McQueen: We Are Listening

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen published a letter to parents and families about the TNReady roll out. The letter discusses how the Department of Education is also disappointed in the roll out. I’m going to break down her letter with my thoughts. The letter was posted with the attached bolded sentences.

You have probably heard a lot about testing recently as schools have started the annual TCAP assessments, including the new TNReady in math and English. I want to thank you for your patience and support during this transition. As we always see in education, parents and teachers have gone the extra mile to put students first.

As you know, our goal was to administer TNReady online this year. However, due to unexpected issues with our test vendor, students are instead taking the exam on paper. While this is not how we had hoped students would first take TNReady, the paper version of TNReady was created alongside the online version, so it is reliable with questions that have been reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers. 

As you can see, Commissioner McQueen is using this letter to literally highlight the talking points on TNReady. It is a good reminder that all TNReady questions were reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers.

We know the shift has brought challenges for our schools. We too are frustrated and disappointed by our inability to provide students with an online test this year and by the logistical difficulties. We have been working tirelessly to provide a positive testing experience as much as is within our control and to reduce anxiety. Districts already have the option to exclude TNReady and TCAP scores from students’ grades. In addition, the governor proposed to give teachers the flexibility to only include scores from this year’s TNReady and TCAP tests within their evaluation if it benefits them. If you want to learn more about the paper test transition, please visit our website and our blog.

We fully believe that our students are more than test scores. TNReady provides one – but just one – way to help parents and teachers make sure students are ready for the next step by showing how they are progressing. It will give you better information about what your student is learning and retaining because it includes more complex questions that look for how students think and analyze problems.

Yes, the rollout of TNReady has caused a lot of challenges. It was a nightmare for many schools to have to keep updating their testing schedule to prepare for TNReady (plus everything the schools did up until that point to get ready for a computer assessment). Our school had to change the schedule multiple times before testing began. While our testing went very smoothly, there were times when we did not have enough answer sheets for our students. We also had to postpone one grade level’s test because we lacked testing materials.

I know teachers across the state cheered when they heard that Governor Haslam is offering flexibility in regards to using scores in our evaluations. MNPS has already emailed all teachers about this proposed changed to keep the teachers updated. TNEdReport will keep you updated on this proposed legislation.

As we all know and agree with, students are not just data points. But the data provided can be helpful.

Parents should be able to clearly understand what their students know, how they are meeting grade-level expectations, and how they are performing compared to their peers. In the past, parent reports were often difficult to interpret and offered little guidance on how you could support your child, but TNReady allows us to provide parents with more specific and thorough information.

To assure we are creating parent reports that will best inform you, we ask for your feedback as we finalize the design of these reports. You can provide your thoughts on specific pieces of the proposed parent reports through this online form.

While we have not see the scores for TNReady, I am excited to hear from parents once they receive this information. I am cautiously optimistic that the state will provide better information for our parents and teachers. We have been let down before, and I hope it doesn’t happen with the scores.

We are fortunate to have incredible leaders in our communities: parents, principals, and teachers who face challenges every day while leading remarkable work on behalf of kids. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed firsthand the character, focus, and teamwork in so many communities across the state. Thank you again for leading the team in your own household and working in partnership with our schools to seek continuous improvement even in the midst of challenges.

I think the best thing Commissioner McQueen can do is to communicate with teachers, parents, and the public as often as she can. Teachers need to know that the state cares about what is happening in schools across the state. I like how the state has provided a way for citizens to ask questions of the state. I have submitted a question to the state, and I hope there is follow through from the state.

What are your thoughts on McQueen’s letter? Have you submitted a question to the state? If so, have you heard back? Tell us below in the comments.


 

Mary Pierce: The Centralized vs. De-Centralized Debate

Nashville School Board Member Mary Pierce recently shared her opinions on the upcoming MNPS budget. The budget conversations have turned into a philosophical centralized vs. de-centralized debate. These conversations are much needed in Nashville. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, these conversations allow us to make our education system better for our students. Some budget items need to be centralized, like payroll, transportation, and maintenance. Others not so much.

I think Mary Pierce is saying that she is not against XYZ program, but she is in favor of the principal to make the decision what is best for their school.

So why the debate? As you saw, while $454M is sent directly to schools, some $356M is still managed at central office, but for much more than daily operations such as school buses, utilities or building maintenance  Roughly  $117M or almost $1,600 per pupil is managed by central office for academics in areas like Literacy, English Learners, Advanced Academics, Special Education, Family and Community Support, and more. It’s in this space where we see the philosophical divide. Does centralizing these services align with our strategic plan or should we allow our principals more flexibility in areas like these by giving them more dollars to drive outcomes for the students they serve?  My personal belief is that central office can best support our schools by making thoughtful and intentional hires of principals for each school community, and then allowing them the budgetary freedom to make staffing and academic decisions for their specific school communities.

While the 2016-17 proposed budget is still in draft form, we have had two meetings to walk through the overall budget and the proposed changes or expansions of programs. Of the requests totaling around $22M in new funding from departments within central office, roughly $6.4M will be sent directly to schools via student based budgeting for teachers supporting students learning English, but the remaining $16M will be managed by central office. This does not mean that the teachers or staff paid for by these initiatives won’t be out in schools directly working with students, but it does mean the principals will not have programmatic or budgetary discretion over the programs. While the programs are not mandated, schools will not receive funding for support unless principals agree to follow the central office plan.

To be clear, the questions raised by board members have not been about the merits of a particular program or service, but rather about who is in the best position to make the best decisions on the behalf of students and does this align with our strategic plan.
What do you think about this philosophical debate?


 

MNPS Budget Invests in Salary, Literacy, and EL.

MNPS recently released their proposed budget for the next school year. The budget shows that MNPS is investing in some very important areas, including teaching pay.

Teacher Salary: All teachers will receive a pay raise, but it will not be the same across the board. The pay raises will be dependent on years of experience. This shows that MNPS is prioritizing experienced teachers in the system. We need to retain our experienced teachers.

The vast majority of funding for employee pay raises will go toward changes in the certificated salary schedule. It is being completely rewritten to correct issues where our teacher pay is below market levels, particularly for teachers with 5-10 years of experience.

All teachers will receive a pay increase, though amounts will not be the same across the board as they have been in years past. The pay increase teachers can expect will depend on their years of experience.

While we are competitive in starting teacher salaries, market data shows we’re not increasing teacher pay quickly enough during the first half of a teacher’s career to be competitive with how similar cities in our region pay more experienced teachers.

The revised certificated salary schedule has not been finalized. We’re in the process of seeking input from various stakeholders, including MNEA.

Literacy: Literacy scores have been stagnant across the state. We need more support for literacy intervention in Nashville. MNPS has heard the call for more resources and is proposing just that. The proposed budget includes:

  • 48 more Reading Recovery teachers plus 2 additional teacher leaders to assist with training Reading Recovery teachers.
  • 15 part time reading interventionists that will be trained in the Comprehensive Intervention Model and work with elementary students who are two grade levels behind in reading.
  • Expands the literacy coaching partnership with Lipscomb. This expanded partnership will include 14 more schools and allow 16 EL coaches to participate.
  • 4 more reading clinics.
  • 10 summer school sites to work with struggling readers.

Wow. I am so excited for the investment in literacy intervention by MNPS. This is awesome.

English Language: Those working in MNPS know the importance of our EL teachers. Fifteen percent of MNPS students receive direct EL services. This budget proposal includes:

  • 88 more teachers that will “bring EL teacher-student ratios to 1:35. Lowering ratios would help the district meet state compliance, under the allowed maximum of 1:40.”
  • 12 bilingual tutors will be hired for a new program that will focus on refugee students.
  • 2 registrars and 6 part time assessors to help with registering students.
  • Pay raises for parent outreach translators.
  • The addition of mentor teachers and model classrooms. (This is a great addition. My school will see this in our building, and we are very excited to have a teacher model for other schools while also mentoring teachers within the building.)

The budget proposal also adds more community achieves site locations and stipends for teacher leaders.

As a teacher, this is a very exciting budget proposal. Go here to find more information on the budget proposal. This is far from a done deal, but it’s a great start.

What do you think of the proposed budget?


 

The Attacks on PET

Since September of last year, an anti-Professional Educators of Tennessee website has been up and running. The website, PETExposed.com, was started by Chattanooga activist Chris Brooks. I found this website after the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus shared a post from PETExposed.

Chris Brooks is a former Tennessee Education Association employee. When reached by TNEdReport, TEA responded that PETExposed “is not a TEA product. Chris Brooks no longer works at TEA, nor is he affiliated with the association.” I contacted TEA because I found Chris Brooks still listed on their website as an employee. I asked TEA when he was last affiliated with TEA because the PETExposed site was created six months ago, but they did not respond back.

The website largely attacks PET as a fake union and explicitly goes after the record of J.C. Bowman.

Bluff City Education ran a post from Bowman’s daughter to respond to the attacks from Chris Brooks.


 

 

In Defense of Standardized Testing

A recent op-ed in the Boston Globe discusses how standardized testing is not the enemy. The two professors who wrote the piece made some really great points that I wanted to share with everyone, especially teachers. I am going to break down each section of the op-ed, but please read through the whole article.

The testing effect

The act of testing students will allow them to retain more information.

The testing effect is the idea that trying to remember something leads to greater learning than just re-reading information. In one famous experiment, participants tried to learn information from a textbook either by repeatedly re-reading, or repeatedly writing out everything they could remember after reading the information only once. The strategy of writing from memory led to 60 percent correct recall of the material one week later, compared to only 40 percent in the repeated reading condition.

But despite its effectiveness as a learning strategy, the testing effect had to be rebranded to the less scary/more fun-sounding “quizzing” and we have had to come up with more and more subtle ways to produce the effect without students realizing that they are being tested — somewhat akin to hiding broccoli in brownies.

 

Testing anxiety

Testing anxiety is talked about a lot when discussing standardized testing. Having more tests, which would be lower stakes, may make students less anxious about taking these tests. Additionally, the professors noted that informing the students that the anxiety they feel will be helpful on the test will ease the student’s concern.

Researchers have found one promising method in which students are told that the anxiety they feel before a test is actually helpful – not harmful – to their test performance.

Could teachers and parents be the problem with test anxiety? I hope someone will research this soon.

Finally – and this is something that ought to be examined empirically – the negative views of testing repeated by teachers and parents may be feeding into kids’ anxiety and test-aversion. Just like public speaking, tests are an aspect of education that kids tend not to like even though it’s good for them. Our job as parents is to realize that the benefits of testing outweigh the inconvenience of dealing with kids’ complaints.

Teaching to the test

This section talks about how many teachers feel they are preparing for a test that is made by outside forces that do not have any classroom experience.

 This may be based on the myth that “teachers in the trenches” are being told what to teach by some “experts” who’ve probably never set foot in a “real” classroom. What these defiant teachers fail to realize – or simply choose to ignore – is that these experts are groups of carefully selected individuals that always include well-seasoned “real classroom teachers”, who guide the decision-making on what material should be assessed by the tests.

Standardized tests are biased

I hear this one a lot from teachers. If you think a test that is carefully crafted by teachers and researchers is biased, your own teacher assessments are much more biased.

Standardized tests are not the great equalizer that will eliminate discrimination. But it is highly unlikely an individual teacher alone could create a more fair, unbiased test than many experts with access to a lot of resources, a huge amount of diverse data, and the ability to refine tests based on those data.

The lack of prompt feedback

The lack of prompt feedback is always on teacher’s minds. It usually takes a long time to get feedback from these assessments, and we need to find a better way to receive prompt feedback on these assessments. With the rise in computer assessments, I hope we will be able to get feedback very quickly in the coming years.

In the absence of direct measures of learning, we resort to measures of performance. And the great thing is: measuring this learning actually causes it to grow. So let’s reclaim the word testing, so that the first word that comes to mind when we see it is “effect”.

I am so glad that I stumbled across this op-ed. I hope you will read the rest of the op-ed.


 

Looney Turns Down MNPS

Today, Mike Looney turned down the contract from MNPS and will stay with Williamson County Schools. Here is the statement he put out:

My family and I are humbled by the support and prayers we have received over the past few weeks.

The support from the Williamson County community, including parents, former parents, students, Williamson Inc. and the business community, and Williamson County Schools employees has been overwhelming. I also appreciate the support of the Williamson County School Board members who have worked with County Mayor Rogers Anderson and Williamson County Commissioners.

I want to thank the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Board of Education for allowing me to get to know them and for allowing me to explore the opportunity of working for boys and girls in Nashville. I was impressed with the warm reception I received. It is evident the Board’s focus is on student success, and I am encouraged about the future of MNPS.

After careful consideration, I have made the decision to remain in Williamson County Schools in order to continue our journey to becoming a district recognized nationally in the academics, athletics, and the arts.

MNPS will most likely start the search process over. I would assume they would hire a new search firm and start the process after the upcoming elections. This will cost the district (and taxpayers) more money.

While MNPS will have to wait for to see what’s next, Mike Looney will sign his WCS contract and make more money than ever before.

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I think I speak for many when I say that it feels like our district was used and our time wasted.

It’s time to hit the reset button on this director search and hope that the next batch of candidates are stronger than the last. Let’s get to work!

A press conference by both WCS & MNPS will be held today. Updates will follow.

 

My First Year Teaching

I made it!

I completed my first year of teaching. It was an eye opening experience that has helped mold my views in education in a variety of areas.

I am a special education teacher at a North Nashville middle school. Our fifth graders come into fifth grade already behind. It’s our job to catch them up during the middle school years before we send them off to high school. That shows me that we have dropped the ball along the way to middle school. We have come to a point where it’s okay that students come in to middle school behind. That shouldn’t be okay.

There are bad teachers and they should not be in the classroom. There isn’t more I can say about this. Every career field has bad workers, and the teaching profession is no different.

The TEAM evaluation made me a better teacher. The rubric was really helpful in my growth as a teacher. The feedback I received from my principal and assistant principal really helped. I knew what my principal expected from me and I met those expectations. I was glad that I was being held accountable.

(Don’t get me started on teacher prep programs.)

In regards to TCAP testing, I did not see the scary testing chamber where we take the fun out of education and force the students to bubble in answer sheets for days at the time. We hit the standards that needed to be hit during the year, and we cycled back through a review when we got closer to TCAP. We still taught new concepts, read new books, started new projects, and had fun. Schools decide their climate, and my climate was not like any of the scary stories that I read online. Assessments are an important tool in the education of our students. They are needed to make sure that I am doing what I am supposed to as a teacher. I am glad that the accountability is there.

 

I did a lot this school year:

I’ve broken up fights.

I’ve had to stop students from harming themselves.

I had to use our school’s resources to get a student clothing so he didn’t have to wear the same clothes every day.

I have given a legislative update to teachers.

One of our students was shot in the head while standing in the doorway to his home.

Student’s parents have been murdered.

I have seen a mother cry tears of joy that her son was receiving a quality education.

I have seen parents beam with pride about how well their student is doing in life.

A parent has yelled at me.

I’ve read all the Common Core State Standards for 7th grade.

I have taken to twitter to get someone to donate books to my class.

I have been sick. A lot.

I have given a tour to a school board member.

I have written an op-ed in the Tennessean about our school board.

I have gotten pushback from school board members about my op-ed.

After my op-ed, people inside my school told me to watch what I say in public about my school board.

I have been mad, frustrated, sad, happy, joyful, excited, and angry.

I have seen a student do better by getting more special education services.

I have seen a student grow by reducing the amount of special education services.

I have read a loud many different types of texts.

I’ve made others cry when describing students at my school.

I’ve become frustrated when teachers tell me it’s okay that students are behind because everyone else in behind.

I got students to read and enjoy books.

I’ve heard a teacher say that you can only teach a student for so long before you need to give up and help the other kids.

I have seen teachers work mornings, nights, and weekends so that our students could succeed. One teacher would teach during the day, tutor after school multiple days, tutor on Saturday, and teach Sunday school the next day.

 

No matter where our students grow up, they can all learn and succeed in our education system. I have seen students come into our school that are so behind. We have failed that child along the way. Someone dropped the ball and that makes me really sad. But we need to accept blame for dropping the ball.

 

Everyone wants to blame someone else for a child being behind:

“They came from charter.”

“They are special ed.”

“They come from a bad part of town.”

Before that student left for a charter, they were most likely in a zoned school first. All students can learn, including students with disabilities. No matter where you come from, you are able to learn at the hands of great teachers.

We want to blame everyone but ourselves. I’ve made mistakes this year, but I know that I will come back next year and fix those mistakes. I will admit that there are problems that still need to be fixed in my teaching method, in my personality, and in the school system as a whole. Sugarcoating issues in life doesn’t make it better. I would rather be honest about education than to sugarcoat and lie about the state of our education system.

My Time at the State Capitol

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the halls of Legislative Plaza at the State Capitol. I also visited the capitol a few weeks ago with members of the Tennessee Reading Association’s Advocacy Committee. Unlike some, I highly enjoy my time on the hill. Here are a few of my takeaways.

There were a lot more people in the education committees then there were in 2012 when I last worked on the hill. As many already know, more and more people are concerned about education in Tennessee. That means there are more advocates and stakeholders when it comes to education. While many people crammed into education committee rooms, other committees sat almost empty. This really shows you how important education is in Tennessee. A lot of time, energy, and lobbying are taking place in the education world.

I spoke to numerous people about Dr. Candice McQueen, the newly appointed Commissioner of Education. Everyone I spoke with only had praise for Dr. McQueen. With Commissioner McQueen at the helm of the department, I believe these next four years will be systematically different than the last four years. Commissioner McQueen was already highly revered in the education world before she became Commissioner, and I believe she will leave the Department of Education in an even higher regard. From the looks of social media, Commissioner McQueen is traveling around the state at every chance she gets. I like that.

With the Tennessee Reading Association, we visited with the education committee chairs. Each chair, Representative John Fogerty, Representative Harry Brooks, and Senator Dolores Gresham, were very receptive on our message of staying on course to retain high standards. While we were advocating for Common Core, we understood that the standards would most likely change names. I think everyone agrees that Common Core will go away, but with a high quality Tennessee State Standards left in Common Core’s place. Too much money has been spent on teacher training to just get rid of the standards all together.

Legislators are already reviewing comments that stakeholders are making through the Tennessee Education Standards Review. https://apps.tn.gov/tcas/ I hope that everyone will go online and take part in this review process. They need to hear from teachers!

If you don’t know who your legislators are, go to this site to find out. http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/ It’s important that you know who represents you at the state capitol. When contacting your member, tell your legislator that you are a constituent and a teacher.

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


 

Education Forum Announced by TNEdReport & Hillsboro PTSO

The Tennessee Education Report and the Hillsboro PTSO are happy to announce a mayoral forum will be held at Hillsboro High School on Thursday, April 2nd, at 6:30 PM. The debate will be moderated by Steve Cavendish, News Editor for the Nashville Scene. The forum will focus on the future of Nashville’s education and will include questions submitted by the Hillsboro High School Student Government. We invite all students, teachers, families, and community members to this event.

“We hope this forum will provide a great setting for our mayoral candidates to really go in depth on how they see the future of Nashville’s education,” said Zack Barnes, co-founder of Tennessee Education Report and a middle school teacher at Metro Nashville Public Schools. “Many people, including teachers, are wanting to know more about the candidate’s views on education, and we think this will be the perfect place to share them.”

“The Hillsboro High School PTSO is thrilled to be co-hosting this important Mayoral Forum with the Tennessee Education Report at Hillsboro,” said Hillsboro PTSO Co-President Carey Morgan. “We believe education is a bedrock issue for Nashville, and we are looking forward to hearing where our candidates stand on the issues surrounding education, including the state of our facilities.”

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