Thoughts on Annual Student Assessments

Dan Lawson is the Director of Schools at Tullahoma City Schools

The Issue: Assessments of student academic progress.  As you well know, The state of Tennessee is transitioning assessments from our former suite to the new TNReady assessments.  Furthermore, you are also well aware of the fact that many of the standards on which the current assessment is based are currently under review with consideration for additions and removal.  

 

The Background: In the scenario I described about teachers and growth scores, a senior teacher representing a lauded math department was able to present data that clearly and convincingly aligned our instruction with two critical components in our academic program in Tullahoma City Schools: ACT and Advanced Placement.  As he visited with me, he did so with a concern that can best be characterized by this summary:  Our instructional path produces ACT and Advanced Placement scores significantly above the state average and if we teach all the prescribed TNReady standards in timeframes aligned with TNReady assessments, we are concerned that our student performance on ACT and Advanced PLacement assessments will decline.

Certainly, that statement is based on the experiences and anecdotes of my staff members, but there is tremendous logic in this fundamental question.  Since one of our primary purposes and expected outcomes is to produce students who are “college and career ready” as measured by ACT or SAT, why don’t we allow schools and districts with the desire to do so to assess based on the ACT or SAT suite of services aligned with the measure we aspire to accomplish?  While the issue of assessment often is directly linked to the issue of accountability, I submit that the accountability of most schools and districts would be enhanced by reporting scores that both our students and their parents readily understand.  To that end, nearly every high school student enrolled in Tennessee high schools clearly understands the difference between a “15” and a “30” on the ACT.  That understanding makes it much easier for a teacher and school leader to discuss and propose interventions to address the “15” that has been reported for that student.

 

A Proposed Solution: There has been a misalignment in the testing/teaching standards from SAT 10 to TCAP to ACT and this misalignment has allowed some system’s to experience low TVAAS scores for K-2, 3-8, and 9-12 assessments. Until we pick a plan and follow that plan, we will be hard pressed to see college and career readiness expand in Tennessee. IF college and career readiness is really our goal, then don’t we need a clearly and cleanly aligned set of standards to reach that goal?

 

Align the state assessment with the ACT or SAT suite of services.  I understand that concerns exist suggesting that we can not accomplish that outcome and be compliant with state procurement, but I am also well aware of the fact that other states utilize the ACT suite today.  I am confident that we have the ability to accomplish anything that the state of Alabama has accomplished.

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

CAPEd Crusaders

At last night’s MNPS Board meeting, members of newly-formed education advocacy group CAPE spoke out about the time spent testing students this year as the state shifts to new TNReady tests.

Here’s what one member and teacher had to say to WSMV:

“It disrupts our schedules. It demoralizes the students. It demoralizes the teachers. It creates chaos,” Kale said. “Our students don’t even know what their schedules are … because they’re interrupted so many times for testing.”

The new state tests significantly increase the time students will spend testing, especially in the earlier grades.

The increased time spent testing comes at a time when a state task force has recommended both reduced testing and more testing transparency.

While the 2016 session of the Tennessee General Assembly may take up the issue, that likely won’t stop the administration of this year’s TNReady.

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

Grassroots Education Groups Applaud Testing Task Force Findings

Following the release of Tennessee’s Assessment Task Force findings recommending reduced use of standardized tests in Tennessee schools and transparency for the tests that are administered, a coalition of groups that in June had called for just this sort of testing reform issued a press release applauding the findings and urging timely action to make them reality.

Here’s the release:

Pro-education groups today announced their support for recommendations issued by the Tennessee Assessment Task Force, chaired by state education commissioner Candice McQueen. The recommendations call for the elimination of standardized testing for kindergartners and first graders; fewer standardized tests for older students; a parent advisory group and greater testing transparency.

“This is a great step in the right direction,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of  Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) and public school parent. “Professional educators, teachers, and students all know that the singular focus on standardized tests is counterproductive. The science is clear: Forcing the youngest students to take these tests is both useless and developmentally inappropriate. Hoyt also lamented about the shroud of secrecy that the Department of Education wraps around the tests. Touting their habitual inconsistency with reporting test scores, including delayed release of TCAP scores in 2014 and seemingly artificially inflated “quick scores” in 2015, and cut scores that change every year. “It is time for the secrecy surround these tests to end,” Hoyt said. “We called for testing transparency months ago and now it is time for Governor Haslam and the legislature to act.”

TREE in partnership with a dozen other advocacy groups circulated a petition earlier this summer calling for the publication of standardized test questions and answers; pre-determined cut scores; and a reduction in the use of standardized tests.

“We urge the state to adopt these recommendations in a timely manner and continue to make efforts to both reduce the testing burden, increase instruction time away from test prep and increase confidence in the process,” Hoyt said. “Standardized tests should be used as tools to guide future learning, not as a weapon to use against our teachers and students.”

The coalition includes the following groups:

Strong Schools (Sumner County)
Williamson Strong (Williamson County)
SPEAK (Students, Parents, Educators Across Knox County)
SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment)
Momma Bears Blog
Gideon’s Army, Grassroots Army for Children (Nashville)
Advocates for Change in Education (Hamilton County)
Concerned Parents of Franklin County (Franklin County)
The Dyslexia Spot
Parents of Wilson County, TN, Schools
Friends of Oak Ridge Schools (City of Oak Ridge Schools)
TNBATs (State branch of National BATs)
East Nashville United
Tennessee Against Common Core (Statewide)
Coalition Advocating of Public Education (CAPE)

 

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

 

A Call for Testing Transparency

Advocacy groups from across the state have issued a call for testing transparency, even starting an online petition calling for the ability to review questions and answers after standardized tests are administered.

Here’s the latest email from TREE:

Tennessee’s public education system finds itself mired in TCAP controversy for the second year in a row. The Tennessee Department of Education’s (TDOE) release of seemingly inflated quick scores, without clarification on how they were calculated, left educators and parents befuddled and upset. After considerable questioning of the TDOE’s actions they released a statement attempting to clarify the situation, claiming a lack of communication on their part as the culprit, but didn’t actually address the gross deficits of a testing system that is completely lacking in transparency and accountability. The TDOE continues to move the goal posts of a high stakes testing system that remains off limits for public scrutiny. Tennesseans are tired of blindly accepting TCAP results from the TDOE. So, TREE has joined with more than a dozen grassroots organizations that support strong public schools across Tennessee to demand accountability from the TDOE in the wake of confusion created by the latest release of “quick scores” and associated raw “cut scores” from recent TCAP tests. [view press release]

We also want to draw attention to another concerning problem with standardized testing: Our children are losing immeasurable amounts of instruction time due to test preparation and administration. Please review the graphic attached to this post, based on the 2014-15 school year. (story continues below graphic)

The TN Department of Education’s state testing calendar and information from teachers were used as reference.

The TN Department of Education’s state testing calendar and information from teachers were used as reference to create this calendar. 2015-16 TDOE testing calendar>>

As you can see, our children are spending the large majority of their school year taking or preparing for tests. It is unfair to our children, teachers, and our society that data collection and high stakes testing has trumped instruction time. Public education was created to provide our society with a well-educated electorate and work force. It is the single most important factor in making our country the world leader it is today. But our nation’s leaders are fixated on excessive data collection with a focus solely on subjects covered on high stakes tests. This has led to the devaluation of a well-rounded education and in some instances the removal of arts, language and music education in our schools. Our reputation for being the most creative and innovative country in the world is in jeopardy as our nation now values honing test scores over fostering critical thinking and creativity. There are ways of evaluating the academic growth of a student that do not limit instruction and enable our teachers to hone their education delivery in turn fostering student achievement. Some examples include portfolio reviews, research projects, peer review committees, and standards-based evaluations, etc.


Sign the petition to demand transparency. E-mail Commissioner McQueen and Governor Haslam and tell them you want our tax dollars to go to teaching, not testing. Commissioner McQueen – Commissioner.McQueen@tn.gov Governor Haslam – bill.haslam@tn.gov Then contact your legislators and send them a copy of this testing calendar and post. Tell them why you are concerned about the excessive testing and demand transparency for the standardized tests that our state’s legislature and department of education require our students to take. Let them know you are holding them accountable and urge them to explore alternatives to boxing in our students and schools with high stakes testing. With their and your help, we can take back our schools and turn them into breeding grounds for a level of creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving that has never before been seen in human history.


Thank you to our growing number of grassroots organizations coming together to support strong public schools across Tennessee and demand accountability from the TDOE. Groups participating in this network include:

Strong Schools (Sumner County)

Williamson Strong (Williamson County)

SPEAK (Students, Parents, Educators Across Knox County)

SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment)

Momma Bears Blog

Gideon’s Army, Grassroots Army for Children (Nashville)

Advocates for Change in Education (Hamilton County)

Concerned Parents of Franklin County (Franklin County)

The Dyslexia Spot

Parents of Wilson County, TN, Schools

Friends of Oak Ridge Schools (City of Oak Ridge Schools)

TNBATs (State branch of National BATs)

East Nashville United

Tennessee Against Common Core (Statewide)

**For full disclosure, I’m a co-founder and the volunteer Executive Director of Strong Schools, a co-signer of the call for testing transparency.

More on TNReady, next year’s standardized test replacing TCAP

An Alternative to Standardized Testing

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

Candice Clarifies

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen issued an email to teachers today clarifying an email she sent Monday regarding Tennessee standards and the upcoming TNReady tests.

It seems there was some confusion about what standards to teach in the 2015-16 academic year and what Tennessee standards may look like going forward.

Below is today’s email followed by the one sent Monday:

Teachers,

I’m writing to clarify information I shared on Monday about the standards review and development process. We have received several questions about which standards teachers should use during the 2015-16 school year. We want to make sure that your questions are answered quickly, so you can move into summer with clear expectations for the upcoming school year.

Tennessee teachers should continue to use the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not the previous SPI’s. The current state standards are available on our website.

TNReady, the state’s new and improved TCAP test in English language arts and math, will assess the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not SPI’s.

As we shared on Monday, the standards review and development process that Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education established last fall will continue. Teams of educators will work to review public input and will then recommend new sets of math and English language arts standards to the State Board of Education to be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year. TNReady will evolve as our math and English language arts standards do, ensuring that our state assessment will continue to match what is being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

Please feel free to reach out with additional questions or clarifications. We look forward to sharing more information about TNReady and the standards review and development process in the coming weeks.

Best,
Candice

_________________________________________________________________
From: Commissioner.McQueen@tn.gov
Date: Monday, May 11, 2015 3:20 PM
To: Tennessee teachers
Subject: Update on Standards Review Process

Teachers,

The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted to support our administration’s efforts to ensure that Tennessee students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or the workforce.

The vote complements the academic standards review and development process established by Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education last October, and it will maintain the participation of Tennessee educators and parents in the process.

At the conclusion of the review process, Tennessee’s new academic standards, which will include public input and are established by Tennessee educators, will replace the existing set of standards in English language arts and math. These standards will be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year.

In addition to the teams of educators established by the State Board of Education that will review the existing standards, the adopted legislation also provides for a 10-member standards recommendation committee appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House. This committee will review the recommendations of our educator groups and will then make a final recommendation to the State Board of Education for consideration and approval.

In addition, the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts will also inform and help guide the state’s new assessment, TNReady. TNReady begins during the 2015-16 school year, and it will be aligned to the state’s existing academic standards in math and English language arts. TNReady will then evolve as the standards do, ensuring that our state assessment matches what is actually being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

As I travel around the state listening to teachers, I continue to hear teachers’ confidence in Tennessee’s higher standards and the positive impact they are having on students. I also continue to hear your desire for stability and alignment, so teachers and school leaders can make informed decisions about what works best for your students. We hope this process encourages you to continue on the path that you boldly started – great teaching to high expectations every day – as we all continue to work together to improve the standards during the review process.

We are proud that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement, and your work this year to ensure that Tennessee stays on a path of high academic standards to help continue that success has been critical. Thank you to those that commented on the math and English language arts standards on the review website, www.tn.gov/standardsreview.

I am confident that the process that the General Assembly has now adopted will only enhance our efforts to improve outcomes for all of our students.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you as the standards review and development process continues this summer. Thank you again for all you do in support of Tennessee families and students.

Best,
Candice

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

Mandated to Death

That’s how Sewanee Elementary School teacher Rachel Reavis says she feels when it comes to the amount of testing going on in her school these days.

Reavis made the remarks at a forum with a local school board member hosted by the school’s PTO.

The Sewanee Mountain Messenger has the full story of the meeting, where parents and teachers alike expressed frustration at the amount of testing being done, even at the pre-k level.

Nine Tests in Pre-K?

Parent Janna McClain, a former academic interventionist in Murfreesboro, said her son will take nine mandated tests this year in pre-K. “Who thought that was a good idea? As a parent it would be helpful to know what it is our teachers are being forced to do,” McClain said. “I think the rationale is to prepare for these tests that are connected to dollars, so we have to do more and more tests,” she added. “I understand mandated testing, but I don’t want my child tested nonstop.”

Principal Agrees: Testing is Excessive

“The pendulum has swung to excessive testing,” said SES principal Mike Maxon. “There needs to be a balance.” Certain programs that involve mandated testing also require additional interventions in specific areas, which can be detrimental because it draws students away from other core subjects and creative learning.

Maxon went on to note that the interventions, a part of the Response to Intervention program (RTI2), are being conducted by related arts teachers and guidance counselors because financial support is not provided by the state to pay for the required interventions.

For his part, school board member Adam Tucker said he understands parent and teacher concerns about excessive testing and wants to explore options to reduce testing so students can focus on related arts and other areas that enrich the educational experience.

More on Testing

A Tennessee Teacher Challenges Arne Duncan

Toward a New Model of Testing in Tennessee?

Parents, Educators Challenge Over-Reliance on Testing

Amy Frogge vs. Testing

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

 

Toward a New Model of Testing in Tennessee?

Shelby County teacher Ezra Howard has an informative post on the current testing model in Tennessee and a proposal for how to improve it over at Bluff City Ed. His comments come on the same day Nashville’s WPLN posted an interview with TEA President Gera Summerford in which she raises questions about the state’s current testing model.

Here are some noteworthy excerpts from Howard’s piece:

Standardized Testing Doesn’t Aide Instruction

Within all the rancor against testing, we often forget that there are two important reasons for assessments in education: (1) to gauge student’s learning and their level of ability, and (2) to guide instruction and inform future teaching. Current high stakes testing succeeds at the first intention but fails at the second. TCAP, PARCC, and other forms of standardized testing are given too late and too infrequently to effectively guide instructional practices. They are useless to educators other than to facilitate teaching to the test at the school level and direct carrot-and-stick measures at the district, state, and federal level.

Toward a Portfolio Model

It’s time we move toward more student-centered and differentiated assessments. Where assessments are tailored to some degree by learning plans that are informed by but not limited to language needs and IEPS. I personally don’t think Pearson or any other testing corporation is up to the task or, even if they are, ought to be trusted with such responsibility. Therefore, I believe education should move toward a portfolio model of assessment. Achievement in the portfolio model is defined by rubrics, individualized to the student and their needs, and completed throughout the year by the student with the aide of the teacher. A contracted company, at best, may be necessary to monitor the completion and scoring of these portfolios against the rubric.

Empower Teachers

While there is some room for compromise between a standardized model and an individualized model, I ultimately think the power of assessment needs to be put back in the hands of the teachers. Yes, consistency in assessments is necessary. But that is the point of academic standards. As I’ve illustrated, a one-size-fits-all assessment is blatantly biased and inappropriate for the myriad of students with special needs. Educators should strive to meet our students at their level, not only with instruction but with assessments as well. Our current system of standardized assessment, whether it’s with TCAP and the proposed PARCC, is failing to do this. For these reasons, yearly-standardized tests need to be set aside and give room for a new comprehensive system of assessment.

Read all of Howard’s thought-provoking post here.

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

TEA Takes on Huffman Over TCAP Delay

The Tennessee Department of Education advised school district directors yesterday that TCAP “quick scores” would not be available this year in time to factor them in to final grades for students in grades 3-8. This left districts with a choice: delay the issuing of report cards until the scores are available “sometime this month” OR seek a waiver from state law mandating that TCAP scores count toward a student’s final grade.

Some districts issued statements explaining what the delay means for students.

And now, TEA is out with a statement on the matter.  From the TEA press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education informed directors of schools that TCAP scores will not be available before the end of the school year, as is typically the case for calculation of students’ final grades. The state’s decision to delay the release of the scores has serious implications for students, families, teachers and administrators statewide.

“This delay is unacceptable and further illustrates the many consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and teachers,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students.”

“Test-related anxiety and distrust are already high among students, parents and educators in our state because of Commissioner Huffman’s insistence on placing more and more weight on these tests,” Summerford continued. “The state cites a change in assessments this school year as the reason for the delay. Why are districts just now being informed about something that the department has known about for months?”

“If TCAP was used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure, our schools would not be in the absurd position of deciding whether to send students home without report cards or send home grades that may change once the state chooses to release the scores,” the TEA president said.

“Teachers face a tremendous challenge in providing the best education for all students, particularly when forced to spend so much time focused on standardized tests. The mishandling of this entire situation should be enough to cause legislators and communities to reevaluate, and correct, the ‘reform’ path the commissioner is leading our students down,” Summerford concluded.

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