A Modification

As we reported yesterday, Phase II of TNReady is not so ready. In fact, Grace Tatter reports that the problem is statewide, impacting grades 3-8.

Tatter cites an email from the Department of Education indicating the state is not sure when the Phase II tests will be delivered to districts.

The email also says:

“…Districts may modify their testing schedules as needed, without any prior approval or notice to the (state),”

The thing is, some districts have already been trying to modify their schedules by not giving the test at all. The idea of refusing to administer Phase II surfaced in Murfreesboro in late March and early April. The state responded by issuing a vague threat regarding withholding BEP funds.

Tullahoma City Schools on Monday approved a resolution unanimously calling on the state to cancel testing for the remainder of this year.

All of this was before the realization that Phase II tests would not make it to Tennessee districts on time. Now, though, the Department of Education’s own words suggest that districts may modify as they see fit without consulting the state. One possible modification would be to not administer the test at all. Another would be to schedule it for a time in June when students aren’t in school. Districts could say they offered the test, but no one showed up to take it.

The state has also made a big fuss about what happens to students/districts if students simply refuse to take the test. Trouble is, the state’s memo is based on some pretty fuzzy reasoning.

As this piece was being written, the Department of Education announced it will not ask districts to reschedule tests beyond the current testing window, which expires on May 10th. That means if materials are not received in time for administration by that date, districts don’t have to administer the tests. The Department also indicated it would provide additional flexibility to districts.

From Jason Gonzales:

The Tennessee Department of Education announced to districts Friday it won’t reschedule the TNReady testing window again this year and for those districts that don’t receive tests on time, will provide flexibility.

“We will not ask districts to reschedule again beyond what has been communicated to date, and we will not extend the testing window beyond May 10,” according to a statement sent to districts Friday.

So, what’s next? Will the state cancel the contract with testing vendor Measurement, Inc.? Will Commissioner McQueen assume responsibility for the failed transition to a new test?

Only time will tell, and there’s not much time left.


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

Still Not F*&#ing Ready

TNReady Phase II is supposed to be starting, except it won’t. It seems that shipping delays will prevent at least eight school districts from starting the planned administration of Phase II next week.

In Sumner County, emails have gone out confirming the delay and a new planned start date of May 2nd.

Officials in seven other districts have confirmed they have yet to receive the testing materials.

This comes after a disastrous first day of TNReady testing back in February and subsequent shipping delays of Phase 1 paper materials.

It also comes after the Murfreesboro City School Board discussed refusing to administer Phase II and the Tullahoma City Schools considered a resolution calling on the state to stop any further testing this year.

From the start, the transition to TNReady has been bungled. While Commissioner McQueen continues to make excuses, blame the vendor, and promise a better outcome next time, students in Tennessee schools face disrupted schedules and loss of learning time.

Instead of issuing threats to districts, perhaps the Department of Education should have been developing solutions or simply responding to the frustrations of students, parents, and teachers across the state. Maybe stopping after Phase I would have allowed for a true course correction.

In any case, we’re still not TNReady.

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


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

The Washington Post reports:

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Less Ready

Grace Tatter reports on proposed reductions to the total testing time for TNReady:

After weeks of hard conversations prompted by the rocky debut of Tennessee’s new assessment, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Monday that the state will reduce the number of hours that students spend taking TNReady in its second year.

Beginning in 2016-17, the State Department of Education plans to scrap TNReady Part I in math and streamline the English portion of Part I, she said. Department officials will determine how many hours of testing the changes will save students in the coming weeks.

On average, third-graders this year will have spent 11.2 hours taking TNReady end-of-course tests; seventh-graders, 11.7 hours; and high school students, 12.3 hours.

The announcement comes amid concerns expressed by parents and district leaders and at least one district inquiring about the possibility of not administering TNReady Phase II this year.

Tullahoma’s Dan Lawson said:

“Outside of RTI-squared and TNReady, we don’t have time to do anything,” Lawson said. “We’re trying to have class on occasion.”

For more on education politics and policy in the volunteer state, follow @TNEdReport

Ready to Pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Means Lost Money

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

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

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


Phase II Ready

Now that the troublesome Phase I of TNReady is over, districts in coming weeks will move to TNReady Phase II.

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has more on what Phase II means for students and schools:

The second part of TNReady features mainly multiple-choice questions (although, unlike in years past, students sometimes will be able to select several choices.) It has about 60 questions each for math and English, split up over two days. When the test originally was to be administered online, Part II also was supposed to include interactive questions in which students could use drag-and-drop tools, but those won’t be possible on the paper version.

So, multiple choice, no interactive questions, and shorter testing times for this phase.

It’s worth noting that the test is in two phases and includes significantly more total testing time than was common in years past — up to 11 hours.

Also, at least one district is seriously discussing the option of not administering Phase II at all in light of all the disruption caused by the false start on Phase I.

What do you think? Is 11 hours of testing too much for the youngest students? Should Tennessee districts skip Phase II this year and focus on instruction instead of test prep?

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


Ready to Stop?

School Board members in Murfreesboro expressed frustration Tuesday night over the bumpy rollout of TNReady, including the failure of the computer test on day one.

According to the Murfreesboro Post, some board members even suggested stopping all testing for this year, which would mean not administering TNReady Phase II.

More than one Board Member raised the prospect of the district refusing to administer Phase II. The most forceful comments came from Jared Barrett:

Board Member Jared Barrett agreed, but put it more vehemently. “I say we mutiny and refuse to do any more,” he declared.

Another member, Dr. Andy Brown, agreed with stopping the tests:

With the second round of paper-and-pencil testing scheduled to begin April 25, Board Member Dr. Andy Brown said he believes the process should be halted because it’s punitive.

“And I don’t like wasted effort and wasted time,” he added. “To start testing again in 19 days is wrong.”

It would be better to actually teach the children, Brown said, instead of testing more. “I’d like to see superintendents statewide say, ‘No, we’re not going to do any more testing.'”

It’s not yet clear whether Murfreesboro City Schools or any other district will actually refuse to administer TNReady Phase II. If you’re in a district having these discussions, let me know by email: [andy AT spearsstrategy.com]

More on TNReady:

McQueen Says Department is Listening

Flexible Validity

Still Not TNReady

Ready for a Break

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