We Paid $60 Million for That?

Guess what? Tennessee taxpayers are on the hook for some $60 million to testing vendor Questar for new TNReady tests.

Guess what else? Those tests aren’t exactly helpful.

At least that’s the word from the education professionals in classrooms.

The Tennessean reports this year’s survey of Tennessee teachers indicates:

Sixty-five percent of educators surveyed said standardized exams aren’t worth the investment of time and effort. The same percentage of teachers said the exams don’t help refine teaching practices.

And 60 percent said the test doesn’t help them understand whether students gain the knowledge necessary to meet state standards.

In response, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen notes:

And teachers haven’t yet recieved meaningful data from the change to TNReady to help guide instruction due to the transition, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. The state has and will continue to work to improve the usefulness of the test, she said.

Except the attitude about the previous tests wasn’t much better:

The attitudes toward testing also aren’t necessarily new.

In the 2015 survey, educators said testing was a burden, with teachers reporting they spent too much time preparing students for exams and taking tests.

Now, though, our students spend even more time testing and preparing for tests. Tests that educators don’t find useful. In fact, Chalkbeat notes:

By the time that Tennessee’s testing period wrapped up last week, the state’s elementary and middle school students had undergone about eight hours of end-of-year testing.

That’s more than double the testing minutes in 2012.

Why isn’t the testing useful? For one, the results don’t come back in time. Even with the switch to a new testing vendor this year following the debacle of the first year of TNReady, quick score results weren’t back very quickly and final results will be delivered later this year.

It’s worth noting, though, that even before the transition to TNReady, teachers found the testing regime burdensome and unhelpful. It’s almost like the state is surveying teachers but not actually paying attention to the results.

Why are educators frustrated, exactly? Teacher Mike Stein offers this:

Meanwhile, teachers’ performance bonuses and even their jobs are on the line. Though they wouldn’t assert themselves into the discussion, principals and directors of schools also rely heavily upon the state to administer a test that measures what it says it will measure and to provide timely results that can be acted upon. As long as both of these things remain in question, I must question both the importance of TNReady and the competence of those who insist upon any standardized test as a means of determining whether or not educators are doing their jobs.

Taxpayers are spending money on a test that day-to-day practitioners find unhelpful. In the case of evaluations, they also find it unfair. Because, well, it’s just not a valid indicator of teacher performance.

Perhaps state policymakers should take a closer look at the teacher survey results. Teachers have no problem being evaluated, and in fact, most say the current system provides them with useful feedback. The observation rubric is robust and with proper implementation and meaningful building-level support, can be helpful as a means of improving teaching practice.

What’s not especially helpful is a test that takes up significant instructional time and doesn’t yield information in a timely or useful manner.

Taking a step back and removing the high stakes associated with a single test could be an important first step toward right-sizing our state’s approach to student assessment.



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


Tight Deadline

Trouble with the timeline for returning TNReady quick scores to school districts has lead to some unpleasant exchanges between districts and the Tennessee Department of Education. The latest reporting indicates that more than 75% of districts won’t have scores back in a fashion that allows them to be factored into report cards before the school year ends (which for most districts, is this week).

One question that has been asked is when did districts know there might be a problem?

A pair of emails from Commissioner Candice McQueen to directors of schools indicates it was pretty late in the game.

Here’s one sent on the evening of May 3rd. Here’s the portion of that email dedicated to TNReady and the timeline to return tests so they can be scored and returned to districts:

In order to receive TNReady raw score data back by late May, we need your support in shipping completed testing materials to our vendor in a timely fashion. We know that 75 percent of districts have shipped back some materials, and we need your help in ensuring all completed materials—particularly ELA subpart 1, which will be hand-scored—are returned quickly.

Testing coordinators should send completed subparts to Questar as soon as possible. System and building testing coordinators should follow the guidance they have received from our team as well as Questar. Our goal is to share your raw scores the week of May 22, which would be in time for TNReady results to be included in students’ grades at the 10 percent weighting for this year.

So, it’s May 3rd in the evening. You get this email that night or read it in the office the next day. The testing window ends May 5th. It looks like most districts have returned some materials and that raw scores will be back for most districts the week of May 22nd, plenty of time to use the data for student report cards.

Then, tucked inside the May 10th update (not even the top item) is this important information about deadlines for receipt of TNReady materials:

In order to receive TNReady raw score data back by late May, we need your support in shipping all completed testing materials to our vendor in a timely fashion. Testing coordinators should send completed subparts to Questar as soon as possible. System and building testing coordinators should follow the guidance they have received from our team as well as Questar. We have been working with our vendor to provide raw scores as early as the week of May 22, which would be in time for TNReady results to be included in students’ grades at the reduced 10 percent weighting for this year.

We have worked with Questar to determine the following timeline for when you can expect to have raw scores based on when they receive materials:

Subpart 1 (ELA 3–8, ENG I-III and USH) received by Questar All other test materials received by Questar Anticipated raw score file delivery date
On or before April 28 Wednesday, May 10 Monday, May 22*
April 29–May 5 Friday, May 12 Tuesday, May 30*
May 6–May 19 Friday, May 19 Monday, June 5*

*The raw score file dates are projected based on Questar’s anticipated timeline for scoring and processing.

That’s a pretty tight turnaround. The email I have on this has a time stamp of 8:45 PM — so, most people got this pretty late in the evening or read it on the 11th at the office.

But, reading it on the 11th was pretty useless since the deadline was the 10th. Oh, and getting the email on May 10th in the evening (or even during the day) was also pretty worthless.

Of course, if you acted quickly, you could get everything to Questar by May 12th and get scores back the week of May 30th. Sure, that’s after school’s out, but it would likely only mean a brief delay in report cards. But that would also mean you spent all of May 11th coordinating the logistics of getting scores to Questar the NEXT DAY.

Telling someone about a deadline that has already passed is not helpful.

Also odd is this wording about the three timelines released in response to Clarksville-Montgomery County’s results:

“We provide three different timelines for a reason, and all are equally fine and acceptable for districts to be on. We are neutral on which deadlines districts meet, and it is reasonable that larger districts would need additional time to ship materials back and may use the entire window to do so. We have always fully expected that we will have districts on all three tracks based on their local decisions.” Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Towns confirmed that with this comment: “We emphasized that there was no “miss” of deadlines. We just provided three timelines.”

On May 3rd, the word from the Department of Education was that most districts were on track and that most districts would have scores back by the week of May 22nd. Then, on May 10th, it turns out May 10th is the deadline for getting scores back the week of May 22nd. Want scores the week of May 30th? Better get them together by May 12th — essentially a one day notice.

So, now we end up with more than 75% of districts NOT getting raw scores back by the end of May.

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





Rhetoric vs. Reality: TNReady 2017 Edition

Here’s what Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen had to say about this year’s TNReady tests in an email sent to educators on May 16th:

This year’s administration of TNReady was a success, both online and on paper, in schools across Tennessee. Thank you for you partnership and for preparing students with strong instruction every day. Stay tuned as we continue to share updates and resources.

Since then, it’s become clear that TNReady results won’t actually be ready for most districts in a timely fashion — meaning they’ll either be excluded from student grades or report cards will be held until results are available.

WPLN’s Blake Farmer reports on the scope of the problem:

The state department of education says less than a quarter of districts finished testing in time to get the results by the end of May. For those that did wrap up early, they started getting results back this week.

Yes, that’s right. More than 75% of districts won’t have results back before the end of May.

That’s an odd definition of success.

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