkbeat’s Grace Tatter reports that Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia questioned the need for such collaboration at a recent hearing:

The recent pushback over social-emotional standards also has included a wariness of collaborative work across state lines, an attitude that contributed to the state’s decision to scrap the Common Core academic standards for math and reading in favor of “homegrown standards” that Tennessee will roll out in 2017.

“I don’t understand why we have to constantly collaborate with other states,” Rep. Sheila Butt said during a summer study session last month. “We don’t have to do it that way.”

Oh, and there’s Jim Tracy. He penned an op-ed in the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro taking credit for Tennessee rejecting the funding for the project.

Tracy:

After hearing from many constituents about potential funding for this controversial program, I contacted the Department of Education. This action helped in the decision making process by the DOE to decline funding for it.

Tatter explains the “controversial” initiative this way:

The social and emotional standards developed with CASEL would have set benchmarks for what students should know or be able to do in each grade when it comes to skills such as decision-making, self-awareness, social awareness, self-control, and establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.

And here’s how the program was described when it was announced:

The standards will be developed in collaboration with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, also known as CASEL, which announced this week that Tennessee will join the initiative along with California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington. The national organization previously has partnered with urban districts including Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools but is branching out into state policy to spread strategies around social and emotional learning.

Tennessee’s new standards will be drafted beginning Sept. 1 by a team that includes researchers, parents and educators. The final product will be reviewed next July by the State Board of Education.

A multi-state collaboration with both national experts and Tennessee educators and parents on an issue shown to have a clear impact on student behavior and performance — that’s what we just scrapped.

For its part, the state says it will still focus on social and emotional learning, just without the input of CASEL or the collaboration from state partners.

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


 

 

 

CANCELLED!

While school boards in Tennessee discuss not delivering TNReady Phase II and the state’s Department of Education says doing so would cost districts their BEP money, the Commissioner of Education in Alaska has scrapped new computer-based tests this year.

The Washington Post reports:

Alaska officials have canceled the state’s computer-based standardized testing for the year, citing repeated technical problems that were interrupting students’ exams, throwing schools into chaos and threatening the validity of results.

“I don’t believe under the circumstances that the assessment we were administering was a valid assessment,” Susan McCauley, interim commissioner of the state education department, said in an interview Tuesday. “Validity relies on a standardized assessment condition, and things were anything but standardized in Alaska last week.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. Tennessee’s new tests got off to a rocky start in February and the backup plan, pencil and paper testing, faced a bumpy rollout as well.

Instead of cancelling this year’s tests or at least moving forward without administering Phase II, Tennessee is plowing ahead. And, despite serious questions regarding data validity, the results could still count for some teacher evaluations and for school and district accountability.

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

Ready to Refuse

As Tennessee schools prepare for Phase II of TNReady, the Department of Education has sent districts a memo outlining how they should handle students who refuse or attempt to “opt-out” of the test.

The general gist, according to reporting by Grace Tatter, is that you can’t opt-out or refuse. She reports:

District leaders received a memo last week instructing schools to “address student absences on testing days in the same manner as they would address a student’s failure to participate in any other mandatory activity at school (e.g. final exams) by applying the district’s or school’s attendance policies.”

The memo specifically notes:

 “State and federal law also requires student participation in state assessments. In fact, these statutes specifically reference the expectation that all students enrolled in public schools in Tennessee will complete annual assessments.”

That’s not entirely true.

Federal law, even with the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to administer annual assessments in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school.

But there’s a difference in requiring a state to administer and requiring a student to complete an assessment. Federal law requires administration of the test, but does not compel students to complete the exams.

Then, there is state law. The memo lacks specific references to Tennessee statute, but there are a few sections that relate to testing.

TCA 49-1-6 includes references to performance assessment and the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). This portion of state law says that annual assessments will be administered in grades 3-8 and then outlines the secondary school testing schedule. Here again, the law notes tests will be administered, but contains no compulsory language for students.

Then there’s TCA 49-6-60 dealing with proficiency testing. This section specifically details testing to be administered in grades 8, 10, and 11 as a strategy to promote college readiness. As these three tests are required for graduation, they are essentially mandated. Students who don’t take them won’t complete the graduation requirements.

What’s missing? Language that compels a student to take the test or requires a district to compel students to take the test. The memo says that “state and federal” statutes specifically reference the expectation that students will complete the assessment. True, TVAAS and other accountability measures are made valid by significant student participation in state tests. But, that alone doesn’t make them compulsory. Unless it’s one of the three proficiency tests specifically referenced in the graduation requirements section, there’s no language directly compelling students to participate in annual assessments.

It’s worth noting that while the Department of Education has said there would be penalties if districts refused to administer the TNReady tests, the memo says districts are not authorized to allow “opting-out” or test refusal. What it doesn’t say is what impact allowing opt-out would have on the district. If a district offers the test, and students refuse, then what?

Stay tuned as Phase II starts later this month.

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

 

 

Ready to Pay

This week, the Murfreesboro City School Board discussed the possibility of refusing to administer Phase II of the TNReady test.

Board members cited frustration with the rollout of TNReady and the subsequent lost instructional time. Additionally, some members noted this year’s TNReady challenges have caused increased stress for teachers and students.

All of this prompted speculation about what would happen if an entire district refused to administer the state-mandated test.

Here’s the short answer: Money. The district would be “fined” by having a portion of its BEP allocation withheld as allowed in state law.

In response to a question on this issue, the Tennessee Department of Education issued the following statement:

Under both state law and State Board of Education rules, the commissioner of education is charged with ensuring compliance with all education laws and rules. T.C.A. 49-3-353 authorizes the commissioner to withhold a portion or all of the Tennessee BEP funds that a school system is otherwise eligible to receive to enforce education laws and State Board of Education rules.

In addition, the State Board states that the department shall impose sanctions on school systems, which may include withholding part or all of state school funding to the non-approved system.

An entire school system refusing to participate in state mandated testing would be a major violation of state law and rule, and the school system could be considered a non-approved system subject to sanctions, including the loss of state funding.

The department has a responsibility to ensure that all students are on track to be college and career ready, which it monitors in part through annual assessments. We take that responsibility seriously and expect districts and schools to do the same. We want to work with all our school systems, including Murfreesboro City, as we continue to administer and improve our state assessments and ultimately ensure that all our students are receiving a high-quality education. The department has been working with Dr. Gilbert and the district on this issue and will continue conversations with her team as we work toward this goal.

It Means Lost Money

So, while not specifying the level of impact, the DOE is making clear that the violation would be “major” and that funds would be withheld. A recent example of the DOE using its authority to withhold funds can be found in the “Great Hearts Controversy” in Nashville. When MNPS failed to authorize a charter school the State Board found should have been authorized, Commissioner Kevin Huffman fined the district $3.4 million.

For now, no action has been taken by Murfreesboro City Schools or any other district in terms of refusing to administer TNReady.

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

 

T C Weber Has Had Enough

Nashville blogger T C Weber has had enough of the Tennessee Department of Education’s excuse-making over the ongoing TNReady fiasco.

Here’s what he has to say:

For those of you new to the game, let me give you a recap. This was supposed to be the year that everything was going to be different. But it didn’t take long for things to go awry. Within hours of beginning the administration of the test, the online testing platform failed. A mad scramble to affix blame ensued with the Department of Education ultimately deciding that pencil and paper would be the way to go. But in order to do that, schools would need to receive supplies in a timely manner, and now, that’s not happening either.

This is becoming a complete and utter fiasco. Some schools are having to change testing schedules for the third time. What that translates to is a loss of valuable instructional time and a huge inconvenience for children and teachers. It also fails to take into account special programs like field trips and such. One school in Chattanooga has two field trips scheduled for the end of April during dates they are now supposed to hold for testing. I guess they’ll have to cancel. Why are students going to be punished because adults failed to do their job?

He says more, but the post reminds me of the old adage: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

More on TNReady:

Still Not TNReady

Ready for a Break

Ready to Waive

Ready Already?

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

 

 

Ready for a Break

Following the Day One failure of TNReady testing, the state proposed switching to only paper and pencil tests.  Last week, the first sign of trouble on that front developed, as Dickson County reported a delay in receiving the printed materials.

While the Department of Education reports that most districts have received their materials, Chalkbeat reported yesterday that at least a dozen districts have had to reschedule testing due to printing delays. Those districts include:

  • Tennessee Achievement School District
  • Bartlett
  • Hamblen County
  • Maury County
  • Madison County
  • Murfreesboro City
  • Putnam County
  • Robertson County
  • Sevier County
  • Sullivan County
  • Tipton County
  • Wilson County

Despite these delays, the TNReady testing will continue, and in fact, many districts have already begun some paper and pencil testing.

Still, it seems that TNReady just can’t catch a break in its first year.

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

 

TNReady … Already?

Back in November, the State of Tennessee awarded a contract to Measurement Inc. to develop the new assessment that would replace TCAP.

This assessment is to be aligned to state standards (largely based on Common Core State Standards) and should take into account feedback from Tennesseans.

Measurement Inc. will be paid $108 million for the contract.

Chalkbeat noted at the time the contract was awarded:

Measurement Inc. is subcontracting to AIR, a much larger player in the country’s testing market. AIR already has contracts with Utah and Florida, so Tennessee educators will be able to compare scores of Tennessee students with students from those states “with certainty and immediately.” AIR is also working with Smarter Balanced, one of two federally funded consortia charged with developing Common Core-aligned exams. That means that educators in Tennessee will also likely be able to measure their students’ progress with students in the 16 states in the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

The Department of Education notes on its website:

Comparability: While the assessments will be unique to Tennessee, TNReady will allow Tennesseans to compare our student progress to that of other states. Through a partnership between Measurement Inc. and American Institutes for Research, TNReady will offer Tennessee a comparison of student performance with other states, likely to include Florida and Utah.

While Measurement Inc. has an interesting approach to recruiting test graders, another item about the contract is also noteworthy.

The Department and Chalkbeat both noted the ability to compare Tennessee test scores with other states, including Utah and Florida.

Here’s why that’s possible. On December 5th, the Utah Board of Education approved the use of revenue from test licensing agreements with Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee based on contracts with AIR, the organization with which Measurement Inc. has a contract, as noted by Chalkbeat.

The contract notes that Utah’s expected arrangement in Tennessee is worth $2.3 million per year (running from 2015-2017) and that Tennessee will use questions licensed for the Utah assessment in Math and ELA in its 2015-16 assessment.

So, Tennessee’s new test will use questions developed for Utah’s assessment and also licensed to Florida and Arizona.

The contract further notes that any release of the questions either by accident or as required by law, will result in a fee of $5000 per test item released. That means if Tennessee wants to release a bank of questions generated from the Utah test and used for Tennessee’s assessment, the state would pay $5000 per question.

While Tennessee has said it may change or adapt the test going forward, it seems that the 2016 edition of the test may be well underway in terms of its development.

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

 

Huffman Resigns as TN Ed Commissioner

Controversial Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is leaving his post, the Tennessean is reporting.

The paper cites a press release from Governor Haslam’s office noting that Huffman is leaving his position for a post in the private sector.

There was no immediate word on who might succeed Huffman as Commissioner of Education.

Huffman led a Department of Education that claimed credit for improved achievement on NAEP while downplaying widening achievement gaps and a lack of investment in the BEP formula.

Huffman also took criticism for his failure to communicate about new teacher evaluations and for his lack of communication regarding implementation of the Common Core, which resulted in Haslam holding an education summit and “re-setting” the conversation around standards.

Around this time last year, Directors of Schools from around the state were signing a letter expressing a lack of confidence in Huffman’s leadership.

While Haslam has not yet said who may replace Huffman, two potential candidates are Deputy Commissioner and former Putnam County Director of Schools Kathleen Airhart and former Senate Speaker Pro Tem and now SCORE Executive Director Jamie Woodson.  Another potential candidate is Knox County Director of Schools Jim McIntyre, a supporter of the Haslam education agenda.

More on who may replace Huffman.

Here’s House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s statement on Huffman leaving.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport