Seeping Scores Sour School Board

Members of the Murfreesboro City School Board are not happy with the slow pace of results coming from the state’s new TNReady test. All seven elected board members sent a letter to Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen expressing their concerns.

The Daily News Journal reports:

“However, currently those test scores seep ever-so-slowly back to their source of origin from September until January,” the letter states. “And every year, precious time is lost. We encourage you to do everything possible to get test results — all the test results — to schools in a timely manner.

“We also encourage you to try to schedule distribution of those results at one time so that months are not consumed in interpreting, explaining and responding to those results,” the letter continued.

A Department of Education spokesperson suggested the state wants the results back sooner, too:

“We know educators, families and community members want these results so they can make key decisions and improve, and we want them to be in their hands as soon as possible,” Gast said.. “We, at the department, also desire these results sooner.”

Of course, this is the same department that continues to have trouble releasing quick score data in time for schools to use it in student report cards. In fact, this marked the fourth consecutive year there’s been a problem with end of year data — either timely release of that data or clear calculation of the data.

TDOE spokesperson Sara Gast went further in distancing the department from blame, saying:

Local schools should go beyond TNReady tests in determining student placement and teacher evaluations, Gast said.

“All personnel decisions, including retaining, placing, and paying educators, are decisions that are made locally, and they are not required to be based on TNReady results,” Gast said. “We hope that local leaders use multiple sources of feedback in making those determinations, not just one source, but local officials have discretion on their processes for those decisions.”

Here’s the problem with that statement: This is THE test. It is the test that determines a school’s achievement and growth score. It is THE test used to calculate an (albeit invalid) TVAAS score for teachers. It is THE test used in student report cards (when the quick scores come back on time). This is THE test.

Teachers are being asked RIGHT NOW to make choices about the achievement measure they will be evaluated on for their 2017-18 TEAM evaluation. One choice: THE test. The TNReady test. But there aren’t results available to allow teachers and principals to make informed choices.

One possible solution to the concern expressed by the Murfreesboro School Board is to press the pause button. That is, get the testing right before using it for any type of accountability measure. Build some data in order to establish the validity of the growth scores. Administer the test, get the results back, and use the time to work out any challenges. Set a goal of 2019 to have full use of TNReady results.

Another solution is to move to a different set of assessments. Students in Tennessee spend a lot of time taking tests. Perhaps a set of assessments that was less time-consuming could allow for both more instructional time and more useful feedback. I’ve heard some educators suggest the ACT suite of assessments could be adapted in a way that’s relevant to Tennessee classrooms.

It will be interesting to see if more school districts challenge the Department of Education on the current testing situation.

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


 

Data Wars

Candice McQueen has set up a showdown with the state’s two largest school districts over student data sharing and charter schools.

McQueen sent a letter to Shelby County Schools and shared the same letter with MNPS. In the letter, she notes a new state law requiring school districts to share student data with charter schools upon request. The data is used so that charter schools can market to potential students.

Here’s how Chalkbeat reports on the Shelby County issue:

Commissioner Candice McQueen directed Superintendent Dorsey Hopson on Monday to immediately share the information requested by Green Dot Public Schools. She said the district’s refusal violates a new state law by withholding information that charter operators need to recruit students and market their programs.

Shelby County Schools has not yet said they will comply with McQueen’s request.

The primary sticking point seems to be with the charter schools that are now part of the Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD’s experience in Shelby County has been troubled, at best. From communication challenges to struggling performance, the ASD has not lived up to expectations.

For its part, MNPS is beginning to take steps to restrict the data available to the ASD.

Jason Gonzalez reports in the Tennessean:

The practice of providing charter schools with student contact information has been common in Nashville, but board members bristled on Tuesday over the sharing of information with the Achievement School District.

While not a final vote, the board took a crucial step forward with a new policy that will not release contact information to the Achievement School District.

The policy moved out of committee with 7 board members in favor, Jo Ann Brannon abstaining and Mary Pierce voting against the proposal.

The key question now is: What happens if Shelby County and MNPS refuse to share this data? What penalty might they face?

Gonzalez notes:

In 2012, Metro Schools decided to reject the Great Hearts Academies charter schools application — after the state directed it not to do so — and then-Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman docked Nashville $3.4 million in education funds.

Similarly, during the TNReady testing fiasco, McQueen threatened districts with a funding penalty.

It’s not yet clear what will happen this time, but it seems like a financial penalty will ultimately be on the table if the two districts fail to comply.

Stay tuned, the data wars are beginning.

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


 

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


 

More Testing, Please

Even with proposals that reduced total testing time this year, Tennessee students spent about twice as much time taking tests than they did in 2012.

Chalkbeat has more:

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.

The Tennessee Education Association had this to say about the trend:

“While Tennessee is just at the beginning of the TNReady experiment, most teachers and parents believe there is too much time spent on testing and test prep,” says a statement by the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Tennessee is part of a nationwide trend toward longer tests, as states move away from purely multiple-choice assessments to ones with questions that are supposed to be better measure student learning — and take more time to answer.

Testing mandates increasing:

In addition to TNReady, the state mandated 14 separate tests this school year, including short diagnostic assessments for its intervention program, called RTI.

The new normal?

While TNReady has been disappointing in terms of the crash last year and the quick score mess this year, it appears it will continue to be the norm for Tennessee schools going forward.

More tests. Longer tests. All to satisfy the demand for accountability. We still don’t know how well TNReady works to assess standards because it simply failed last year. We haven’t seen test questions or answers. And while some parents attempt to opt-out, Commissioner McQueen stands against allowing that choice.

When resisting opt-out, McQueen and others often cite federal law requiring districts to test 95% of their students. But, here’s the thing:

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.

As we see both problems with test administration and score delivery, we may also see more parents move to opt their children out of the growing number of tests students face. It’s important to note that when those wishing to opt-out are told it will cost their district money, that claim is not backed up by any federal action. It’s up to Tennessee’s Department of Education to decide whether or not to allow opt-outs or to punish districts by withholding funds. Ultimately, the Department of Education is accountable to the General Assembly.

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


 

It Wasn’t Me

TNReady results may or may not be included in your student’s report card, though we do know that more than 75% of districts won’t get scores back before the end of May. Don’t worry, though, it’s nobody’s fault.

Certainly, it’s not the responsibility of the Department of Education or Commissioner Candice McQueen to ensure that results are back in a timely fashion.

Today, Commissioner McQueen sent out an update to educators about assessments. There was some interesting information about TNReady going forward and about the timeline for scores for this year’s tests.

Not included? Any sort of apology about the TNReady quick score issue.

Instead, here’s what McQueen had to say:

Finally, I want to share an update on the delivery of raw scores for the 2016-17 assessment. We have received raw score data for nearly all EOC subjects, and grades 3–8 data continues to come in daily. We are in communication with your district leaders regarding the delivery of raw score data. State law and state board rule provides district choice on whether to include TNReady in grades if scores are not received within five days of the end of the school year. If you have questions about your particular district’s timeline or any decisions about including TNReady data in grades, I encourage you to reach out to your local leaders.

Got a problem or question about TNReady data and your student’s scores? Don’t ask Candice McQueen or the Department of Education. Ask your local leaders. Because, after all, we’ve been giving them all the relevant information in the most timely fashion.

I would suggest that leaders at TDOE just apologize and say it won’t happen again. But, as I mentioned, we’ve had testing challenges for four consecutive years now.

Here’s one word of advice to district leaders and teachers: Next year, when the Department of Education says everything is fine, it just might not be. Here’s something you can count on, though: It won’t be the responsibility of anyone at TDOE.

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


 

A Teacher Takes on TNReady

Educator Mike Stein offers his take on the latest trouble with TNReady.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

TNReady is supposed to count for 10% of the students’ second semester grade and of the teachers’ evaluation scores. I had multiple students ask me before the test if it was really going to count this year. I told them it was going to count, and that the state was confident that they would return the results in time. Unlike last year, the Tennessee Department of Education had not announced anything to the contrary, so the students actually seemed to try. Sadly, the state has has once again let them down. They have also let down all of the teachers who worked so diligently trying to ensure that their students demonstrate growth on this ridiculously long, tedious, and inaccurate measure of content knowledge.

And he offers this insight:

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.

Check out the entire post and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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


 

 

 

 

Not Exactly Helpful

In a story yesterday about TNReady scores not being ready in time to be counted in student final grades, I noted a statement published in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle and attributed to Tennessee Department of Education spokesperson Sara Gast. Here’s that statement again:

But Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said school districts would receive their scores based on how quickly they returned their materials.

This was the first week school districts could receive data back, and districts across the state will get their scores on a rolling basis over the next couple of week through the week of June 5, she said.

She said some districts will not get their scores in time to be counted in final grades “because they did not meet the deadlines.”

Since then, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools has posted an update on their Facebook page:

The state department of Education has clarified that CMCSS did NOT miss any deadlines. According to Sara Gast from the Tennessee Department of Education, “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.”

What’s not clear from this statement is whether it was anticipated that scores would not be ready by the end of school depending on the track chosen by districts.

It’s also interesting how the DOE’s explanation has shifted from blaming districts for missing deadlines to now saying that having more than 75% of districts not getting scores back before the end of the year was the plan all along.

I offered a solution yesterday. It’s simple, really.

Stop using this single test as the primary indicator of student performance, teacher effectiveness, and school accountability.

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


 

 

The Buck Stops Nowhere

By now it is clear that TNReady simply didn’t go as planned this year. Sure, the tests were administered and students completed them — largely on pencil and paper. But, the raw data from the tests used to generate the “quick scores” for student grades isn’t getting back to districts on time. At least not in time to include it in report cards.

The Department of Education says that’s the fault of districts. Here’s how a TN DOE spokesperson explained it to the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle:

But Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said school districts would receive their scores based on how quickly they returned their materials.

This was the first week school districts could receive data back, and districts across the state will get their scores on a rolling basis over the next couple of week through the week of June 5, she said.

She said some districts will not get their scores in time to be counted in final grades “because they did not meet the deadlines.”

The district says that’s simply not the case and that they met the established timeline:

Shelton said tests from all Clarksville-Montgomery County schools were definitely turned in according to the state’s timeline to have them back before schools let out Wednesday, and the school district was not at fault.

All of this may sound a bit familiar to those who watched the blame game play out last year during the total meltdown of TNReady.

Then, neither testing vendor Measurement, Inc. nor the Department of Education took responsibility for a test that clearly failed.

Here’s what’s interesting this year. The state admits that more than 75% of districts will not get scores back on time. This, they claim, is because of missed deadlines. Districts dispute that claim.

Educators will tell you that if more than 75% of students miss a test question or fail a test, there’s a problem – and the problem is with the question or the test, not the students. More than 75% of districts supposedly missed established deadlines. It seems clear the Department of Education has a problem. It’s also clear that adults are failing kids.

Students are told the tests matter. They are told the tests factor into grades. Schools are held accountable based on results. Despite statistical validity issues, the test is used to evaluate teachers — so, those teachers reinforce the importance of the test to their students.

Then, after the answer sheets have been bubbled in and the test booklets sent to the vendor for grading, students are told the tests won’t count. Or, they may count, but report cards will be late. But it’s okay. The adults got it wrong. Just keep showing up and taking the test seriously. No big deal.

If you want the students to take testing seriously, you should take your job seriously. This is the fourth year in a row that there have been challenges with testing and/or returning results. When district leaders have stood up and spoken out, Commissioner McQueen has threatened to withhold funding.

Here’s a crazy idea: Stop using this single test as the primary indicator of student performance, teacher effectiveness, and school accountability.

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