Amid the latest round of TNReady troubles that included both miscalculated student scores and errors in how those scores were used in some teacher evaluations, the House of Representatives held hearings last week to search for answers.
On the same day of the committee hearings, Governor Bill Haslam let everyone know that things were going well.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Bill Haslam called the controversy overblown because this year’s errors were discovered as part of the state’s process for vetting scores.
“I think the one thing that’s gotten lost in all this discussion is the process worked,” Haslam told reporters. “It was during the embargo period before any of the results were sent out to students and their families that this was caught.”
Here’s the deal: If this were the only problem with TNReady so far, Governor Haslam would be right. This would be no big deal. But, you know, it’s not the only problem. At all.
Let’s start from the beginning. Which was supposed to be 2016. Except it didn’t happen. And then it kept not happening. For full disclosure, I have a child who was in 4th grade at the time of what was to be the inaugural year of TNReady. The frustration of watching her prepare for a week of testing only to be told it would happen later and then later and then maybe never was infuriating. That adults at decision-making levels think it is just fine to treat students that way is telling. It also says something that when some adults try to stand up for their students, they are smacked down by our Commissioner of Education.
As for the aforementioned Commissioner of Education, some may remember the blame shifting and finger pointing engaged in by Commissioner McQueen and then-TNReady vendor Measurement, Inc. That same attitude was on display again this year when key deadlines were missed for the return of “quick scores” to school districts.
Which brings us to the perennial issue of delivering accurate score reports to districts. This year was the fourth year in a row there have been problems delivering these results to school districts. Each year, we hear excuses and promises about how it will be better next year. Then, it isn’t.
Oh, and what if you’re a parent like me and you’re so frustrated you just want to opt your child out of testing. Well, according to Commissioner McQueen and the Governor who supports her, that’s not an option. Sadly, many districts have fallen in line with this way of thinking.
Here’s the thing: McQueen’s reasoning is missing something. Yes, she lacks credibility generally. But, specifically, she’s ignoring some key evidence. As I noted previously:
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.
So, you have a system that is far from perfect and based on this system (TNReady), you penalize teachers (through their evaluations) and schools (through an A-F school grading system). Oh yeah, and you generate “growth” scores and announce “reward” schools based on what can best be described as a problematic (so far) measuring stick with no true comparability to the previous measuring stick.
Anyway, Bill Haslam is probably right. This is fine.
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