PET Talks TNReady

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee 

Tennessee has made a decade long effort to raise ours standards in public education, with mixed results and contentious debate among stakeholders and policymakers. We have high expectations for our students and our schools, which is a point all can agree upon. The appropriate role of assessment is still being debated. Getting it right is important. We need an accurate measure of student achievement and we must treat LEA’s and our educators fairly in this process.

We agree with the Tennessee Department of Education’s opinion that in previous transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term. We believe policymakers should continue to see Tennessee students perform better on national assessments.

One thing is certain: “This year’s scores cannot be compared to last year’s TCAP. And it is not practical to judge schools, students or educators by these results as we establish a new baseline with first year TNReady results” according to JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Professional Educators of Tennessee would caution policymakers to be less concerned with these test scores, especially with the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience. We should put more emphasis on the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life. To that end we continue to work with the department to reduce the amount of standardized testing in our classrooms. And we are pleased that they have been proactive in that arena with us. TNReady is apparently on track to run smoothly this school year, and a lot of work is currently underway to ensure success. It is also important to know that the new testing vendor Questar, as well as the TNDOE, is making a genuine effort to work with classroom educators across the state to provide responsive customer service and high quality assessments.

In Tennessee, Questar is responsible for developing, administering, scoring and providing reports for the TNReady assessment program, including grades 3 through 8 State Summative Assessment in ELA and Math as well as State End-of-Course Assessments in ELA I, II, III; Algebra I and II; Geometry; and Integrated Math I, II, and III.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

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


 

Assessment Update: Eliminating Part I, Reducing Testing Time, and Online Assessment Rollout

In an email to all Tennessee teachers, Commissioner Candice McQueen had the following updates to give regarding the upcoming year’s assessment, which includes eliminating Part I, reducing testing time, and a rollout of online assessments:

This summer we announced how we’re streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year.:

  • We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year, which will be April 17–May 5, 2017. High school students on block schedule will take fall EOCs November 28–December 16.
  • We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200–210 minutes shorter than last year; in high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes.
  • We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar, our new testing vendor, to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history & geography exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
  • In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place during the operational testing window near the end of the year. Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window.

You can find more detailed information in our original email announcement (here) and in our updated FAQ (here). 

WTF ASD?

On the heels of announcing bold expansion plans that may take it to Chattanooga, the Tennessee Achievement School District received some bad news from state auditors.

Andy Sher at the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports:

The audit said that the Comptroller’s office has previously “reported deficiencies in ASD’s internal controls and noncompliance with federal program requirements, resulting in approximately $721,000 of federal questioned cost.”

Sher notes:

On March 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, released an audit of Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant, which included funds spent by the ASD.

“This federal audit identified similar internal control deficiencies and areas of federal noncompliance with the Race to the Top grant at ASD,” the latest Comptroller notes. “During our current audit, we continued to find similar issues relating to fiscal deficiencies and noncompliance, but we have also identified new areas of deficiencies related to human resources and purchasing cards.”

At a legislative hearing today, Tennessee Department of Education Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Kathleen Airhart told lawmakers that as of July 1, the Department now oversees the ASD’s finances. Airhart said the problems in the audit have been addressed.

Who could have guessed that a school district that spends its funds on cocktail receptions and then hides the social media invite when called out would have problems with fiscal management?

Not to worry, though, now the Department of Education is overseeing ASD operations. Yes, the same group that brought Tennessee the not-so-impressive TNReady rollout is now managing the ASD’s fiscal policy.

Sher called the ASD’s financial management “chaotic” in his article.

The reality is, the entire ASD has been chaotic and rather disruptive.

Auditors are in the business of finding mistakes, of course. It would be one thing if the ASD had a stellar track record of proven results and could blame the audit findings on an unrelenting focus on student success. Unfortunately, the evidence so far suggests otherwise.

So, you have a state-run school district that is failing to produce promised results at the same time it’s spending money with little oversight. So far, that hasn’t resulted in a halt to the ASD’s expansion plans.

Will 2017 be the year the legislature finally regains control of the district it created?

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


 

 

 

Chattanooga in Talks for Expansion Team

The state’s fourth-largest school district will soon be in talks to become the next location of an expansion franchise in the school takeover league known as the Achievement School District (ASD). With 33 schools under its control, the ASD is considered the major league in the school takeover world.

Laura Faith Kebede reports on this development at Chalkbeat:

Leaders of the Achievement School District will begin talks with district and community leaders in Hamilton County in the coming months, according to Robert S. White, the ASD’s chief of external affairs.

The development comes despite a lack of current data due to the failure of this year’s administration of TNReady.

League leaders say a lack of data won’t slow them down as they aggressively pursue expansion in 2018 and beyond:

The ASD’s next steps have been made more challenging by the lack of test score data across Tennessee due the state’s late-spring cancellation of most of its TNReady tests. But after the hiatus year, White said he expects the state-run district to continue to take control of priority schools, even as the state rolls out a new assessment by a new test maker this coming year.

“You won’t see that two years in a row,” he said of the takeover hiatus.

The league also didn’t rule out an expansion in Nashville, where a contentious battle in 2014 resulted in Neely’s Bend Middle School “winning” ASD franchise status.

Despite an initial plan focused on stellar turnarounds of struggling schools, the ASD has a reputation for taking low-performing schools, handing them over to charter-operator general managers, and watching as the results are rarely better than under previous management teams.

The Memphis franchise(s) have been plagued with unrest from “fans” expecting the league to live up to its promises.

In fact, one local group has asked the league to stop looking to Memphis for new expansion teams. Due to what it considers market saturation, that’s a request the league is likely to honor in the short term.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga awaits word regarding which eligible school(s) could get the call from the school takeover major league.

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


 

2016-17 TCAP Blueprints Available

According to an email last week from Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, updated blueprints for TNReady — designed to provide guidance to teachers — are now available.

Here’s the email:

Last week I shared important assessment updates for the 2016-17 school year. Highlights from this announcement include moving to one assessment window, reducing testing time, and adopting a phase-in approach as we transition to online assessments. In case you missed it, you can view this update here.

Today I’m excited to share more information about our 2016-17 TCAP assessments, including updated assessment blueprints for the TNReady 3-8 and End of Course tests, as well as the blueprints for the optional second-grade assessment. These are designed to offer an overview of the structure of the test and help you plan your instruction. You can view the updated blueprints here.

Thank you for your patience as we’ve worked with our new assessment vendor to ensure these blueprints are helpful and provide an accurate reflection of the tests your students will take. We’ll continue to update our assessment website (here) with additional guidance and resources; additionally, you can find practice materials in EdTools, and your local testing coordinator can help you access those resources, if needed.

While blueprints and practice resources offer helpful guidance, the best preparation for student success is high-quality instruction every day. Our assessments are fully aligned to our current academic standards, which you can view here.

 

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


 

 

Testing Time Reduced for 2016-17

The Tennessee Department of Education announced yesterday it is reducing the amount of time students will spend testing in the upcoming school year. The release comes shortly after the announcement of a new testing vendor.

Here’s the full release:

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced significant changes to state assessments today that respond to feedback from educators, parents, and students—including eliminating Part I in all subjects, restructuring the test to better fit within the school day and year, and reducing overall testing time. The changes come as the department finalizes its contract with Questar, the primary vendor for the 2016-17 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).

“We have learned a tremendous amount from our testing experience this past year, and we want to make the right adjustments to create a positive, balanced culture around testing in Tennessee’s classrooms,” McQueen said. “These adjustments will give educators a greater ability to maximize rich, well-rounded instruction for all our students. We are still working toward the same goal of providing aligned, rigorous assessments to measure what our students know and can do, but now we have a smarter logistical approach and a strong partnership with Questar to achieve this goal.”

Overall, testing time has been reduced by nearly a third. The exact reductions vary by grade. In grades 3-8, students will have tests that are a total of 200-210 minutes shorter. As an example, for a typical third grader, the 2016-17 TCAP assessments will be shorter by three and a half hours compared to last year. In high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes. For a typical eleventh grader, this would mean the 2016-17 TCAP End of Course assessments will be shorter in total by 225 minutes—or three hours and 45 minutes—compared to last year.

One assessment window at the end of the school year

TCAP has been the state’s testing program since 1988, and it includes state assessments in math, English language arts, social studies, and science. As the state has transitioned to higher academic standards in math and English language arts over the past several years, those tests have become better aligned to what educators are teaching. The assessments now include rigorous questions that measure students’ writing, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

The 2016-17 TCAP will be given in one assessment window at the end of the school year, and the tests for the four subjects have been divided into shorter subparts. This change is in response to feedback from district and school administrators, who expressed some difficulty with fitting the longer sections into the regular school day. The new timing is outlined on the department’s website. These reductions and adjustments reflect Commissioner McQueen’s desire to reduce testing and streamline administration while still providing students with ample opportunity to do their best work. The specific changes to each subject area are included in the department’s fact sheet.

In addition, the 2016-17 social studies test in grades 3-8 will be a field test. Field tests are not reportable and do not factor into students’ grades or educators’ evaluations, and they will provide the department with information to develop an assessment for the 2017-18 school year. There will also be a separate field test for the English and U.S. history writing prompts. One-third to one-half of students will participate in the field test each year on a rotating basis. Based on educator feedback, the department is administering these writing field tests at a separate time to address concerns about students’ stamina to complete two writing prompts during the main testing window.

Tennessee teachers already have significant input in the test development process as they review and approve every TCAP question, including those that will be on the 2016-17 assessment. Starting this fall, Tennessee teachers will also be engaged in developing and writing questions for future TCAP administrations.

Contract finalized with new vendor

As part of today’s announcements, Commissioner McQueen shared that the department has fully executed a two-year contract with Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessments, to administer the 2016-17 TCAP. Questar has experience developing a statewide test on a similar expedited timeframe as well as with administering it at a scale even larger than Tennessee’s.

Last week, the department announced it intended to award the contract to Questar. As part of that announcement, Commissioner McQueen also announced that the department would phase in online testing over the next three years, with a paper option always available for the youngest students. In the 2016-17 school year, all testing in grades 3-8 will be done on paper. High schools will have the option to test online if they and Questar show early readiness for online administration, but districts can choose paper for their high school students if they prefer.

As part of its contract with Questar, the department has made a number of improvements to testing timelines, including working with the vendor to expedite the overall scoring process so the assessment can be administered in one window and ultimately, results can be delivered to schools and families more quickly.

Resources for schools, educators, and families

Following the execution of the contract, the department immediately began to finalize resources to familiarize students, parents, and teachers with the 2016-17 TCAP.

The assessments are designed so that the best test preparation is strong teaching and learning every day. Questions on the 2016-17 test will be similar to those students saw last year. To help students become familiar with the test format in advance, this fall students and teachers will have access to sample test questions. Practice tests will also be available in EdTools, an online platform for educators and district leaders, in August.

The department is also finalizing test blueprints, which map out exactly what standards will be covered on the test, and expects to release these by the end of July. In addition, the department is also working on guides for families and educators, which will be shared with district leaders and on the department website within the month.

To help address questions about today’s announcements and next year’s test, the department has prepared a Q&A document that can be accessed here and will be updated as more details become available.

 

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


 

Questar’s Challenge

After missing a self-imposed deadline to select a new testing vendor, the Tennessee Department of Education finally announced Questar as the choice to design and implement TNReady for the 2016-17 school year and beyond.

Questar is tasked with picking up the pieces of the mess left by Measurement Inc’s testing failures last year. There’s plenty of information about the struggle leading up to last year’s debacle, and it’s information Questar may want to study closely.

Questar does have a record of coming in to fix a previous vendor’s mistakes. Most notably, in New York. Interestingly, Questar used questions designed and developed by Pearson (the previous vendor) in the first year of new tests in New York.

This arrangement is not uncommon and in fact, is similar to Measurement Inc’s contract with AIR to provide questions from Utah’s test for TNReady.

However, such an arrangement is not without problems.

Politico reported on challenges last year when Questar took over New York’s testing. Specifically:

An error found in the fifth- through eighth-grade English exam, and one that the state education department already has advised will be in the math exams, hasn’t helped the situation.

The tests directed students to plan their written answers to exam questions on “Planning Pages,” however no planning pages were included in the test booklets, according to a report from the Buffalo News.

Pearson immediately released a statement saying the design error was not its fault and Questar said the tests were still valid and blamed the transition for the error.

It’s the type of blame game that may sound familiar to those who watched this year’s TNReady fiasco.

A blog post from a parent blog in New York describes how the error unfolded. Schools were notified well into the test administration:

The message was sent at 9:09 AM from SED and I saw [it] at 9:30 …when most students are done and have turned in their books…. Even if an administrator is on their email all day (which they aren’t) it is too late to walk around on tests that started at 8:00 to interrupt testing rooms to correct the mistake.

And while Questar gets high marks for its transparency efforts, some see a bit lacking in that department as well:

It is true that the amount of operational test material and the number of items disclosed is more than was given out in each of the prior three years of Pearson’s core-aligned testing. And since 2012, this is the earliest this has happened. [Note: When CTB/McGraw-Hill was the test publisher during the NCLB years, the complete test was accessible to the public on SED’s web site within weeks of its administration, along with answer keys. Item analysis data followed shortly thereafter.]
Upon review of the just-released spring 2016 testing output, however, certain useful data have not been made available. SED has been moved to offer us a translucent view of the exams, but it still is not being entirely transparent.

The bottom line: Questar is walking into quite a mess in Tennessee. It’s something they are surely aware of and something they have experience handling.

Going forward, the question will be how does Questar work with TNDOE to bring transparency and efficacy to a process that lacked both in 2015-16?

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


 

 

 

Questar Picked as New Testing Vendor

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced a new testing vendor, Questar, for the 2016 – 2017 school year. The announcement comes after an important testing deadline was passed over with no announcement of a vendor.

What’s new?

  • Paper assessments for grades 3-8 for the 2016 – 2017 school year
  • The department will try to have an online option for high school EOCs
  • Testing will be reduced and streamlined
  • Costs were not disclosed

What is Questar?

  • Develops and administers assessments in Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and New York
  • Has partnered with Indiana on End of Course exams for 14 years and with Missouri for five years
  • Also recently named as the state’s vendor for an optional second-grade assessment.

See below for the full release:

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today that the department intends to award Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessment, a contract to develop and administer Tennessee’s annual state assessments for the 2016-17 school year.

In addition, McQueen announced that Tennessee will phase in online administration over multiple years to ensure state, district, and vendor technology readiness. For the upcoming school year, the state assessment for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school End of Course exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for their high school students.

Questar will develop and administer the 2016-17 assessments as part of the state’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Similar to the design of the 2015-16 assessments, next year’s tests will continue to feature multiple types of questions that measure the depth of our state academic standards, specifically students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills. The department also plans to reduce and streamline state tests and will communicate additional specifics in the comings weeks.

“Students, teachers, and parents deserve a better testing experience in Tennessee, and we believe today’s announcement is another step in the right direction,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are excited to move forward in partnership with Tennessee teachers, schools, and districts to measure student learning in a meaningful way and reset the conversation around assessment. Educators across the state have shared how having an assessment aligned to what students are learning every day has improved their instruction. It’s also critical that we continue to look for ways to streamline and reduce testing in our state.”

Questar currently develops and administers large-scale annual assessments for other states, including Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and New York. Questar has partnered with Indiana on End of Course exams for 14 years and with Missouri for five years. The department issued the official letter of intent to Questar today. Pursuant to state contract procedures, after a minimum seven-day period, the contract will be finalized and fully executed.

During the vendor selection process, the department surveyed industry leaders in large-scale assessments, vetting vendors that have successfully developed and administered large-scale assessments across the country. After researching multiple vendors, the department determined that Questar has a proven track record of excellence in statewide testing, administering large-scale assessments via paper and online, and developing a high quality test quickly, which makes it particularly well suited for Tennessee at this crucial time. This past school year, Questar administered the New York grade 3–8 assessments to more than 1.3 million students. In 2015, Questar also developed the Mississippi annual assessment on a timeline similar to Tennessee’s.

“Questar has recent experience developing a large-scale test thoughtfully and urgently,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We believe it is the right partner to collaborate with as we continue to develop assessments that are meaningful and measure what our students truly know and understand.”

Questar was also recently named as the state’s vendor for an optional second-grade assessment. This assessment will replace the state’s previously administered optional K–2 (SAT-10) assessment.

More information about next year’s test will be available after the department finalizes the remaining details with Questar. After the contract is executed, the department will share final details about the structure for next year’s state assessments, including administration time and dates.

Following that, the department will work with Questar to refine and finalize the assessment blueprints, which outline the number of questions devoted to various groups of standards. Those will be released later this summer. Additional resources, including sample test questions and resources that will help educators, parents, and students to become more familiar with the assessment, will be available this fall.

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

 


 

Neveready

Will Tennessee ever have a TNReady test?

The answer to that question got even fuzzier today as a Department of Education “deadline” to name a new test maker came and went with no announcement.

From Chalkbeat:

Tennessee has missed its own deadline to hire the testing company that will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off this spring.

The state canceled the North Carolina test maker’s contract in April, weeks after the launch of the company’s online testing platform went so badly that the tests were halted entirely. In May, officials awarded an emergency contract to testing conglomerate Pearson to grade some tests that did work — and said they would choose another company to handle the state’s testing program by the end of June.

The missed deadline comes just days after another scathing report revealing the details of emails leading up to the TNReady first day failure.

Apparently, when TNDOE sets a “deadline” it’s totally optional.

What does this mean?

The tight timeline also means that students and teachers likely will enter the school year without a sense of what their end-of-year tests will look like. Last year, some students began taking practice tests in October; it’s hard to imagine that happening this year.

Perhaps TNReady is really just about developing the life skill of adapting to chaos.

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


 

 

The One About the Emails

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat has an interesting look into emails between the Tennessee Department of Education, Measurement Inc., and school districts as the state prepared for the TNReady tests.

The central message is that there were clear warning signs that TNReady simply wasn’t.

But, there’s one key email that pretty much says it all:

Either way, the department’s top technology official put it simply when he emailed McQueen on the day of the failure. “It appears that greater procedural and operational rigor could have prevented the network outage,” Cliff Lloyd wrote to McQueen. (emphasis added)

The whole piece is worth a read — lots of good info about what was known and when.

But, read what Cliff Lloyd wrote again. The disaster that was TNReady in 2016 could have been prevented. Both the state’s vendor and state officials simply didn’t do what was required to make that happen.

More on TNReady:

TNReady: Time for a Trade?

An $18.5 Million Emergency?

Not Ready at All

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