Students Will Suffer

Knox County School Board member Jennifer Owen offers an inside view of how Governor Haslam’s “listening tour” went down in Knoxville.

Her conclusion gets to the heart of why Tennessee education policy is where it is today:

While some of our legislators, in this ELECTION SEASON, are suddenly declaring that they disagree with all of this, we know that they have not stopped it, after EIGHT YEARS.  And if they haven’t stopped this after EIGHT YEARS, they sure as hell aren’t going to stop it just because there is a new governor in town.

As long as we keep these legislators, Tennessee students will continue to suffer, while parents, teachers, and the public are lied to, regarding trumped up visions of “successes” used to make the governor look like he has actually done something while in office.

If we keep doing the same thing, we’ll keep getting the same results. If we keep sending lawmakers to Nashville who support TNReady or get behind minor changes around the edges, we won’t see anything new in 2019 or beyond.

Owen was in the meeting in Knoxville and her full description of how it went down is worth a read.

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Scheduling Matters

Governor Bill Haslam held his first of six TNReady listening meetings in Knoxville last week. While the tour was initially billed as an open discussion of challenges and ways to improve the state test, the timing of the event and an approved guest list raised questions about the event.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports Haslam saying he did not intend to keep anyone out of the meeting, despite holding it at 3:00 PM when most teachers in Knox County are still required to be at work.

Knox County School Board Chair Patty Bounds noted:

“I was like, I can’t even imagine what they’re thinking or if they’re that out of touch,” Bounds said. “(Because of their) contract teachers can’t leave their building until 3:15 and for middle and high school, it’s later than that.”

Bounds questioned how the state could rationalize hand-picking the teachers allowed in the meeting Friday if they wanted a true listening tour.

The Directors of Schools in Nashville and Memphis have indicated support for pausing TNReady while the state transitions to a new Governor. This would allow the new Commissioner of Education time to digest feedback and work with a testing vendor to improve delivery.

In a similar vein, the Director of Schools in Maury County has suggested moving to the ACT suite of assessments and Wilson County is said to be exploring legislative options to move beyond the state-mandated test.

Despite criticism over the timing and invitation list for his first listening tour stop, Haslam’s second stop will be at Soddy-Daisy High School in Hamilton County on Tuesday, August 28th at 3:30 PM.

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When Gov Comes to Town

The first stop on Governor Bill Haslam’s TNReady “listening tour” is today at 3:00 PM local time at Halls Elementary School in Knoxville.

In the press release announcing the tour, the goals were stated as:

1. Engage in an open conversation about assessment and ways to improve administration;
2. Gather feedback that can inform a smooth delivery of state assessments this school year and beyond, including feedback on the selection of the state’s next assessment partner to be chosen later this school year;
3. Discuss how to better provide schools, educators, parents and students with meaningful and timely results from assessments; and
4. Distinguish assessment content from delivery in an effort to focus on the value assessments can provide.

Sounds great, right? An open conversation, gathering feedback, hearing from educators and parents about what’s needed to improve?

It might be of some value IF it were truly an open conversation. Here’s the problem: The event is at 3:00 PM when school is in session for many teachers in Knox County. That means, unless you teach at Halls, you likely can’t get there in time (it ends at 4:30) to weigh-in with your feedback.

At least the teachers and staff at Halls will be able to have a voice, right?

Nope. The principal at Halls and teachers there were told the event was “invitation only.” The Governor and Commissioner of Education have already decided who will be doing the talking.

Here’s more from a report on the ground describing what’s going down ahead of the PR event:

This is what my principal had to do today:

1)Spend his time going through the building with the Governor’s security detail instead of dealing with students.
2) Tell his teachers that they could not attend the TN Ready event.
3)Tell his teachers how to dress tomorrow
4) Have teachers….. who can’t attend (neither can he, evidently) set up tables and chairs for the attendees after school
5) Tell teachers that students could not use the library all day tomorrow (there goes effective plan time for 6 teachers)
6) Figure out a plan that would disrupt our dismissal as little as possible, since they insist on parking in the lot where parents circle around for the car rider line

So, Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen are coming to town with a pre-approved guest list and not, in fact, engaging in “an open conversation about assessment.”

 

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Listen With Your Ears

Today, Governor Bill Haslam announced a statewide “listening tour” to hear from educators about the challenges with TNReady and ways to make improvements going forward.

While I applaud the effort to listen to educators, it seems to be coming a little too late. It also seems the end goal has already been decided: Keep TNReady.

Interestingly, Commissioner McQueen has convened a “testing task force” several times during the years of TNReady. So far, no real improvements have come from these meetings.

It’s quite likely the educators on the front lines have some useful ideas about how to improve assessment in our state and I’m hopeful the next Governor will take those ideas into account.

It’s also worth noting that true listening requires significant effort and investment. As noted in the press release announcing the tour, preparation and implementation of this year’s TNReady will continue while the tour is being conducted.

Some have suggested hitting the pause button on TNReady this year and spending the year listening and working to improve assessment for the 2019-2020 school year. This would give the next Governor time to digest recommendations and move forward with improvements.

Here’s another interesting statement from the release:

“Tennessee’s unprecedented improvement in education is the result of high academic standards and an assessment that measures knowledge of those standards,” Haslam said. “Without aligned assessments, we don’t know where our students stand and where we need to improve. We finally have a test that is aligned to Tennessee’s strong academic standards, and I don’t want recent assessment delivery issues to cause us to lose sight of why we have these tests in the first place. Delivering the test without disruption is essential and we must get it right. I am confident this listening tour and process will inform the critical work ahead of us.”

The “unprecedented improvement” Haslam mentions is the whole “fastest-improving” line he so often uses in reference to the 2013 NAEP results. Of course, that happened BEFORE a single administration of TNReady. In fact, TNReady hadn’t even been invented at that point. Since 2013, Tennessee’s NAEP scores have (predictably) leveled off a bit.

In other words, if, as Haslam suggests, an aligned assessment (even one never successfully administered) is the key to “unprecedented” improvements for students, our test must not be that great. Or, maybe having an aligned assessment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Let me go on record as saying I think some form of assessment of student progress is useful. I also believe (as my past writing indicates) that attaching student grades or teacher evaluations to such an assessment is of dubious value.

I appreciate what Governor Haslam is trying to do with this listening tour. While I certainly have some ideas about alternatives to the current testing regime, I think policymakers should take some time and just listen. Listen to the professionals — the teachers in the classrooms who are with students each and every day. Don’t listen with the outcome in mind, don’t listen while also building an implementation process for this year, just listen.

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Perspective

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released district and school scores from this past year’s TNReady.

Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney puts the release in perspective:

Today’s release of value-added and achievement data punctuates last year’s statewide assessment challenges. We have made note of the state’s report. Our school community remains focused on providing WCS students with a balanced educational experience which promotes academics, athletics, and the arts.

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Battle Lines Being Drawn

Last week, the School Superintendents in Memphis and Nashville wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen calling for a pause in TNReady. The letter indicated the leaders had “no confidence” in TNReady. Following the letter, the Knox County School Board voted 8-1 to send a letter to Governor Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in the Department of Education. Later that week, the Director of Schools in Maury County said he agreed with the idea of pausing TNReady and suggested moving to the ACT suite of assessments.

Today, Commissioner McQueen issued a response. According to Chalkbeat, her response indicates that pausing TNReady would be “illegal and inconsistent with our values as a state.”

McQueen cites federal and state law requiring test administration. Here’s the deal: The entity that determines the penalty for violating state law regarding testing is the Department of Education. The penalty they can use is withholding BEP funds. This is the threat they used back in 2016 to force districts to back down on threats to halt testing then.

Let’s be clear: The Tennessee Department of Education is the enforcer of the state testing mandate. The DOE could refuse to penalize districts who paused testing OR the DOE could take the suggestion made by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville and just hit the pause button for this year and work toward an effective administration of testing for 2019-20.

Next, McQueen cites federal law. I’ve written about why this is misguided. Here’s more:

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.

That’s right, the federal government tends to leave decisions regarding punishment up to the states. Of course, Tennessee could also request a 1-year waiver of ESSA requirements in order to further clarify the need to get testing right. In short, the only problem now is McQueen’s unwillingness to admit failure and take aggressive steps to make improvement.

McQueen also says that halting testing is “inconsistent” with Tennessee values.

While in McQueen’s world, halting testing is inconsistent with our state’s values, lying about why testing isn’t working is apparently perfectly fine. Oh, and playing a game with testing vendors? No problem!

McQueen claims that we need the tests to help identify gaps in education delivery in traditionally under-served students. Yes, having a working annual assessment can be a helpful tool in identifying those gaps. But, when the test doesn’t work — when students get the wrong test, when the testing climate is not consistent — then we get results that are unreliable. That helps no one.

What should be consistent with Tennessee values is taking the time to get testing right. That means ensuring it’s not disruptive to the instruction process and the results are useful and returned to students, teachers, and parents in a timely fashion.

Will McQueen’s letter deter other district leaders from speaking out on TNReady? Will there be additional fallout from the DOE’s failure to effectively administer Pre-K/K portfolios?

Stay tuned.

 

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Blood in the Water

The Director of Schools in Maury County has joined those in Memphis and Nashville in calling for a pause in TNReady as a result of repeated problems with the testing platform.

The Columbia Daily Herald reports Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak said he agrees with the letter sent by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville. Marczak offered an alternative:

“I believe it would be best for us to focus solely on the ACT and align ourselves with outcomes that can affect students’ college acceptance and scholarship ability,” Marczak said.

Maury County district leadership has indicated the results from this year’s botched test administration are of limited value:

“Due to the issues with testing, we will not be adding TNReady/EOC data to the Keys’ scorecards for either the district or the school levels when they eventually come in,” Marczak said in an email sent to staff in July. “In light of the numerous testing issues, please know that the results of the assessments will be used to inform conversation only. These are the conversations we will have with principals and the principals will have with teachers/staffs.”

In response to the ongoing testing issues, Marczak shared accounts of students completing 75-minute long examinations in 10 minutes. When reviewing the examinations, Marczak said the district had over 600 missing scores. Questar, the contractor hired by the state to administer the test, reported that 600 individual assessments were incomplete.

Despite the growing concern over the inability to effectively administer the TNReady test, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen has said the test is still an important tool:

TNReady serves as a vital feedback loop for teachers, parents, and administrators to tell us where we are, and the results inform what steps we need to take to help all students and schools succeed.”

TNReady might be an important feedback loop if it ever worked the way it was intended. But it hasn’t. Instead, it’s been fraught with problems since the beginning. Now, education leaders are standing up and speaking out.

The push to pause TNReady and possibly move forward with a different measure comes at the same time the TDOE is being taken to task for a failure to properly execute Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolios. Knox County’s School Board last night voted to send a message that they have “no confidence” in the portfolio process or in the TDOE.

The push against TNReady from key district leaders figures to make the test and overall administration of the Department of Education a key issue in the 2018 gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

 

 

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“No Confidence” in TNReady

Just days after members of the Knox County School Board took the Tennessee Department of Education to task for “incompetence” and an “abject failure” to measure student achievement or teacher performance, the Directors of the state’s two largest school districts, Nashville and Memphis, sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Governor Bill Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in TNReady and asking the state to pause the test.

The letter, signed by Nashville’s Shawn Joseph and Shelby County’s Dorsey Hopson, says in part:

“We respectfully ask the State to hit the pause button on TNReady in order to allow the next Governor and Commissioner to convene a statewide working group of educators to sort out the myriad challenges in a statewide, collaborative conversation.”

The two leaders, whose districts represent 20 percent of all students in Tennessee, note:

“We are challenged to explain to teachers, parents, and students why they must accept the results of a test that has not been effectively deployed.”

The language from these two directors is the strongest yet from any district and the first to call for an outright stop to administration of the TNReady test while the state explores other options. Johnson City’s school board sent a proposal asking for a significant reduction in testing while Wilson County is exploring the possibility of administering a different test altogether. At the same time, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney expressed concern about the poor administration of this year’s test.

It seems clear there is growing concern among educators about the continued use of TNReady. As Joseph and Hopson note, taxpayer resources have been invested in a test that is poorly implemented and yields suspect results. Taking their suggestion of a pause could give the state and a new Governor and Education Commissioner time to actually develop a process for administering an aligned assessment that does not disrupt instruction and does return useful, meaningful results to teachers, parents, and students.

Here’s the letter:

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Haslam’s TNReady Pit

Chalkbeat has a story demonstrating just how out of touch outgoing Governor Bill Haslam is. The story details Haslam’s belief that tying teacher evaluation to TNReady results is a key element in Tennessee’s recent education success.

Here’s some truth: Over the past few years, Tennessee has seen high school graduation rates and average ACT scores climb while also seeing the number of students requiring remediation at state schools decline. All of that is encouraging. All of it happened in a climate where the TNReady test was unreliable and poorly administered. In other words, Tennessee’s testing system had nothing to do with student performance. All other indicators point to teachers getting the job done and students hitting ever higher marks.

Here’s more truth:

Does basing teacher evaluation on student test scores get results that impact student outcomes?

No.

That’s the conclusion from a years-long study funded by the Gates Foundation that included Memphis/Shelby County Schools.

It’s also worth noting that while Haslam touts the “fastest-improving” NAEP results from back in 2013, further evidence suggests the results then were likely an outlier.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

Gov. Bill Haslam says he had a “pit” in his stomach every day of Tennessee’s testing season this spring when a parade of technical problems vexed students and teachers in the bumpy transition to computerized exams.

He also worries that three straight years of frustrations with the state’s 3-year-old standardized assessment, TNReady, could unravel policies that he believes led to students’ gains on national tests.

“Do we really want to go back? Do we really want to go back to when Tennessee was in the 40s out of the states ranked 1 to 50?”  the outgoing Republican governor asked recently in an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat.

First, no serious policymaker is suggesting Tennessee adopt weaker or lower standards for students.

Second, as noted above, other significant indicators demonstrate Tennessee students are improving — even without a reliable annual test.

Third, Haslam’s “beliefs” about policies have not been tested on a statewide level – in part due to the failure of his own Administration to execute the tests. Haslam has allowed Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen to keep her job despite multiple testing failures with different vendors. In fact, Haslam joined McQueen in touting a “new” testing vendor that turned out to actually be the parent company of the current vendor.

More from Chalkbeat:

“Hopefully Tennessee and the new administration won’t have the same struggles we’ve had this year with testing. But there will be some struggles; there just are by the very nature of it,” he said. “I worry that the struggles will cause us to say, ‘OK, we give. We’re no longer going to have an evaluation that’s tied to an assessment.’

To this, I’d note that experts suggest no state has had a more tumultuous transition to online testing than Tennessee:

“I’m not aware of a state that has had a more troubled transition” to online testing, said Douglas A. Levin of the consulting group EdTech Strategies.

In terms of an evaluation tied to an assessment, even if TNReady had gone well, the results in the initial years would not be in any way valid for use in teacher evaluation. That’s because the nature of value-added assessment requires multiple years of similar testing in order to produce results that are even vaguely reliable predictors of teacher performance. Here’s a bit more on that:

Here’s what Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) had to say in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

And they concluded:

Our results provide a clear example that caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects because there is the potential for teacher performance to depend on the skills that are measured by the achievement tests.

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.

But, TNReady hasn’t gone well. At all. It’s been so bad, the Department of Education has been unveiling a bunch of pie charts to demonstrate how they are attempting to correlate test scores and teacher evaluation. First, it went like this:

Second, this chart is crazy. A teacher’s growth score is factored on tests from three different years and three types of tests.

15% of the growth score comes from the old TCAP (the test given in 2014-15, b/c the 2015-16 test had some problems). Then, 10% comes from last year’s TNReady, which was given on paper and pencil. Last year was the first year of a full administration of TNReady, and there were a few problems with the data calculation. A final 10% comes from this year’s TNReady, given online.

So, you have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.

There is no way this creates any kind of valid score related to teacher performance. At all.

After teachers expressed outrage that the DOE was going to count this year’s scores in their evaluations, the legislature finally took action and passed legislation that said teachers could face “no adverse action” based on this year’s test results.

So, now the Department of Education has more pie charts and a lot of explanations:

What is included in teacher evaluation generally?

There are many factors that go into a teacher’s overall evaluation. One of those, the individual growth component (in gray in the charts in this document), is typically based on a three-year TVAAS measure if data is available. However, for the phase-in period there are two key items to note for the growth component:

• If the current single-year year growth score – in this case, 2017-18 data – provides the educator with a higher overall composite, it will be used as the full growth score.

• Additionally, if a teacher has 2017-18 TNReady data included in any part of their evaluation, they will be able to nullify their entire LOE this year.

What is included in teacher evaluation in 2017-18 for a teacher with 3 years of TVAAS data?

There are three composite options for this teacher:

• Option 1: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 10%, TVAAS data from 2016-17 will be factored in at 10% and TVAAS data from 2015-16 will be factored in at 15% if it benefits the teacher.

• Option 2: TVAAS data from 2017-18 and 2016-17 will be factored in at 35%.

• Option 3: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 35%. The option that results in the highest LOE for the teacher will be automatically applied. Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

And if you only have one or two years of TVAAS data or if you teach in a non-tested subject? Well, the key line continues to apply: Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

What does this mean? Well, it means you’d have a year with no evaluation score. Sounds fine, right? No. It’s not fine. In order to achieve tenure, a teacher must have consecutive years of evaluation scores at Level 4 or 5. But a year with no score at all means that teacher would then need to have TWO MORE YEARS of high scores in order to be tenure eligible. While it seems unlikely a teacher would choose to nullify their entire score if they achieved a high rank, it also seems only fair to allow that teacher to simply exclude the TNReady data and receive their LOE rating based on all the other factors that go into a TEAM rating.

But wait, excluding 2017-18 TNReady data is NOT an option provided. It’s either count it as 10%, count it as 35%, or nullify your entire LOE score. Doing so could certainly have an adverse impact on a teacher.

In short, the TNReady mess has made teacher evaluation a mess. Still, a host of indicators suggest Tennessee’s teachers are hitting the mark. One might conclude that tying a suspect teacher evaluation model to an unreliable test is, in fact, not the key to educational progress in our state. Unfortunately, Governor Bill Haslam has concluded the opposite.

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Tempered Enthusiasm

Following last week’s release of TNReady results, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney offered words of caution in interpreting the results.

The Williamson Herald has the story:

Looney said he was proud of how well WCS students, parents, teachers and staff responded to the testing in light of its documented flaws, and he was pleased with the fact that the district remained in the top five in every test and grade level.

“However,” he said in a statement released by WCS, “it would be disingenuous to fully celebrate without acknowledging the problems experienced by students, parents and teachers during last year’s testing process.”

While clearly frustrated with continued TNReady problems, Looney offered hope for a reliable assessment in the future:

“While I am so sorry that our students and teachers had to endure last year’s State testing experience, moving forward, we are optimistic that our students will be able to show what they know with a reliable and functional assessment. As a district, we will continue to be laser focused on success for all students.”

MORE on TNReady:

It’s all been a pack of lies

Beyond TNReady

Definitely something wrong

One glaring exception

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