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This Is Only A Test? (www.proedtn.org)  Are tests in our schools making the grade? JC Bowman from the Professional Educators of Tennessee joins us for an in- depth conversation about challenges with current grade assessment tests and Tennessee Ready. Interview.  Listen to iHeart Radio,  Tennessee Matters here.

Link:  https://www.iheart.com/podcast/1021-Tennessee-Matters-28732380/episode/tennessee-matters-29762167/

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In April, 2018, Professional Educators of Tennessee raised the issue on Testing, with a hard-hitting editorial called the Trouble with Testing. Now the Superintendents of two low performing districts, Shelby County and Metro-Nashville Public Schools are eliciting media attention by challenging testing across the state. Welcome to the club.

Testing has taken a wrong turn in public education. I have always tried to keep it simple: testing is like your school picture; it is what you look like on that particular day. Kids go in to take a test. Teachers show up to make sure kids are taking their own test. Parents encourage their children to do their best. However, like Ozzie & Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and the Lone Ranger, those days are gone.

With an infusion of $501 million federal dollars of Race to the Top money we hurried to increase standards by adopting Common Core, which was soon corrected by moving back to state standards. We then increased testing, changing both format and frequency. Tennessee also adopted new evaluation methods. The teachers’ union supported the incorporation of TVAAS data into the state’s teacher evaluations, which landed Tennessee $501 million from the federal Race to the Top grant in 2010. Professional Educators of Tennessee did NOT support the use of that data on teacher evaluations, nor did they sign a support letter on the original grant submission.

Not everything Tennessee tried was damaging, but it is not debatable that, thus far, the Age of Accountability has failed students, teachers, parents and taxpayers. Since 2012, Tennessee has had one misstep after another in testing. In 2013, our tests were not aligned to our standards. In 2014, the issue was transparency, notably quick scores and test score waivers for final semester grades were the major issue. In 2015, the new TNReady online tests had issues in the post equating formula. In 2016, we fired the vendor, Measurement, Inc. because after the online platform was botched, they were unable to get out a paper version of the test. In 2017, we were again plagued by issues due to scoring discrepancies. This year 2018, had issues related to testing, including the belief by the testing vendor, Questar, that the Questar data center was under attack from an external source, although it is never thought that any student data was compromised.

At no point since 2012 were any of the testing issues the fault of students or educators. However, for educators, they are often the ones who bear the brunt, quite unfairly, of parental anger. Students also suffer, with everything from loss of instruction time to not understanding their educational progress. When we make education decisions on the basis of unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally. This is especially unfair to the hardworking teachers in our state. To policymakers and stakeholders alike we must ask these questions:

  • Why are we relying so heavily on test scores to make important educational decisions about students, teachers or schools, especially when the process is flawed? For example, when officials thought the Questar data center was under attack from an external source, there should have been no greater priority by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to identify and prosecute those individuals guilty of this activity and confirm that no student data was compromised. Fortunately, there was no attack.

  • Should we question the reliability, validity, and accuracy of testing in Tennessee since 2013? Especially when shifting between online to paper tests? Note: Reliability relates to the accuracy of their data. Reliability problems in education often arise when researchers overstate the importance of data drawn from too small or too restricted a sample. Validity refers to the essential truthfulness of a piece of data. By asserting validity, do the data actually measure or reflect what is claimed?

In Tennessee we appreciate straight talk and candor. We unquestionably detest hypocrisy. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies and even by our government. We are not pointing fingers, just stating a fact. Clearly there is a problem with testing in Tennessee. It isn’t our students or our educators. It is a flawed testing system.

Shawn Joseph and Dorsey Hopkins timed the announcement of their joint press release well. A sitting group of mostly outgoing legislators were at the Capitol at the time to discuss education. It is also political season. Their joint letter will momentarily take the attention away from their own issues. However, we welcome the discussion. Unfortunately, simply offering the much-ballyhooed solution of another “blue ribbon” panel to discuss the testing issue is a mere diversion. For teachers, thank Race to the Top which was supported by the previous Superintendents of Shelby County and Metro-Nashville Public Schools and the teachers’ union. I wish both men had offered a solution. We will help you out- Eliminate TVAAS data from teacher evaluations. That would an enormous leap forward.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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At Professional Educators of Tennessee we view assessment of students much like a school picture.  It may not be an accurate depiction, but it is what the student looks like on that day.  Our position has always been that the fewer tests administered to students would equal less disruptions for students and teachers. We have worked with the Tennessee Department of Education toward this objective.  We feel like progress has been made and will continue to work with them and the next governor toward this sensible objective.

The 2018 TNReady student assessment results showed mixed results, but state leaders saw encouraging areas of progress, and we celebrate that success.  The majority of the 650,000 students who took the assessment this year did so on paper, but about 300,000 students took the test online.  Students improved most in early grades reading, and narrowed achievement gaps.  In addition, the results show a need for deeper, more sustained work to support improvement.  The release of the results of the latest statewide assessment, while flawed, do provide a data point for educators to consider.  We encourage them to look at the results, take the result seriously and consider the steps they need to take to help all students and schools succeed.

In general, we must always be careful in determining teacher performance based strictly on the test scores of students to whom the teacher is assigned during a school year. The risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance based on test scores is too high for it to be the major indicator of teacher performance, especially when you look at issues such as student demographic characteristics. A number of states, including Michigan, have since taken steps to lessen the impact test scores have on teacher evaluations, repeatedly mentioning factors outside an educator’s control which can influence a student’s academic performance.  The interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.

Moving forward, it is worth noting that Dr. Bill Sanders, the creator of value added assessment, warned of the misuse of TVAAS for individual teacher data because of its volatility.  We would certainly remind policymakers of this detail. In fact, classroom observations by trained personnel, along with teacher and principal input, would likely produce far more consistent and reliable data for assessing the quality of teaching than scores on an annual assessment. Assessment outcomes cannot be viewed as a reliable or significant indicator of Tennessee student proficiency until we have consecutive years of stable test delivery in which students and educators are confident.

We look forward to continuing the dialogue with policymakers and working with all stakeholders toward creating a better framework for both educator evaluation and student assessment in Tennessee.  We have proven as a state that we are willing to be innovative and now we have the opportunity to get it right. We are committed to working with stakeholders to improve implementation of state assessment so that parents, educators, and policymakers can continue to know how our students are faring each year.  As we build on our success, and we need to move forward together.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. 

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We view assessment of students much like a school picture. It may not be an accurate depiction, but it is what the student looks like on that day. Our position at Professional Educators of Tennessee has always been that the fewer tests administered to students would equal less disruptions for students and teachers. We have worked with the Tennessee Department of Education toward this objective. We feel like progress has been made and will continue to work with them and the next governor toward this sensible objective.

The 2018 TNReady student assessment results showed mixed results, but state leaders saw encouraging areas of progress, and we celebrate that success. The majority of the 650,000 students who took the assessment this year did so on paper, but about 300,000 students took the test online. Students improved most in early grades reading, and narrowed achievement gaps. In addition, the results show a need for deeper, more sustained work to support improvement. The release of the results of the latest statewide assessment, while flawed, do provide a data point for educators to consider. We encourage them to look at the results, take the result seriously and consider the steps they need to take to help all students and schools succeed.

In general, we must always be careful in determining teacher performance based strictly on the test scores of students to whom the teacher is assigned during a school year. The risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance based on test scores is too high for it to be the major indicator of teacher performance, especially when you look at issues such as student demographic characteristics. A number of states, including Michigan, have since taken steps to lessen the impact test scores have on teacher evaluations, repeatedly mentioning factors outside an educator’s control which can influence a student’s academic performance. The interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.

Moving forward, it is worth noting that Dr. Bill Sanders, the creator of value added assessment, warned of the misuse of TVAAS for individual teacher data because of its volatility. We would certainly remind policymakers of this detail. In fact, classroom observations by trained personnel, along with teacher and principal input, would likely produce far more consistent and reliable data for assessing the quality of teaching than scores on an annual assessment. Assessment outcomes cannot be viewed as a reliable or significant indicator of Tennessee student proficiency until we have consecutive years of stable test delivery in which students and educators are confident.

We look forward to continuing the dialogue with policymakers and working with all stakeholders toward creating a better framework for both educator evaluation and student assessment in Tennessee. We have proven as a state that we are willing to be innovative and now we have the opportunity to get it right. We are committed to working with stakeholders to improve implementation of state assessment so that parents, educators, and policymakers can continue to know how our students are faring each year. As we build on our success, and we need to move forward together.

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Professional Educators of Tennessee is a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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The Tennessee Department of Education announced at a noon press conference on Thursday some necessary changes to the state TNReady test that teachers, administrators and superintendents have been asking the state to make. Among the changes include rebidding the testing contract, refining the current Questar contract, revising timeline for online testing, and engaging more teachers. These steps complement additional actions already in the works, including eliminating two TNReady end-of-course exams, eliminating the March stand-alone field test for the next two years, simplifying and streamlining test administration, bringing in a third party to perform an independent review of Questar’s technological capabilities, improving customer service, and engaging dozens of additional Tennessee teachers, content experts, and testing coordinators to look at every part of our state testing program.

Dale Lynch from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and JC Bowman from Professional Educators of Tennessee were in attendance at the announcement. Both praised the Tennessee Department of Education for taking proactive steps to address the issue. Bowman added: “Leadership collects input from those on the ground, makes the process better for all, and then tweaks the product as needed. We firmly believe that changes needed to be made, and we are pleased that Commissioner McQueen and her team heard our message and made the necessary changes to improve student assessment in Tennessee.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said at the press conference: “improvements are being made after ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, education leaders, and policymakers over the past several weeks and are aimed at addressing a number of areas of concern.” She added: “Teachers, students and families deserve a testing process they can have confidence in, and we are doing everything possible to meet that responsibility,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are always committed to listening and improving, and we’ll continue to do just that.”

The multi-faceted changes announced today will immediately improve the state assessment—TNReady—and establish a longer-term framework for success. The steps being taken to improve TNReady include:

  • Releasing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond.  The RFP process will better ensure that students can take TNReady seamlessly and without disruption.
  • Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19
  • Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing

In May, a national study recognized Tennessee as the No. 1 state in the country for improvement in the quality of its academic standards, going from an “F” rating in 2007 to an “A” in 2017. TNReady is designed to measure those standards, and it has a variety of different types of questions to look for the depth of students’ knowledge.

Tennessee is one of less than 10 states that still has a paper test in middle school—and both state and district leaders recognize that the workforce of the 21st century is increasingly online. We also want every student to have a positive testing experience, and we want to maximize the ability to have a seamless online administration. Accordingly, the state is adjusting the timeline to continue the transition to online but at a modified pace. For 2018-19:

  • Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper for math, English, and social studies.
  • Students in grades 3-4 will take their TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online. Science is a field test in 2018-19 because the state is transitioning to new academic standards; therefore, the results will not count for students, teachers, or schools, nor will any public scores be released. This provides an option for all students to experience the online platform and do so in an environment that is low-risk for them.
  • Students in high school and those taking end-of-course exams will continue to test online.

Further, the department will improve paper administration, as well. In addition to having Tennessee teachers review all test questions, scripts, and test forms, the department is streamlining test logistics to have fewer versions of the test distributed across the state. This makes it much easier on testing coordinators and proctors to administer. The state has also combined the answer document and test questions into one test booklet in lower grades so it is easier for students to take the test.

For more information on the additional TNReady improvements  you can visit the Tennessee Department of Education website.

 

“If you don’t understand — from the school district to the superintendents — that we want our teachers held harmless, then I’m sorry, you’re tone-deaf,” said State Representative Eddie Smith.

That message was heard and understood statewide. The state issued two very important guidance documents that make clear that message, which was released by the Tennessee Department of Education. Professional Educators of Tennessee, along with many others were privileged to work with the Department of Education and add our input. In addition, we will be putting together a webinar on this matter.

The guidance that the Department developed was a result of thoughtful and collaborative efforts to ensure that our state follows all state and federal laws. The new legislation that states that no adverse actions for students, teachers or schools will result from the 2017-18 TNReady administration. These two key documents, which were shared with districts and schools today, are posted on the state website, along with a list of initial improvements the state is making to the state assessment program:

  • Detailed Evaluation Guidance (here)
  • FAQ that provides an overview of the various areas the new laws impact, including student, education, school, and district accountability (here)

Some highlights from these documents:

  • We will still follow the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act of 2015, which adjusted the growth component of teacher evaluation for a multi-year period, and we will provide educators with the best possible option for calculating their level of overall effectiveness (LOE). In addition, educators who have 2017-18 TNReady data included in their composite will have the ability to nullify their entire LOE score this year IF they choose.
  • Regarding school accountability, rather than issuing A-F grades, we will provide information on school performance based on the various indicators in our ESSA plan, but we will not publish an overall summative label. No adverse action will be taken against a school based on 2017-18 TNReady data. We will still name Reward and Priority schools, but no school will be identified as a Priority school using 2017-18 TNReady data.
  • Districts can decide whether TNReady data factors into students’ scores. If a district chooses to do so, then that cannot result in a lower final grade for a student. This means that districts may include scores for some students and exclude scores for others, or a student may have TNReady scores included for some specific subject areas and not others.

We believe everyone at the Tennessee Department of Education by issuing this guidance, are seeking to follow the letter of the law. Look for an announcement of the webinar coming soon at www.proedtn.org within the next few days.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

We are pleased that legislators unanimously provided that students, educators or schools will not be held responsible for unreliable results from the failures of the TNReady online assessment platform this year.

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Heftiger Disput

Problems are seemingly growing more and more complex, or are they?  In yesterday’s commentary,  Legislators – One Last Thing Before You Go!, we wanted to make sure our teachers are not going to be penalized by flawed test results and scores from this year on a teacher’s 3-year average.  It seems like it should be a simple fix, but actually is a little more complex.  That is what legislators must regularly balance in decision-making in the Tennessee General Assembly.  In public policy it isn’t always a struggle between right and wrong.  There is rarely a perfect solution.

We are very pleased that the Tennessee General Assembly wanted to hold students, educators and school districts harmless.  It really is a hold harmless, provided school districts in fact do not use test data into employment decisions like promotion, retention, termination, compensation—or even an improvement plan. It seems clear that the intent of the legislature was to ensure that the scores couldn’t harm teachers or students in any way, so we think this is an important part emphasized in SB 1623/HB1981.  However, we argued that they just missed a critical component, which is true.  Test results from this year still affect their scores and 3-year averages.

Here is the dilemma:  if we do not use this year’s TVAAS for teachers it would also likely hurt some teachers from gaining tenure.   And that too, is unacceptable and unfair.   So accordingly, this year’s data only counts as 10%, last year at 10% and the previous year at 15% to make up the 35% of the evaluation.   Teachers can use last year or this year as the full 35% if it helps the teacher.   They must have that data as part of their evaluation or the results can’t be used.  So, to be clear, a school district cannot use that flawed data, but a teacher can.  School districts cannot base employment termination and compensation decisions for teachers on data generated by these statewide assessments.  So, do legislators change the law they just passed, try to modify, or leave it be for now?  That is the discussion that they must have this week.

Legislators would be negligent if they do not further discuss the issue. They may choose to just take the fleas with the dog.  They have done excellent work on this issue to protect teachers, and they deserve the credit.  In the end the lesser of disappointing options is to leave in place what was passed.  We understand that choice.  In a perfect world we would have had perfect execution of the TNReady Test by our vendor Questar.  Then we would not be talking about flawed data, impact on 3-year averages or tenure. However, three things are almost certain on the campaign trail in 2018, especially in state races:

  • The continued feasibility of using a complicated statistical method as an evaluation tool for teachers will certainly be further debated by stakeholders and policymakers in the foreseeable future. Do we continue using The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS)? Move to another more reliable statistical method?  Or do we abandon these complicated formulas altogether?
  • States are allowed to use federal funds, but no longer required, to continue teacher evaluations linked to test scores. Only a handful of states took advantage of the testing flexibility Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows.  In fact, the US Secretary of Education is explicitly prohibited from mandating any aspect of a teacher evaluation system.  So, will our state continue linkage of test scores to evaluation moving forward? Or will we end the practice?
  • Do we continue moving toward an online test, or do we yet again revert strictly to paper and pencil or some combination of the two?

Sometimes issues are complex, and the simple solution is not possible.  Simon Sinek, wrote: “There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.”  This may be a case where the right solution is based on flawed data may be a right solution.  Then again, we may be all be wrong.  Let the debate continue.

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Audrey Shores is the Chief Operating Officer of Professional Educators of Tennessee.   JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.