Can you believe this guy?

Remember when the state hired a testing vendor to deliver a new online test and from day one, it was a total disaster? Remember how that vendor kept getting second chances and kept missing deadlines? Remember how we paid a bunch of money to have the tests graded by a different vendor? Then we moved on to Questar and forgot all about Measurement, Inc?

Well, Measurement, Inc. hasn’t forgotten about us. Like an unfortunate Craigslist encounter, the company just won’t go away.

Now, they are asking the state for $25 million for “services rendered” for a test that didn’t even happen.

Nope, I’m not kidding. Chalkbeat has the story:

Henry Scherich says Tennessee owes Measurement Inc. $25.3 million for services associated with TNReady, the state’s new standardized test for its public schools. That’s nearly a quarter of the company’s five-year, $108 million contract with the state, which Tennessee officials canceled after technical problems roiled the test’s 2016 rollout.

Given Scherich’s track record, this doesn’t seem surprising. Remember when he took full responsibility for all the testing problems? Oh, right, he didn’t. Instead:

“You just can’t take the test off line and put it on a printing press,” President Henry Sherich said by phone Friday. “We’re not failing to deliver. We are delivering as fast as possible.”

Sherich revealed his company is only working with one printer as other printers they work with are booked. This after a delay in delivering Phase I of the tests in March.

Sherich didn’t offer an apology or express concern for the students, parents, and teachers who have suffered as a result of this delay.

After all of this, the state may still end up on the hook for $25 million for a test that didn’t happen. That’s on top of the millions we’re spending for a test from which parents have yet to see results.

Can you believe this guy?

 

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


 

 

A Theory

While Governor Haslam thinks everything is just fine with TNReady, a Coffee County student offers a theory for why the results have been less than great in initial rounds of testing.

Coffee County High School student George Gannon offers this insight:

Flash-back to the first year of TNReady- 2016. The company that created the tests could not actually handle the online traffic of thousands of people taking their exam at once. It eventually crashed the server  and caused the third grade through eighth grade tests to be switched to paper. But then they couldn’t get those tests out fast enough, so the test ended up not being administered at all. This was a statewide problem that was so laughably bad, that even the state government looked at the “moron-athon” of a testing experience they had just paid $108 million dollars for and  said “Wow. This is a train wreck.”; this eventually led to the termination of their contract with Measurement Inc. (the testing company). What was happening on the high school end though?

We took the test. We took it that first year under the impression that our scores would be weighted with our final average. Well, that did not happen. Personally, I didn’t even get my scores back until the next year. Maybe it was just a first-year rollout problem? No. Even after switching testing companies, it was the same deal last year. I just got my scores back and as far as I’m aware, they’re not weighted into my final grade. Humorously enough, there is even evidence  recently of tests being scored completely wrong.

What I think happened last year, though, is that we all knew something would mess up. We knew from how the year prior went that the scores would be delayed. Therefore, I think what happened statewide with the carpet bomb of bad test scores was not a lack of knowledge, but instead a lack of concern and determination. Take these thoughts for examples of what was going through our heads:

“Who cares if I fail this test? It’s not like it’s gonna’ be a grade. It wasn’t last year!”

“There is no incentive to scoring well. Just passing is all right, because in the event they actually grade these, I’ll still pass.”

Also, students who took the tests were automatically exempt from their semester exams, so many of them probably thought, “I just have to take it; I don’t have to do well.”

So, in case you are wondering if all the TNReady mishaps have an impact on students, the student perspective says YES.

And here’s the deal. The impact on students impacts the test results — those results are used to (partially) evaluate teachers and to assign schools as Reward or Priority schools. The A-F grading scale for schools will be based on these results. The state’s inability to oversee an effectively administered test and/or get the results back in a timely fashion is disrupting learning and skewing results.

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


 

Supposedly

Recently, Chalkbeat asked readers to pose questions about TNReady given the latest round of trouble for the state’s standardized test. One particular question asked about the validity of the scoring given that “scorers are hired off Craigslist.”

Here’s what the Tennessee Department of Education had to say:

“Questar does not use Craigslist. Several years ago, another assessment company supposedly posted advertisements on Craigslist, but Questar does not. We provide opportunities for our educators to be involved in developing our test, and we also encourage Tennessee teachers to apply to hand-score TNReady.

So, good news: scorers for the new vendor are not hired off of Craigslist. But, disturbing that the TDOE used the hedge “supposedly.” Back in 2015, I wrote about Measurement, Inc.’s ads on Craigslist:

Certainly, quality scorers for TNReady can be found for $10.70-$11.20 an hour via ads posted on Craigslist. I’m sure parents in the state are happy to know this may be the pool of scorers determining their child’s test score. And teachers, whose evaluations are based on growth estimates from these tests, are also sure to be encouraged by the validity of results obtained in this fashion.

My post even included a copy of the ad being used by Measurement, Inc. Then, in 2016, WSMV ran a story on scorers being hired via Craigslist ads.

Another response from the TDOE also caught my attention. This one dealt with the validity of comparisons between the old TCAP test and the new TNReady. The TDOE suggests this is like a group of runners changing from running 5Ks to running a 10K.

Runner and blogger TC Weber has a good response.

Then, when the issue of students not taking the tests seriously due to the perennial problems with returning data, the TDOE engages in more blame shifting:

“We believe that if districts and schools set the tone that performing your best on TNReady is important, then students will take the test seriously, regardless of whether TNReady factors into their grade. We should be able to expect our students will try and do their best at any academic exercise, whether or not it is graded. This is a value that is established through local communication from educators and leaders, and it will always be key to our test administration.

So, the fact that testing data has been returned late or that the quick score calculation method has changed has nothing to do with how students understand the test. If only those pesky school districts and their troublesome teachers would get on board and reinforce the right “values,” everything would be fine.

Here’s a hint, TDOE: Take some damn responsibility. TNReady has been a dumpster fire. Before that, you couldn’t get TCAP scores back in a reliable fashion. When districts told the TDOE that TNReady’s online administration wasn’t going to go well in 2016, the TDOE ignored them. Now, some students are wary of the test and whether or not it has any impact on their grades or any relevance to their learning. The TDOE simply responds by telling districts that if they just stopped asking so many questions and started drilling in the right messages, all would be well.

The disconnect is real.

As I noted in an earlier piece, accountability is a one way street when it comes to TDOE. This message is worth repeating:

How many warning signs will be ignored? How important is the test that it must be administered at all costs and the mistakes must be excused away because “accountability” demands it?

How can you hold students and teachers and schools accountable when no one is holding the Department of Education accountable? How long will legislators tolerate a testing regime that creates nightmares for our students and headaches for our teachers while yielding little in terms of educational value?

Apparently, according to Governor Haslam, everything is fine.

Still, the legislature meets again starting in January. And, there’s a Governor’s race on next year as well. Perhaps the combination of those events will lead to an environment that produces real answers.

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


 

Moratorium?

Echoing a call made earlier this week by teachers in Shelby County, a group of House Democrats including gubernatorial candidate and Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh, said yesterday the state should place a three year moratorium on using TNReady scores in student grades and teacher evaluations.

The move comes amid the latest round of troubles for the state’s standardized test, known as TNReady.

Jason Gonzales of the Tennessean reports:

The call for a three-year stay on accountability comes after another round of TNReady issues, the state’s standardized assessment. This is the second year in a row that Tennessee House Democrats have called for such a moratorium.

“Right now, as it stands, Tennessee isn’t proficient in getting students assessed,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “We encourage you (the Tennessee Department of Education) to put your pride aside … and give TNReady three years to be perfected.”

The group did not call for scrapping the test, and in fact, under their proposal, the test would still be administered. However, by not including the results in student grades or teacher evaluations, problems such as the missed deadlines that impacted report cards at the end of last school year and the missing students that are now impacting teacher TVAAS scores, could be avoided.

Additionally, taking three years to build a reliable base of data would help add to the validity of any accountability measure based on those scores going forward.

It’s not clear if there’s more momentum for a moratorium this year. What is clear is that the House will hold hearings on the latest TNReady problems next week. Those hearings may well indicate what the future holds for Tennessee’s troubled testing system.

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


 

 

PTA on TNReady

The Tennessee PTA issued the following statement on the latest TNReady troubles:

Tennessee PTA encourages the Tennessee Department of Education to mandate more stringent procedures to avoid problems with TNReady outcomes and testing. Teachers, parents and students have the right to timely accurate information on academic performance in order to make informed decisions and provide student support.

 

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


 

Would You Like Some Pie?

Chalkbeat’s Laura Faith Kebede reports on how the United Education Association, which represents teachers in Shelby County, describes the current TNReady situation:

“It’s as if you had a piece of pie, and I find a piece of glass in it,” she said. “But I cut somebody else a piece of that same pie and assure you ‘You don’t have glass in yours.’ Are you going to trust me and eat that piece of pie knowing that there’s a piece of glass in mine?”

That’s how UEA President Tikela Rucker described the current state of TNReady given what she cited as years of problems:

“This is the third year in a row that we’ve experienced issues regarding TNReady, which leads us to have zero confidence in TNReady, Commissioner McQueen and the Tennessee Department of Education,” said Shelby County UEA President Tikeila Rucker on behalf of the union’s 2,000 members.

Shelby County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson also suggested the state needed to be more accountable:

“We stand in solidarity with our teachers. We know the (state) Department of Education is working very hard,” Hopson told reporters. “But given the high-stakes nature of the test, we just want to be accurate. And when they’re not accurate, it just casts a cloud of doubt over the whole process.”

Hopson stopped short of calling for test scores to be invalidated. “I wouldn’t necessarily jump to that conclusion,” he said, “but I do agree with our teaching colleagues that the results need to be accurate and timely.”

The UEA is calling for all scores from this year to be invalidated and for a moratorium on using TNReady scores in the state’s accountability system until 2021.

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


 

 

Dear Educator

The Tennessee Department of Education explains the case of the missing students as some 900 teachers see their TVAAS scores recalculated.

Here’s the email those educators were sent:

Dear Educator,

We wanted to share an update with you regarding your individual TVAAS data.

The department has processed about 1.5 million records to generate individual TVAAS scores for nearly 19,000 educators based on the assessment results from over 1.9 million student tests in grades 2-8 and high school. During the review process with districts, we found that a small number of educators did not have all of their teacher-student claiming linkage records fully processed in data files released in early September. All linkage data that was captured in EdTools directly was fully incorporated as expected. However, due to a coding error in their software, our data processing vendor, RANDA Solutions, did not fully apply the linkage information that districts provided in supplemental Excel files over the summer. As a result, we are working with Randa to ensure that this additional data is included in final TVAAS processing.

 

You have been identified as an educator with some linkage data submitted via an Excel file that was not fully processed. This means after our statistical analysis vendor, SAS, receives these additional linkage records your score may be revised to reflect all the students you identified in the teacher-student claiming process. Only students marked “F” for instructional availability are used when calculating individual TVAAS data. Based on our records, there will be [X] additional students marked “F” for instructional availability linked to you when the additional data is incorporated.

 

Your district’s and school’s TVAAS scores are not affected by this situation given that all students are included in these metrics, regardless of which teacher is linked to them, so no other part of your evaluation composite would change. Moreover, only those teachers with this additional linkage data in Excel files are impacted, so the vast majority of your colleagues across the state have their final individual TVAAS composites, which are inclusive of all student data.

 

We expect to share your final growth score and overall level of effectiveness later this year. While we do not have more specific timing to share right now, we are expediting this process with our vendors to get you accurate feedback. We will follow-up with more detailed information in the next couple of weeks. Also, as announced to districts earlier this month, the department and your districts will be using new systems and processes this year that will ensure that this type of oversight does not happen again.

 

Thank you for your patience as we work to share complete and accurate feedback for you. We deeply value each Tennessee educator and apologize for this delay in providing your final TVAAS results. Please contact our office via the email address below if you have any questions.

 

Respectfully,

 

Office of Assessment Logistics

Tennessee Department of Education

A few things stand out about this communication:

  1. Tennessee continues to experience challenges with the rollout of TNReady. That’s to be expected, but it begs the question: Why are we rushing this? Why not take some time, hit pause, and get this right?
  2. The Department says, “Thank you for your patience as we work to share complete and accurate feedback for you.” If accurate feedback was important, the state would take the time to build a value-added data set based on TNReady. This would take three to five years, but would improve the accuracy of the information provided to educators. As it stands, the state is comparing apples to oranges and generating value-added scores of little real value.
  3. On the topic of value-added data generally, it is important to note that even with a complete data set, TVAAS data is of limited value in terms of evaluating teacher effectiveness. A recent federal lawsuit settlement in Houston ended the use of value-added data for teacher evaluation there. Additionally, a judge in New York ruled the use of value-added data in teacher evaluation was “arbitrary and capricious.”
  4.  When will teachers have access to this less than accurate data? Here’s what the TDOE says, “We expect to share your final growth score and overall level of effectiveness later this year. While we do not have more specific timing to share right now, we are expediting this process with our vendors to get you accurate feedback.” Maybe they aren’t setting a clear deadline because they have a track record of missing deadlines?
  5. It’s amazing to me that a teacher’s “overall level of effectiveness” can only be determined once TVAAS data is included in their evaluation score. It’s as if there’s no other way to determine an overall level of a teacher’s effectiveness. Not through principal observation. Not through analysis of data points on student progress taken throughout the year. Not through robust peer-evaluation systems.
  6. Let’s assume for a moment that the “level of effectiveness” indicator is useful for teacher development. Providing that score “later” is not exactly helpful. Ideally, actionable insight would be provided to a teacher and his/her administrators near the end of a school year. This would allow for targeted professional development to address areas that need improvement. Of course, this assumes targeted PD is even available.
  7. Accountability. This is the latest in a series of mishaps related to the new testing regimen known as TNReady. Teachers are held accountable through their evaluation scores, and in some districts, their pay is tied to those scores. Schools and districts are held accountable for growth and achievement scores and must develop School Improvement Plans to target areas of weakness. On the other hand, the Department of Education continues to make mistakes in the TNReady transition and no one is held accountable.

The email to impacted teachers goes to great lengths to establish the enormous scope of the TNReady transition. Lots of tests, lots of students, not too many mistakes. If this were the only error so far in the TNReady process, all could be forgiven. Instead, it is the latest in a long line of bumps. Perhaps it will all smooth out in time. Which only makes the case for hitting pause all the stronger.

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


 

Wrong Answer

In the never ending saga that is testing in Tennessee, the latest chapter spins a familiar but frustrating tale. It seems the state’s testing vendor incorrectly scored thousands of TNReady tests, impacting student score reports and teacher evaluation scores based on those student scores.

Jennifer Pignolet and Jason Gonzales have more:

About 9,400 TNReady tests across the state were scored incorrectly, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

The scoring issue impacted about 70 schools in 33 districts. Just over 1,000 of the incorrectly scored tests were in Shelby County Schools, according to an email from Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to his board on Friday.

Approximately 1,700 of the total incorrect tests scores, once corrected, changed what scoring category that test fell into, possibly affecting whether a student passed the test.

The error also impacted value-added scores for up to 230 teachers. A separate problem could impact TVAAS scores for as many as 900 teachers.

The scope of the error means scores in nearly 25% of the state’s school districts will need to be corrected. The Department of Education says the testing vendor, Questar, is re-scoring the tests.

UPDATE — Here’s a list of districts impacted:

  • Achievement School District
  • Anderson County
  • Benton County
  • Bradley County
  • Bristol City
  • Carter County
  • Cocke County
  • Collierville City
  • Crockett County
  • Davidson County
  • Elizabethton City
  • Giles County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hardin County
  • Henry County
  • Huntingdon Special School District
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Knox County
  • Lewis County
  • Lincoln County
  • Marshall County
  • Maryville City
  • Monroe County
  • Montgomery County
  • Obion County
  • Putnam County
  • Roane County
  • Rutherford County
  • Shelby County
  • Smith County
  • Sumner County
  • Union City
  • Weakley County

The State of Tennessee has spent millions of dollars on a new testing regime supposedly better able to assess student mastery of state standards. So far, all most students, teachers, and parents have seen is problems.

The first set of problems happened on day one of the initial online administration of the test in 2016. Then, a series of missed deadlines led to the state firing then-vendor Measurement, Inc. That’s the same company that hired test scorers via ads on Craigslist.

Of course, this is the same Department of Education that has repeatedly had issues with test score data.

If only there had been warning signs or calls to take the time to phase-in TNReady so that it best serves students and educators.

You know, something like:

TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

Or, if the state is determined to use growth scores (and wants to use them with accuracy), they will wait several years and build completely new growth models based on TNReady alone. At least three years of data would be needed in order to build such a model.

That’s from an article I wrote in March of 2015 about TNReady data and the challenges of adapting to a new test using our current accountability system.

That was BEFORE the 2016 TNReady mess. It was before the state had a problem getting data back this year.

How many warning signs will be ignored? How important is the test that it must be administered at all costs and the mistakes must be excused away because “accountability” demands it?

How can you hold students and teachers and schools accountable when no one is holding the Department of Education accountable? How long will legislators tolerate a testing regime that creates nightmares for our students and headaches for our teachers while yielding little in terms of educational value?

At least one school board has complained about the state’s handling of TNReady data this year. I suspect more will follow in the wake of this latest mistake.

So far, TNReady has sent one clear message: Accountability is a one way street in Tennessee and students, teachers, and districts are on the wrong end.

 

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


 

 

TC Talks Testing

Nashville education blogger TC Weber talks about testing (and a lot of other things) in his latest post.

Specifically, he talks about the release of data on TNReady tests and the comparisons being made to previous TCAP tests.

Keep in mind: We didn’t have a complete administration of TNReady in 2016. Which means the 2017 test was the first year for TNReady. It also means the comparisons being made are based on different tests taken two years ago. So, you have analysis of 5th grade results and “growth” on TNReady being made in comparison to 3rd grade results on TCAP.

It’s apples and oranges. 

Here’s what TC has to say:

Let’s approach this in a different manner though. Say I annually run a 5k race and each year my timing goes up a little bit, so I’m feeling like  I want something different. After year 5 I change to a 10k race. My time for that race is substantially lower. What conclusions can I draw from that difference in time? Am I really not that good a 5k runner? Is the course really that much harder than the 5k I was running? Is my training off? Am I not that good a runner?
I’d say there are very few conclusions, based on comparing the results between my 5k and my 10k time, that can be drawn. It could be that the length of the course was a bigger adjustment than anticipated. It could be that conditions were worse on the day I ran the 10k vs the 5k. It could be that one course was flatter and one was hillier. A kid could be good at bubble in questions but not write ins. How do we know that improvement isn’t contingent just on familiarity with the course? Or the test?
I know people will argue that we should all be training to run hills instead of a flat races. But does running hills well really indicate that I am a better runner? Terrain is just another variable. My liberal arts education always explained to me that in order to get the most accurate measurement possible you need to remove as many of the variables as possible.
One year of data is not a real indication of anything other than, kid’s are not very good at taking this test. In order to draw any meaningful conclusions, you would have to have a set of data that you could analyze for trends. Simply taking a 10k race and comparing it’s results to a 5k race’s results, just because both are races, is not a valid means to draw conclusions about a runners abilities. The same holds true for students and testing.
If TNReady really is the amazing test we’ve all been waiting for, why not take the time to build a reliable set of data? The results from year one don’t really tell us much of anything. Because we skipped* 2016, it’s even MORE difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about the transition from TCAP to TNReady.
TC talks about these challenges and more issues. Check it out.
*We didn’t actually skip the 2016 test. Instead, many students attempted to take the test only to face glitches with the online system. Schools then were given various new times for testing to start only to have those dates changed and ultimately, to see the test cancelled. 
Kids were jerked around with messages about how the “important test” was coming up next week only to have it not happen. Teachers were told they’d be proctoring tests and instead had to quickly plan lessons. Our schools and students adapted, to be sure. But, there is no way to give back the instructional time lost in 2016.
Now, we have students taking THE test in 2017 only to see a slow drip of data come back. Students are told the test matters, it will count toward their grades. Teachers have growth scores based on it. Schools are assigned ratings based on it. But, getting it right doesn’t matter. Well, unless it does.
Oh, and we spend a lot of money on a testing system that produces questionable results with data coming back at a time that reduces usefulness.
What’s next? This year, we’ll try again to administer TNReady online across the state. That didn’t work so well with the previous vendor, but maybe it will this time. Of course, online administration adds another variable to the mix. So, 2018 will be the first time many students have taken a fully online TNReady test. Assuming it works, online administration could address the challenges of getting results back in a timely fashion. But, the transition could impact student performance, once again calling into question the legitimacy of growth scores assigned to students and schools.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Muddy Waters

Laura Faith Kebede of Chalkbeat reports on the challenges in generating reliable TVAAS scores as a result of TNReady trouble last year. Her story cites a statistician from the Center for Assessment who explains the issue this way:

Damian Betebenner, a senior associate at Center for Assessment that regularly consults with state departments, said missing data on top of a testing transition “muddies the water” on results.

“When you look at growth over two years, so how much the student grew from third to fifth grade, then it’s probably going to be a meaningful quantity,” he said. “But to then assert that it isolates the school contribution becomes a pretty tenuous assertion… It adds another thing that’s changing underneath the scene.”

In other words, it’s difficult to get a meaningful result given the current state of testing in Tennessee. I wrote recently about this very issue and the problem with the validity of the growth scores this year.

Additionally, two years ago, I pointed out the challenges the state would face when shifting to a new test. Keep in mind, this was before all the TNReady trouble that further muddied the waters. Here’s what I said in March of 2015:

Here’s the problem: There is no statistically valid way to predict expected growth on a new test based on the historic results of TCAP. First, the new test has (supposedly) not been fully designed. Second, the test is in a different format. It’s both computer-based and it contains constructed-response questions. That is, students must write-out answers and/or demonstrate their work.

Since Tennessee has never had a test like this, it’s impossible to predict growth at all. Not even with 10% confidence. Not with any confidence. It is the textbook definition of comparing apples to oranges.

The way to address this issue? Build multiple years of data in order to obtain reliable results:

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

So, now we have two challenges: We have two different types of tests AND we have a missing year of data. Either one of these challenges creates statistical problems. The combination of the two calls for a serious reset of the state’s approach to accountability.

As I suggested yesterday, taking the time to get this right would mean not using the TNReady data for accountability for teachers, students, or schools until 2019 at the earliest. If our state is committed to TNReady, we should be committed to getting it right. We’re spending a lot of money on both TNReady and on TVAAS. If we’re going to invest in these approaches, we should also take the time to be sure that investment yields useful, reliable information.

Why does any of this matter? Because, as Kebede points out:

At the same time, TVAAS scores for struggling schools will be a significant factor to determine which improvement tracks they will be be placed on under the state’s new accountability system as outlined in its plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. For some schools, their TVAAS score will be the difference between continuing under a local intervention model or being eligible to enter the state-run Achievement School District. The school growth scores will also determine which charter schools are eligible for a new pot of state money for facilities.

TVAAS scores also count in teacher evaluations. TNReady scores were expected to count in student grades until the quick scores weren’t back in time. If all goes well with the online administration of TNReady this year, the scores will count for students.

The state says TNReady matters. The state evaluates schools based on TVAAS scores. The state teacher evaluation formula includes TVAAS scores for teachers and TNReady scores as one measure of achievement that can be selected.

In short: Getting this right matters.

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