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

 

Mitchell Questions Pearson “Emergency”

State Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville is questioning the wisdom of an emergency test-grading contract granted to Pearson for the grading of TNReady tests from this year.

According to WSMV:

“Pearson is no better than Measurement Inc.,” said Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville.

Mitchell, who has been critical of standardized testing, is not fully confident in Pearson.

“Just in the last week, they’ve lost another huge contract,” Mitchell said. “In the last few months, they’ve lost testing contracts with the state of Texas, state of New York and the state of Florida. So if they’re not producing for them, why are we to think that they will produce for us?”

He said the last minute moves are too costly for students, schools and the state.

Mitchell’s not the only one raising concerns about Pearson. According to the story:

The Washington Post recently profiled testing concerns with Pearson. It listed nearly 20 years of testing and scoring flaws that have caused the company to lose multi-million dollar contracts with schools in some cases.

It’s not clear how much value the state will receive for the $18.5 million contract as the grades 3-8 results will be incomplete (part II of testing was not completed) and the results are not anticipated until December, well past time to provide useful information for teachers and students.

In addition to this emergency contract, the state is also seeking a permanent vendor to develop and administer TNReady tests for the 2016-17 academic year.

More on TNReady:

Pearson: We’re Ready To Grade

TEA on TNReady

Why TNReady Wasn’t

 

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


 

 

 

An $18.5 Million Emergency

As a result of the failure of Measurement Inc. to deliver on its TNReady promises, the State of Tennessee has awarded a contract to Pearson to grade tests completed by students this year, including high school EOC tests and Part I tests that were completed. The contract pays $18.5 million and the estimated completion date for grading is December.

Grace Tatter has the details:

The state’s contract with Pearson goes through December for scoring and reporting of 2015-16 assessments, including high school exams, Part I grade 3-8 tests, and any completed Part II grade 3-8 exams.

Now, to be clear, the “emergency” is that some students completed tests that weren’t graded and won’t be graded by Measurement Inc. because they were fired.

What about the fact that some tests were completed online and others were completed on paper? Never fear, the state’s data team has a plan:

Measurement Inc. already has scored high school exams completed online last fall for students who are on block schedules. Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Townes said the state will use a formula to ensure that those scores are comparable to the scores of tests completed on paper, and to be graded by Pearson, this spring.

So, as a result of this new contract, there will be two different vendors grading the same test as well as some tests completed in an online format and some on pencil and paper.

Oh, and the results are due back in December. Well past time to have much value to inform instruction or help parents or students understand areas of deficiency.

Instead of spending $18.5 million on grading these tests which will have limited usefulness, the state could use that money to fully develop and pay for portfolio assessment at the district level for related arts and other non-tested teachers.

It could also use some of that money to support the unfunded mandate of RTI2.

Or, it could spend a portion of that money on developing an alternative assessment regimen — perhaps incorporating project-based assessment and reducing the reliance on standardized testing. Maybe even finding ways to reduce total testing time. Or, develop an assessment waiver as allowed under the new ESSA.

Out of crisis can come opportunity – and we have an opportunity and some unspent funds that could be used to develop better, more student-focused solutions going forward.

Instead, we’re handing money to Pearson and trying to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.

Rest assured:

…the department plans to select a new vendor in June to develop and administer next year’s state assessment.

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

Don’t Tell Candice

As it became clearer that TNReady simply wasn’t, more school districts saw parents attempting to opt their children out of the state-mandated tests. In the face of this challenge, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent a memo offering districts guidance on how to handle students who attempted to opt-out or refuse the test.

Part of the memo suggested that federal law requires test administration and earlier guidance provided to Murfreesboro City Schools suggested there could be financial penalties if districts failed to administer the tests.

The threat of withholding $3 million in BEP money from Williamson County eventually led that district to resume administration of the EOC tests in high school.

All along, the state has argued a district’s federal funds could be in jeopardy due to refusal to administer the test or a district’s inability to test at least 95% of its students.

As such, the argument goes, districts should fight back against opt-outs and test refusals by adopting policies that penalize students for taking these actions.

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

The state’s top education official, Merryl Tisch, had this to say about the prospect of withholding funds from districts:

“I think when you withdraw money from a school district, what you’re doing is you’re hurting the kids in the school district,” she said. “So I don’t think that’s an effective way to deal with it.”

While Tisch expressed frustration with the high opt-out numbers in some districts, her first response was not to punish districts (and their students) by withholding funds. Instead, she called for more communication and transparency surrounding the testing.

This year’s TNReady test lacked transparency and clear communication. As failures mounted, a blame game started. And when parents and some districts had had enough, rather than work through the challenges, Commissioner McQueen’s first response was to threaten sanctions, including the withholding of funds.

That sort of tactic may enable McQueen to get her way in the short-term, but it’s certainly not a way to build the trust and support she’ll need to usher in yet another testing vendor next school year.

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

 

 

 

(NOT) Ready on Day One

It’s campaign season and candidate after candidate is telling voters they are the clear choice because they will be “ready on day one.”

Likewise, it’s the beginning of statewide testing season in Tennessee and districts have been told the state’s new system would be ready on day one.

Except it wasn’t.

Brian Wilson at the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reports:

A technology failure from a state vendor halted standardized testing across Tennessee on the first day that TNReady, the state’s new online exam program, was set to be administered on a widespread basis.

The state’s testing platform “experienced major outages across the state” Monday morning because of network issues with Measurement, Inc., who is contracted to administer the standardized exams, according to a memo Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent to schools directors across the state.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you …

As problems began this morning, the Department of Education sent the following notice to school districts:

At 8:25 a.m. CST the MIST platform experienced major outages across the state. These outages were caused because the network utilized by Measurement Inc. experienced a failure. We are urgently working with Measurement Inc. to identify the causes and correct the problem. At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information. However, if you have students that are successfully testing, please allow them to complete the current session.

Note, this problem affects both the MICA and MIST platforms. 

The MIST Help Desk is aware of the problem and will be not accepting additional phone calls on this issue. Please encourage your technology directors to call the department’s TNReady Focus Room.

We will provide frequent updates as information becomes available. Thank you for your patience.

It’s not clear how today’s delay will impact testing schedules across the state or whether the TNReady platforms will be ready tomorrow.

Williamson County Schools had already pushed the start of their TNReady testing back to Wednesday as a precaution against the sort of testing glitches that occurred today.

A Call for Fairness

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement from their President, Barbara Gray, calling for fair treatment of teachers in light of the TNReady problems:

TEA has long had concerns about this transition to a statewide online  assessment. We have seen problems with pilot assessments and practice tests in the past, and unfortunately the first day of TNReady resulted in more issues and frustrations for our students and teachers.

 

Leading up to today’s testing, we have heard from educators and parents statewide about concerns with the state’s capacity to handle so many students on the server at one time, as well as concerns about local districts having enough resources to complete the testing with so little funding from the state.

 

It is unacceptable to have this kind of statewide failure when the state has tied so many high-stakes decisions to  the results of this assessment. Our students and teachers have enough stress and anxiety around these assessments without adding additional worries about technical issues.

 

The state must grant a one-year waiver – at a minimum – from including TNReady scores in teacher evaluations. It is unfair and inappropriate to stake our teachers’ professional standing on flawed, unreliable test scores in any year, but there are even greater implications and uncertainty while implementing a new assessment.

School Boards Expressing Concern

Ahead of the TNReady tests, several school boards have expressed concern about the use of the results in teacher evaluations this year.

MNPS and Knox County are among those asking the state to waive the results this year.

No word on whether state officials are still perplexed about why teachers are wary having TNReady count toward this year’s evaluations.

Again, it’s not clear when we’ll actually be TNReady, just that it wasn’t on day one.

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