Ready for 5th Grade?

As this year’s TNReady testing transition faced problems and ultimately, was not completed, 5th-grade students at a Chattanooga school were preparing a report to improve testing in Tennessee.

The report was 14 pages and was mailed to Governor Bill Haslam in an attempt to influence the state’s decisions on testing going forward.

This project, by the way, is exactly the type of project-based learning that can and should be used more often to demonstrate student understanding of what they’ve learned.

Said one student of the project:

“We wanted to help make changes about something we’re passionate about,” Romero said. “And we learned how to unite to persuade someone.”

As a report on project-based assessment in one Kentucky district indicated:

The entire curriculum at this school has been redesigned around interdisciplinary projects, which take several weeks to complete. The English and social studies seventh-grade PBATs were group projects that took place in the fall.

One by one, the students stand and give a 20-minute solo presentation with a PowerPoint or video. Separately, they’ve handed in 15-page research papers. They’re giving these presentations to panels of judges made up of teachers from other grades or the high school, officials from a neighboring district, education students from the University of Kentucky, and fellow students.

Moving toward a hybrid model of standardized tests and project-based assessments could be a way to improve Tennessee’s testing system.

Commissioner McQueen is conducting a summer listening tour about testing, and that’s a great opportunity to share alternative strategies.

For now, the students at Nolan Elementary are demonstrating they are ready for a transition to a student-centered assessment strategy.

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

 

Candice is Listening

Or, she will be. The Commissioner of Education is going on a statewide tour to talk about testing in light of new flexibility offered to the states under the federal ESSA law, which replaced No Child Left Behind.

From the DOE’s press release:

Commissioner Candice McQueen and senior department leaders are launching a statewide listening tour to gather input from educators, key advocates, parents, students, and the public to determine how to implement specific components of the nation’s new federal education law: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The feedback will inform a Tennessee-specific ESSA plan that will guide the department’s work over the coming years and help the state capitalize on the new law’s empowerment of local leadership. These conversations will also build off feedback the commissioner has received on her Classroom Chronicles tour, during which she has met with more than 10,000 Tennessee teachers to learn how policies impact the classroom.

 

“We need to continue to elevate educators’ ideas to strengthen our education system, and the new federal law provides an opportunity to do that,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “We look forward to hearing from a variety of educators – from classroom teachers to directors of schools – as well as advocates, parents, and students as we craft a plan for Tennessee to transition to ESSA.”

The release notes that some policy changes might be in order:

Over the summer and fall, department leadership will draft a plan for transitioning to ESSA based on stakeholder and public feedback. Stakeholders and the general public will have another opportunity to provide input on the draft plan later this fall. In spring 2017, the department will work with stakeholder groups, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly as needed to recommend changes to state law and policy, as well as develop further guidance for school districts.

 

In addition to the various feedback loops and meetings across the state, the department will also be guided by its strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which was developed with input from thousands of stakeholders over the course of several months to establish a clear vision for the future of Tennessee’s schools. It also has established a solid foundation in preparing to transition to ESSA.

Interestingly, the strategic plan referenced includes this under the category of Accountability:

Pilot first grade and career and technical education portfolio models in 2016, and continue to develop additional portfolio options for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects

Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them

Perhaps one improvement that will be suggested is that in addition to developing portfolio models for teacher evaluation (they already exist for related-arts teachers), the state should also provide funding to districts to support their implementation. Few districts use the state’s approved portfolio model for non-tested related arts teachers, likely because the cost of doing so is not covered by the state. Assessment includes both additional staff time and compensation for those performing the portfolio assessments.

The second item of note is: Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them.

This statement assumes that current methods of evaluating student growth (TVAAS) are valid and reliable. To put it simply, they’re not. Additionally, the most common method of assessing student growth is through standardized testing. This raises the possibility that additional tests will be provided for subjects not currently tested. After this year’s TNReady failure, it seems to me we should be exploring other options.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that this summer’s listening tour will lead to a new dialogue about Tennessee’s direction in education in light of ESSA. States like Hawaii are already taking student test scores out of the teacher evaluation process and moving toward new measures of evaluation.

Out of the chaos of TNReady, there is opportunity. Educators, parents, and students should attend these summer meetings and share their views on a new path forward for our state’s schools.

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

 

 

TNReady: Time for a Trade?

TC Weber thinks the TNDOE needs to trade in TNReady and the rest of the current testing regime for a new model:

The Tennessee Department of Education has faced a similar dilemma for the last few years. Every spring, without fail, there is some issue with the tests and they have to send them to the garage to be fixed. I think it’s safe to say that this year the equivalent of the transmission falling out. Parents, teachers, and even legislators have been telling the TNDOE that things are getting to the point that it’s getting cost prohibitive to fix and that we really need to start exploring a new policy. But unfortunately, the message doesn’t seem to be getting to the TNDOE. They just keep reaching for the checkbook, making a temporary fix, and then praying nothing else goes wrong.

It’s a good read and TC proposes some solid solutions, like using some of the new flexibility granted by ESSA to move toward a truly new model of testing.

Read it all here.

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

 

An $18.5 Million Emergency

As a result of the failure of Measurement Inc. to deliver on its TNReady promises, the State of Tennessee has awarded a contract to Pearson to grade tests completed by students this year, including high school EOC tests and Part I tests that were completed. The contract pays $18.5 million and the estimated completion date for grading is December.

Grace Tatter has the details:

The state’s contract with Pearson goes through December for scoring and reporting of 2015-16 assessments, including high school exams, Part I grade 3-8 tests, and any completed Part II grade 3-8 exams.

Now, to be clear, the “emergency” is that some students completed tests that weren’t graded and won’t be graded by Measurement Inc. because they were fired.

What about the fact that some tests were completed online and others were completed on paper? Never fear, the state’s data team has a plan:

Measurement Inc. already has scored high school exams completed online last fall for students who are on block schedules. Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Townes said the state will use a formula to ensure that those scores are comparable to the scores of tests completed on paper, and to be graded by Pearson, this spring.

So, as a result of this new contract, there will be two different vendors grading the same test as well as some tests completed in an online format and some on pencil and paper.

Oh, and the results are due back in December. Well past time to have much value to inform instruction or help parents or students understand areas of deficiency.

Instead of spending $18.5 million on grading these tests which will have limited usefulness, the state could use that money to fully develop and pay for portfolio assessment at the district level for related arts and other non-tested teachers.

It could also use some of that money to support the unfunded mandate of RTI2.

Or, it could spend a portion of that money on developing an alternative assessment regimen — perhaps incorporating project-based assessment and reducing the reliance on standardized testing. Maybe even finding ways to reduce total testing time. Or, develop an assessment waiver as allowed under the new ESSA.

Out of crisis can come opportunity – and we have an opportunity and some unspent funds that could be used to develop better, more student-focused solutions going forward.

Instead, we’re handing money to Pearson and trying to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.

Rest assured:

…the department plans to select a new vendor in June to develop and administer next year’s state assessment.

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

Pearson: We’re Ready to Grade

While the Tennessee General Assembly forced a move away from Pearson as the state’s testing vendor in 2014, the familiar company (who delivered and scored TCAP for many years) is now back and will provide the grading for the TNReady high school tests.

Jason Gonzalez at the Tennessean notes:

The Tennessee Department of Education has contracted with its previous test vendor Pearson Education in an emergency maneuver to score TNReady high school tests.

The contract with Pearson is only for scoring and reporting of 2015-2016 assessments, according to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen in a letter Monday to school directors statewide.

The new contract is necessary because the Department of Education the state’s testing vendor, Measurement Inc. due to a failure to deliver the TNReady test as desired.

While high school tests will be scored, it’s not clear there will be any scores provided to students in grades 3-8 who completed Part I of the new assessment.

WATE in Knoxville reports:

So, the blank tests remain in the Durham warehouse. In another MI warehouse about 15 minutes away, there are thousands more boxes; they’re filled with Part I of the TNReady test. If your child took that test, chances are good that it’s just sitting in that warehouse. Scherich said those have all been scanned into MI’s system, but because the DOE cancelled the contract and, according to Scherich, never paid six months of invoices, it’s possible they’ll never be scored.

The state is currently seeking a vendor to both deliver and score the TNReady assessment in 2016-17.

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

 

 

Don’t Tell Candice

As it became clearer that TNReady simply wasn’t, more school districts saw parents attempting to opt their children out of the state-mandated tests. In the face of this challenge, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent a memo offering districts guidance on how to handle students who attempted to opt-out or refuse the test.

Part of the memo suggested that federal law requires test administration and earlier guidance provided to Murfreesboro City Schools suggested there could be financial penalties if districts failed to administer the tests.

The threat of withholding $3 million in BEP money from Williamson County eventually led that district to resume administration of the EOC tests in high school.

All along, the state has argued a district’s federal funds could be in jeopardy due to refusal to administer the test or a district’s inability to test at least 95% of its students.

As such, the argument goes, districts should fight back against opt-outs and test refusals by adopting policies that penalize students for taking these actions.

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.

The state’s top education official, Merryl Tisch, had this to say about the prospect of withholding funds from districts:

“I think when you withdraw money from a school district, what you’re doing is you’re hurting the kids in the school district,” she said. “So I don’t think that’s an effective way to deal with it.”

While Tisch expressed frustration with the high opt-out numbers in some districts, her first response was not to punish districts (and their students) by withholding funds. Instead, she called for more communication and transparency surrounding the testing.

This year’s TNReady test lacked transparency and clear communication. As failures mounted, a blame game started. And when parents and some districts had had enough, rather than work through the challenges, Commissioner McQueen’s first response was to threaten sanctions, including the withholding of funds.

That sort of tactic may enable McQueen to get her way in the short-term, but it’s certainly not a way to build the trust and support she’ll need to usher in yet another testing vendor next school year.

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

 

 

 

Ready for a Fight

Yesterday, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney issued a statement saying his district would not be administering the high school end of course tests in addition to the suspension of the grades 3-8 TNReady tests.

Commissioner McQueen is not very happy about that. She served notice to Looney and all other directors that refusing to administer the EOC would be considered a violation of state law.

Here’s the email she sent to Directors of Schools:

First, I want to thank you for your partnership and support as we have worked together to implement and administer the first year of a new assessment. I know you share my disappointment and frustration with the inability of our vendor to deliver on this higher quality assessment in grades 3-8, and I truly appreciate your patience and leadership.

 

I want to reiterate that the state’s termination of its contract with the testing vendor Measurement Incorporated (MI) and the related suspension of grades 3-8 testing does not apply to high school and End of Course (EOC) exams, and, therefore, all school districts are required to administer these assessments.

 

The state of Tennessee and local districts are under an obligation under both federal and state law, as well as state board of education rules and regulations, to administer annual assessments to our students. My decision to suspend grade 3-8 testing was based on the impossibility of testing and made in close consultation with the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). Based on the fact that testing in grades 3-8 was not feasible due to the failure of MI to meet its contractual obligations, the USDOE has acknowledged that the department made a good faith effort to administer the assessments to all students in grades 3-8. Unlike grades 3-8, districts are in receipt of EOC exams and the challenges associated with the delivery of grades 3-8 do not exist.

 

Because EOC exams have been delivered, students should have the opportunity to show what they know to measure their progress toward postsecondary and the workforce. Failure to administer the high school assessments will adversely impact students who will not only lose the experience of an improved, high quality test aligned to our higher standards but also the information we plan to provide to students, parents and educators relative to student performance. In addition, districts will eliminate the option for their teachers to use this year’s student achievement data as part of their teacher evaluation if the data results in a higher score.

 

Because of these factors and because state or district action to cancel high school testing would willfully violate the laws that have been set forth relative to state assessment, neither the state nor districts have the authority to cancel EOC exams. Districts that have taken action to cancel EOC exams or communicated such action are in violation of the law and should rescind this action or communication.

What Does This Mean?

In response to the Murfreesboro City School Board considering refusing to administer Phase II of TNReady, the Department of Education issued a statement noting that doing so would be considered a major violation of state law and that withholding state funds was a possible penalty.

McQueen doesn’t say what the penalty would be if districts like Williamson proceed with their refusal to administer the EOCs, but she may well attempt to impose a financial penalty.

In her email, McQueen says:

Failure to administer the high school assessments will adversely impact students who will not only lose the experience of an improved, high quality test aligned to our higher standards but also the information we plan to provide to students, parents and educators relative to student performance.

Just what students want and need: Another test. Some have proposed using the ACT battery of tests as the high school testing measure rather than the current EOC structure.

McQueen also says:

In addition, districts will eliminate the option for their teachers to use this year’s student achievement data as part of their teacher evaluation if the data results in a higher score. 

While the idea of flexibility seems nice, I want to reiterate that any data gleaned from this year’s test is invalid as a value-added indicator of teacher performance. As such, there’s no useful information to be gained relative to teacher performance from this year’s EOCs. Put another way, McQueen’s argument about depriving teachers of an opportunity is invalid.

While the use of value-added data to assess teacher performance is of limited usefulness under optimum conditions, under this year’s transition, it is clearly and plainly invalid. If the goal of using such data is to improve teacher performance, why use data that yields essentially no information?

I have not yet seen a response from Dr. Looney or any other directors. But a fight could be brewing.

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

 

Why TNReady Wasn’t

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has an informative interview with the President of Measurement Inc., the company charged with delivering TNReady this year.

As I read the interview, a couple of items stood out. First, the company had never delivered an entire state’s online testing program. Tatter notes:

It was also an unprecedented task for Measurement Inc., which had never before developed and delivered a state’s entire online testing program.

Despite this, they somehow won the bid to deliver Tennessee’s program.

Second, the magnitude of the failure. Tatter:

About 48,000 students logged on that day, and about 18,000 submitted assessments. It’s unknown the number of students who weren’t having troubles with the test, but stopped after McQueen sent an email instructing districts to halt testing.

“It was a failure in some respects because we were supposed to design a system that would take 100,000 students in at one time… We had a problem with 48,000,” Scherich said.

Read that again. Measurement Inc. was tasked with developing an online platform that could handle 100,000 students taking a test at the same time. The system they developed couldn’t handle 48,000 students. They didn’t even develop a system that could handle HALF of what they were contracted to provide.

The company president goes on to detail the challenges of printing the tests in a short timeframe. However, back in February, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressed confidence in the printed tests:

“I want to stress to you that the paper version of TNReady is still TNReady,” McQueen wrote of the new test aligned to the state’s current Common Core academic standards.

She said the paper tests are being shipped to each district at no additional taxpayer cost.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Phase I tests did arrive, albeit quite late. And Phase II tests were not delivered in time to be administered this year.

Now, the state is seeking another vendor who can deliver the test in the 2016-17 academic year.


 

 

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

 

One Step Further

On the heels of the announcement from the Tennessee Department of Education that TNReady testing was being suspended for grades 3-8, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney went one step further and suspended end of course testing for high school students in his district.

Here’s the email he sent yesterday:

You are an incredible group of professionals and I am exceedingly proud of your work. This year has been full of surprises and uncertainty as it relates to state assessment and yet you still have prepared students for success. Your work is important and matters. I am proud of you.

Unfortunately, sometimes events happen outside of our direct control. Today the Commissioner of Education announced the suspension of Part II of the TnReady/TCAP Assessment in grades 3-8.

In addition, because of my continued concerns, I am suspending End of Course tests at the high school level.

I truly believe in the importance of measuring student progress. It is, from my perspective, a critical piece of our work. And I look forward to us being able to appropriately assess students as soon as possible.

Mike Looney

 

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

Ready for What’s Next?

Following yesterday’s announcement that Measurement Inc. had been fired and TNReady testing suspended, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent an email to teachers explaining the decision and providing information for what’s next.

The email included a line with a bit of an apology: You were ready, and I am sorry that we were unable to provide all students with a consistent and complete testing experience this year.

Because, of course, all students want a consistent and complete testing experience.

Here’s the email in it’s entirety:

Earlier today, I announced that the department is terminating its statewide assessment contract with Measurement Inc., effective immediately. The state awarded Measurement Inc. a contract in November 2014 to provide an online testing platform with a paper and pencil backup. Not only did Measurement Inc. fail to deliver a reliable online platform for students across the state, it has also failed to print and ship paper tests by deadlines the company had set. Terminating our contract with Measurement Inc. was a challenging decision because we’ve been working to honor the effort and investment of Tennessee teachers and students, but we’ve exhausted every option in problem solving with this vendor to get these tests delivered. TNReady was designed to provide Tennessee students, teachers, and families with better information about what students know and understand, and the failure of this vendor has let down the educators and students of our state.

As a result of repeated failures from this vendor, we are suspending Part II of TNReady for grades 3-8 this year. However, because districts have already received all high school testing materials, high school testing will move forward as planned.

While Measurement Inc. had previously assured us it would have all grade 3-8 materials delivered by April 27, the third deadline the company had set and missed this month, 100 percent of districts are still waiting on some 3-8 materials to arrive, and few districts have complete sets of tests for any grade or subject. Last week, the department told districts that we would not ask them to continue to change schedules and extend the testing window beyond May 10. We know the transition to TNReady has presented unexpected challenges for educators, schools, and districts, and we will not ask you to further disrupt your end of year schedule.

Many of you have shared with me that, despite the challenges with implementation this year, you were excited for your students to show what they were able to do on a new assessment. I understand that many of you will share in my disappointment that we won’t have detailed score reports from this year’s assessment for students in grades 3-8. We will provide as much information to schools and students as possible related to results from Part I testing for grades 3-8. This will be used for informational purposes only, and no score will be associated with Part I for grades 3-8. High school tests will be scored, and these results will be shared in the fall.

The transition to a new assessment this year has been challenging, but aligned assessments are critical to ensure that all students are making progress on their path to postsecondary opportunities and the workforce. I have seen first-hand how hard you have worked to align your instruction to our newer, more rigorous standards. You and your students have risen to higher expectations, and I hope you are encouraged by the growth in critical thinking and problem solving that you have seen in your classrooms every day. You have been flexible and patient beyond what we should expect, especially as you planned for Part II amid important field trips and end-of-year celebrations. You were ready, and I am sorry that we were unable to provide all students with a consistent and complete testing experience this year.

I recognize that our apology is not enough. You also deserve clear guidance as we look ahead to next year. We know teachers’ jobs don’t stop when the final bell rings in May. You spend a great deal of time in the summer months planning for the following year. We’ll share updated math and ELA blueprints in May, which will help you plan for the coming year.

While navigating the challenges of this year’s administration of TNReady, we’ve also been working to improve our assessments for next year. Earlier this month, we shared with districts several changes to TNReady for next year. We’re eliminating Part I for the math assessment, and we will include one to three math problems on Part II called integrated tasks that will maintain the rigor of the performance tasks. As a result of eliminating Part I for math, we will be able to reduce overall testing time for math in grades 3-11. Additionally, we’re adding multiple choice items to ELA Part I, which will encourage students to closely engage with reading passages before they write their constructed response. This will reduce the number of items on ELA Part II and decrease the overall testing time for ELA. These changes were made in response to feedback we received from teachers, as well as school and district leaders, and we’re dedicated to continuously improving our assessments as we move forward with a new assessment vendor.

The department is currently working with the state’s Central Procurement Office to expedite the selection of a vendor for both the scoring of this year’s high school assessment and the administration of next year’s test. In the meantime, I encourage you to read our new frequently asked questions document (here), which offers more detailed information about how this latest announcement will affect you, your schools, and your districts. We will continue to update this resource. It’s also important to note that today’s announcement doesn’t change the flexibility that has already been provided on teacher evaluation. If a teacher has 2015-16 TNReady data, in this case high school teachers, TNReady data will only be used if it helps the teacher.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication to your students. I appreciate your patience and understanding as we look ahead to the 2016-17 school year.


 

 

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