Conflict Call

The Tennessee State Board of Education meets on Thursday, December 15th via conference call to discuss the A-F school grading system and to take action on high school policy, specifically as it relates to grading.

The high school policy includes a proposed change to the way End of Course tests are factored in to student grades — which is pretty important, since the semester is ending very soon and high school students on block schedules will be finishing courses in the next few days.

The EOC grade policy is noteworthy as two of the largest school districts in the state (Nashville and Knox County) have passed resolutions asking the state NOT to count any TNReady test in student grades or teacher evaluations for the 2016-17 academic year.

Here’s the language of the proposed policy change as it relates to EOC tests:

Results of individual student performance from all administered End of Course examinations will be provided in a timely fashion to facilitate the inclusion of these results as part of the student’s grade. Each LEA must establish a local board policy that details the methodology used and the required weighting for incorporating student scores on EOC examinations into final course grades. If an LEA does not receive its students’ End of Course examination scores at least five (5) instructional days before the scheduled end of the course, then the LEA may choose not to include its students’ End of Course examination scores in the students’ final course grade. The weight of the EOC examination on the student’s final average shall be ten percent (10%) in the 2016-2017 school year, fifteen percent (15%) in the 2017-2018 school year; and shall be determined by the local board from a range of no less than fifteen (15%) and no more than twenty-five (25%) in the 2018-2019 school year and thereafter.

 

Note, the 2016-17 academic year is happening right now. Students have already taken these EOC exams and their semesters will be ending soon. But, the policy change won’t happen until Thursday, assuming it passes. Alternatively, the State Board of Education could be responsive to the concerns expressed by the school boards in Nashville and Knoxville and prevent this year’s EOC exams from impacting student grades.

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


 

 

PET Talks TNReady

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee 

Tennessee has made a decade long effort to raise ours standards in public education, with mixed results and contentious debate among stakeholders and policymakers. We have high expectations for our students and our schools, which is a point all can agree upon. The appropriate role of assessment is still being debated. Getting it right is important. We need an accurate measure of student achievement and we must treat LEA’s and our educators fairly in this process.

We agree with the Tennessee Department of Education’s opinion that in previous transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term. We believe policymakers should continue to see Tennessee students perform better on national assessments.

One thing is certain: “This year’s scores cannot be compared to last year’s TCAP. And it is not practical to judge schools, students or educators by these results as we establish a new baseline with first year TNReady results” according to JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Professional Educators of Tennessee would caution policymakers to be less concerned with these test scores, especially with the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience. We should put more emphasis on the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life. To that end we continue to work with the department to reduce the amount of standardized testing in our classrooms. And we are pleased that they have been proactive in that arena with us. TNReady is apparently on track to run smoothly this school year, and a lot of work is currently underway to ensure success. It is also important to know that the new testing vendor Questar, as well as the TNDOE, is making a genuine effort to work with classroom educators across the state to provide responsive customer service and high quality assessments.

In Tennessee, Questar is responsible for developing, administering, scoring and providing reports for the TNReady assessment program, including grades 3 through 8 State Summative Assessment in ELA and Math as well as State End-of-Course Assessments in ELA I, II, III; Algebra I and II; Geometry; and Integrated Math I, II, and III.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

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


 

Testing Resolve

The Tullahoma City Schools Board of Education will vote September 19th on a resolution related to state standardized tests. Specifically, the resolution calls for a shift to the use of ACT/SAT assessments and a significant reduction in the amount of time students spend taking tests.

A similar resolution was passed by the Board last year.

Here is the resolution:

A RESOLUTION OF THE TULLAHOMA CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION
IN SUPPORT OF ADMINISTRATION OF THE ACT OR SAT SUITE OF ASSESSMENTS TO MEET TCAP AND “EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT” REQUIREMENTS IN OUR END OF COURSE ASSESSMENTS AT THE HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL AND AT THE 3-8 GRADE LEVELS

WHEREAS, the Tullahoma City Board of Education is the local governmental body responsible for providing a public education to the students and families of Tullahoma City, Tennessee; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee through the work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Board of Education, and local boards of education has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Department of Education is currently working to implement a replacement to the former Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) for the 2016-2017 school year; and

WHEREAS, these new assessments are called TNReady for the areas of English/language arts and math, grades 3 – 8 and TCAP Social Studies Achievement and U.S. History End of Course (EOC) exams; and

WHEREAS, during the assessment cycle of the 2015-16 school year an attempt to administer the assessments was deemed by the Tennessee Department of Education to be a “No-Go;” and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Department of Education terminated the contract with Measurements, Incorporated and has secured the services of Questar to provide assessment services for Tennessee; and

WHEREAS, ACT and SAT have been used for decades as standard measures of college readiness and that all universities and colleges in Tennessee and the United States utilize the ACT as an admission assessment; and

WHEREAS, Pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-6-6001, all public school students must participate in a postsecondary readiness assessment such as the ACT or SAT. Districts may choose to administer the ACT or the SAT. Districts can also provide both assessments and allow their students to choose the assessment that is right for them; and

WHEREAS, one of the strategic goals of the Tennessee Department of Education is an increase of the average composite score to 21, and the benchmark for college readiness is a composite score of 21. The ACT has further broken down the benchmarks into an 18 for English, 22 for Math, 22 for Reading, and 23 for Science. If a student is able to score at, or above, these important benchmarks, they have a high probability of success in credit-bearing college courses. School districts are distinguished by the percentage of students meeting college readiness benchmarks; and

WHEREAS, both the ACT and the SAT are designed to assist colleges, universities, employers, and policy makers in the determination of college and career ready students, and experts in education administration, child development, and child psychology endorse standardized testing as a limited measure of progress and effectiveness in the important task of learning;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED

The Tullahoma City Board of Education implores the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education to allow school districts the opportunity to select either the math and English language arts assessments provided by the State of Tennessee or an English or math test that is part of the suites of standardized assessments available from either ACT or SAT.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,

The Tullahoma City Board of Education implores the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education to direct psychometricians, contractors, and developers to construct assessments designed to inform instructional practice and to provide accountability that would not require for administration a period of time in hours greater in aggregate than the specific grade level of the said child, and not to exceed eight hours in length per academic year.

More on testing:

Still Too Much Testing?

Testing Time Reductions Announced

Questar’s Challenge

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


 

Still Too Much Testing

That’s the word from Maryville’s Director of Schools Mike Winstead.

Winstead, a member of Commissioner Candice McQueen’s assessment task force, told the group he believed reductions in testing time going into effect this year still create a climate of over-testing.

Winstead made his remarks during a recent meeting of the task force, according to a report by Grace Tatter.

Here’s what Winstead had to say about the current climate of testing in Tennessee:

“When we look at the states we’re chasing and trying to catch on NAEP and move up the ladder, I’d guess there’s none that test as much as (Tennessee does),” he said. “More tests are not going to help us catch them.”

Winstead said time spent testing has increased dramatically over the last five years, and this year’s reductions just bring the state back to a previous level of over-testing, rather than solving the problem.

It’s interesting that Winstead’s remarks suggest he believes we were testing too much even before implementation of Race to the Top and the Common Core/TNReady transition.

Winstead also has a point. While Tennessee had a good showing on NAEP in 2013, the 2015 results suggest that may have been an anomaly.

When the 2015 NAEP results were released, I compared them to 2013’s results and noted:

Note here that what I suggested then [2013] was an expected result (big gain, followed by holding steady) is exactly what happened in Tennessee this year [2015]. That’s good news — it means we’re not declining. But it also means we can’t really say that 2013 was something special. As I noted last year, Kentucky had a series of big gains in the 1990s and then again in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just a big bump one time. So far, Tennessee has had one banner year (2013) and this year, returned to normal performance.

This gets to Winstead’s point. Does an emphasis on testing make us more competitive with other states? Probably not. The NAEP is administered every other year to a random sample of students. It’s the gold standard in terms of scientific data on student performance. Recent results in Tennessee suggest a move in the right direction and an especially nice bump in 2013. But our results are not unique to states that test as much as we do. And we still trail states that place less emphasis on testing.

I’m going to go a step further than what Winstead explicitly said and surmise that he’d suggest we further reduce testing and focus more time on teaching and learning based on our state’s new, higher standards.

Some policymakers would suggest that won’t give us enough data — but we get reliable data every two years from the NAEP. I understand the desire to test all students every year, and federal policy requires this in some form from grades 3-12. But the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) also gives us an opportunity to propose innovative strategies and request a waiver from some requirements.

Tennessee should take advantage of the opportunity provided by ESSA and the current state climate around testing, including the task force, and pursue a new strategy that focuses on student learning rather than student testing.

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


 

 

2016-17 TCAP Blueprints Available

According to an email last week from Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, updated blueprints for TNReady — designed to provide guidance to teachers — are now available.

Here’s the email:

Last week I shared important assessment updates for the 2016-17 school year. Highlights from this announcement include moving to one assessment window, reducing testing time, and adopting a phase-in approach as we transition to online assessments. In case you missed it, you can view this update here.

Today I’m excited to share more information about our 2016-17 TCAP assessments, including updated assessment blueprints for the TNReady 3-8 and End of Course tests, as well as the blueprints for the optional second-grade assessment. These are designed to offer an overview of the structure of the test and help you plan your instruction. You can view the updated blueprints here.

Thank you for your patience as we’ve worked with our new assessment vendor to ensure these blueprints are helpful and provide an accurate reflection of the tests your students will take. We’ll continue to update our assessment website (here) with additional guidance and resources; additionally, you can find practice materials in EdTools, and your local testing coordinator can help you access those resources, if needed.

While blueprints and practice resources offer helpful guidance, the best preparation for student success is high-quality instruction every day. Our assessments are fully aligned to our current academic standards, which you can view here.

 

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


 

 

More on 2016-17 Testing in Tennessee

From an email sent by Commissioner McQueen to teachers:

Today we finalized our contract with Questar as our primary vendor to develop and administer state assessments this school year. As we move forward with a new assessment vendor, we’re also streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year. You can find more detailed information in our updated FAQ (here).

We’ll continue to share more information soon and look forward to sharing assessment blueprints by the end of July

  • •We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year. Assessments that require extended written responses, like the writing portion of ELA tests and the writing portion of the U.S. history test, will be completed at the beginning of the testing window to allow the vendor time to expedite the scoring process.
    •We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200-210 minutes shorter than last year. As an example, for a typical third grader, the 2016-17 TCAP end of year assessments will be shorter by 210 minutes compared to last year. In high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes. For a typical eleventh grader, this would mean the 2016-17 TCAP End of Course assessments will be shorter in total by 225 minutes compared to last year. Please see the complete testing times chart here for further information.
    •We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
    •In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place in the operational testing window near the end of the year. This one-year reprieve provides time to develop an assessment for the 2017-18 school year aligned to the state’s Tennessee-specific social studies standards. However, the operational U.S. history End of Course exam for high school students will continue as planned for the 2016-17 school year.
    •Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window. The ELA field test will include one subpart featuring a writing prompt; the U.S. history field test will also include one subpart featuring a writing prompt. One-third to one-half of students will need to participate in this field test, and the group of students selected to participate will rotate each year.

The goal of TCAP hasn’t changed—we’re providing students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking, problem solving, and writing skills to ensure they’re progressing on the path to success after high school. However, we’re taking a smarter logistical approach with a qualified, proven assessment vendor.

Most importantly, we’re committed to listening to you and partnering with you to create meaningful assessments. Our partnership with teachers is a critical component of our assessment program. We eliminated Part I, moved to a phase-in approach for online testing, and reimagined the writing prompts and scoring timetable largely based on feedback from teachers, and I look forward to continuing these important conversations. We’ll also continue to involve Tennessee educators in many aspects of the assessment process, including item review, bias and sensitivity review, rangefinding, and standard setting. Additionally, beginning this year, we will also work with Tennessee educators to write new test items; the first workshop will be in October—stay tuned for more information.

 

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


 

Testing Time Reduced for 2016-17

The Tennessee Department of Education announced yesterday it is reducing the amount of time students will spend testing in the upcoming school year. The release comes shortly after the announcement of a new testing vendor.

Here’s the full release:

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced significant changes to state assessments today that respond to feedback from educators, parents, and students—including eliminating Part I in all subjects, restructuring the test to better fit within the school day and year, and reducing overall testing time. The changes come as the department finalizes its contract with Questar, the primary vendor for the 2016-17 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).

“We have learned a tremendous amount from our testing experience this past year, and we want to make the right adjustments to create a positive, balanced culture around testing in Tennessee’s classrooms,” McQueen said. “These adjustments will give educators a greater ability to maximize rich, well-rounded instruction for all our students. We are still working toward the same goal of providing aligned, rigorous assessments to measure what our students know and can do, but now we have a smarter logistical approach and a strong partnership with Questar to achieve this goal.”

Overall, testing time has been reduced by nearly a third. The exact reductions vary by grade. In grades 3-8, students will have tests that are a total of 200-210 minutes shorter. As an example, for a typical third grader, the 2016-17 TCAP assessments will be shorter by three and a half hours compared to last year. In high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes. For a typical eleventh grader, this would mean the 2016-17 TCAP End of Course assessments will be shorter in total by 225 minutes—or three hours and 45 minutes—compared to last year.

One assessment window at the end of the school year

TCAP has been the state’s testing program since 1988, and it includes state assessments in math, English language arts, social studies, and science. As the state has transitioned to higher academic standards in math and English language arts over the past several years, those tests have become better aligned to what educators are teaching. The assessments now include rigorous questions that measure students’ writing, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

The 2016-17 TCAP will be given in one assessment window at the end of the school year, and the tests for the four subjects have been divided into shorter subparts. This change is in response to feedback from district and school administrators, who expressed some difficulty with fitting the longer sections into the regular school day. The new timing is outlined on the department’s website. These reductions and adjustments reflect Commissioner McQueen’s desire to reduce testing and streamline administration while still providing students with ample opportunity to do their best work. The specific changes to each subject area are included in the department’s fact sheet.

In addition, the 2016-17 social studies test in grades 3-8 will be a field test. Field tests are not reportable and do not factor into students’ grades or educators’ evaluations, and they will provide the department with information to develop an assessment for the 2017-18 school year. There will also be a separate field test for the English and U.S. history writing prompts. One-third to one-half of students will participate in the field test each year on a rotating basis. Based on educator feedback, the department is administering these writing field tests at a separate time to address concerns about students’ stamina to complete two writing prompts during the main testing window.

Tennessee teachers already have significant input in the test development process as they review and approve every TCAP question, including those that will be on the 2016-17 assessment. Starting this fall, Tennessee teachers will also be engaged in developing and writing questions for future TCAP administrations.

Contract finalized with new vendor

As part of today’s announcements, Commissioner McQueen shared that the department has fully executed a two-year contract with Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessments, to administer the 2016-17 TCAP. Questar has experience developing a statewide test on a similar expedited timeframe as well as with administering it at a scale even larger than Tennessee’s.

Last week, the department announced it intended to award the contract to Questar. As part of that announcement, Commissioner McQueen also announced that the department would phase in online testing over the next three years, with a paper option always available for the youngest students. In the 2016-17 school year, all testing in grades 3-8 will be done on paper. High schools will have the option to test online if they and Questar show early readiness for online administration, but districts can choose paper for their high school students if they prefer.

As part of its contract with Questar, the department has made a number of improvements to testing timelines, including working with the vendor to expedite the overall scoring process so the assessment can be administered in one window and ultimately, results can be delivered to schools and families more quickly.

Resources for schools, educators, and families

Following the execution of the contract, the department immediately began to finalize resources to familiarize students, parents, and teachers with the 2016-17 TCAP.

The assessments are designed so that the best test preparation is strong teaching and learning every day. Questions on the 2016-17 test will be similar to those students saw last year. To help students become familiar with the test format in advance, this fall students and teachers will have access to sample test questions. Practice tests will also be available in EdTools, an online platform for educators and district leaders, in August.

The department is also finalizing test blueprints, which map out exactly what standards will be covered on the test, and expects to release these by the end of July. In addition, the department is also working on guides for families and educators, which will be shared with district leaders and on the department website within the month.

To help address questions about today’s announcements and next year’s test, the department has prepared a Q&A document that can be accessed here and will be updated as more details become available.

 

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


 

Questar’s Challenge

After missing a self-imposed deadline to select a new testing vendor, the Tennessee Department of Education finally announced Questar as the choice to design and implement TNReady for the 2016-17 school year and beyond.

Questar is tasked with picking up the pieces of the mess left by Measurement Inc’s testing failures last year. There’s plenty of information about the struggle leading up to last year’s debacle, and it’s information Questar may want to study closely.

Questar does have a record of coming in to fix a previous vendor’s mistakes. Most notably, in New York. Interestingly, Questar used questions designed and developed by Pearson (the previous vendor) in the first year of new tests in New York.

This arrangement is not uncommon and in fact, is similar to Measurement Inc’s contract with AIR to provide questions from Utah’s test for TNReady.

However, such an arrangement is not without problems.

Politico reported on challenges last year when Questar took over New York’s testing. Specifically:

An error found in the fifth- through eighth-grade English exam, and one that the state education department already has advised will be in the math exams, hasn’t helped the situation.

The tests directed students to plan their written answers to exam questions on “Planning Pages,” however no planning pages were included in the test booklets, according to a report from the Buffalo News.

Pearson immediately released a statement saying the design error was not its fault and Questar said the tests were still valid and blamed the transition for the error.

It’s the type of blame game that may sound familiar to those who watched this year’s TNReady fiasco.

A blog post from a parent blog in New York describes how the error unfolded. Schools were notified well into the test administration:

The message was sent at 9:09 AM from SED and I saw [it] at 9:30 …when most students are done and have turned in their books…. Even if an administrator is on their email all day (which they aren’t) it is too late to walk around on tests that started at 8:00 to interrupt testing rooms to correct the mistake.

And while Questar gets high marks for its transparency efforts, some see a bit lacking in that department as well:

It is true that the amount of operational test material and the number of items disclosed is more than was given out in each of the prior three years of Pearson’s core-aligned testing. And since 2012, this is the earliest this has happened. [Note: When CTB/McGraw-Hill was the test publisher during the NCLB years, the complete test was accessible to the public on SED’s web site within weeks of its administration, along with answer keys. Item analysis data followed shortly thereafter.]
Upon review of the just-released spring 2016 testing output, however, certain useful data have not been made available. SED has been moved to offer us a translucent view of the exams, but it still is not being entirely transparent.

The bottom line: Questar is walking into quite a mess in Tennessee. It’s something they are surely aware of and something they have experience handling.

Going forward, the question will be how does Questar work with TNDOE to bring transparency and efficacy to a process that lacked both in 2015-16?

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


 

 

 

Ready for 5th Grade?

As this year’s TNReady testing transition faced problems and ultimately, was not completed, 5th-grade students at a Chattanooga school were preparing a report to improve testing in Tennessee.

The report was 14 pages and was mailed to Governor Bill Haslam in an attempt to influence the state’s decisions on testing going forward.

This project, by the way, is exactly the type of project-based learning that can and should be used more often to demonstrate student understanding of what they’ve learned.

Said one student of the project:

“We wanted to help make changes about something we’re passionate about,” Romero said. “And we learned how to unite to persuade someone.”

As a report on project-based assessment in one Kentucky district indicated:

The entire curriculum at this school has been redesigned around interdisciplinary projects, which take several weeks to complete. The English and social studies seventh-grade PBATs were group projects that took place in the fall.

One by one, the students stand and give a 20-minute solo presentation with a PowerPoint or video. Separately, they’ve handed in 15-page research papers. They’re giving these presentations to panels of judges made up of teachers from other grades or the high school, officials from a neighboring district, education students from the University of Kentucky, and fellow students.

Moving toward a hybrid model of standardized tests and project-based assessments could be a way to improve Tennessee’s testing system.

Commissioner McQueen is conducting a summer listening tour about testing, and that’s a great opportunity to share alternative strategies.

For now, the students at Nolan Elementary are demonstrating they are ready for a transition to a student-centered assessment strategy.

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

 

TNReady: Time for a Trade?

TC Weber thinks the TNDOE needs to trade in TNReady and the rest of the current testing regime for a new model:

The Tennessee Department of Education has faced a similar dilemma for the last few years. Every spring, without fail, there is some issue with the tests and they have to send them to the garage to be fixed. I think it’s safe to say that this year the equivalent of the transmission falling out. Parents, teachers, and even legislators have been telling the TNDOE that things are getting to the point that it’s getting cost prohibitive to fix and that we really need to start exploring a new policy. But unfortunately, the message doesn’t seem to be getting to the TNDOE. They just keep reaching for the checkbook, making a temporary fix, and then praying nothing else goes wrong.

It’s a good read and TC proposes some solid solutions, like using some of the new flexibility granted by ESSA to move toward a truly new model of testing.

Read it all here.

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