Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen convened the Assessment Task Force on Monday to analyze feedback and results from TNReady testing.
Specific topics to be addressed by the Assessment Task Force include an analysis on testing, score return timeline and formative assessments used by districts. Specifically, the Assessment Task Force will begin looking at 11th-grade testing and diagnostic assessments used by districts, among other things this year. We are pleased to be an integral part of this statewide effort.
On Tuesday, the Tennessee House of Representatives Committee on Government Operations, led by Chairman State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), met to discuss issues with TNReady testing being linked to teachers’ overall evaluation.
Professional Educators of Tennessee submitted written testimony to the committee, which is summarized below:
We have been a strategic part of the discussion with policymakers and other stakeholders in the effort to streamline and reduce testing time in the state. Our voice has been crucial to changing the conversation on the role of assessments in Tennessee. Assessment should provide insight into a student’s strengths, needs, and areas for growth to inform instruction for educators. Through the assessment task force, stakeholder groups will review testing issues that occurred this year and offer valuable input. The review was suggested by Speaker Beth Harwell earlier this year.
- Educators in Rutherford County discovered that some of their highest-performing students scored low on one standard in English language arts. The district subsequently contacted the state, which requested an investigation from Questar, who traced the discrepancies to a scoring error when scanning paper tests. The data was placed in the wrong columns. The process of catching mistakes by the state worked, even if we would have preferred the state or testing company were the ones who discovered the mistake.
- Commissioner McQueen has indicated she would not object to a top-to-bottom review of Tennessee’s testing challenges from an independent third party such as the state comptroller’s office. We believe that by the state being willing to be transparent, issues which cannot be avoided can at least be quickly resolved. The Department of Education, both privately and in public, have shared concerns about over-testing and are willing to work on improvements suggested by the Assessment Task Force and other stakeholders.
- The state has received criticism for this year’s delayed scoring schedule of more than two months after the school year began. While the scoring process takes longer with a new test, Commissioner McQueen has indicated that the state is committed to getting all scores out by mid-August 2018. She said districts will receive their preliminary high school scores by the end of May for inclusion in students’ final grades. Final high school scores will go out in July. For grades 3-8, scores should be delivered by mid-August at the latest. This is an ambitious timeline, but should address many district and educator concerns. We have seen improved communications from the state as a result.
- The state continues its transition to online testing to expedite high school results. We must get past the transition phase. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students in grades 3-4. Moving toward online testing should further improve the state’s ability to meet future timelines. It is imperative to improve the timeline to get student scores to teachers.
The group provided this additional information about the issue to The Tennessee Star:
Many educators and policymakers are unaware of the history of state assessment, and how it has become so interconnected with teacher accountability. It is indisputable that Race to the Top repeated many of the mistakes that stakeholders and critics pointed out in No Child Left Behind. This includes an over-reliance on test scores as a measure of student achievement and the subsequent impact on teachers. In addition, some critics point out that federal policy continues support for interventions without proof of success. For those who champion data-driven decision making, especially at the state and local level, federal priorities and criteria in Race to the Top seemingly favor specific previous actions by state and local educational agencies, and then unfairly hold them captive in the future by the use of federal funds.
Race to the Top was a driving force in education policy in this state since 2010. The First to the Top legislation was strongly supported by many stakeholders, as well as the teachers’ union. The state has now moved toward the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015. Many of the same components remain. Tennessee will be fully transitioned to ESSA in the 2017-18 school year.
A simple internet search and documentation can provide additional history and background, as well as who was involved in the process. It is undeniable that the union was instrumental in the development and design of the current evaluation system. And the union gave their political endorsement and political contributions to President Obama, the federal architect of the Race to the Top, in 2008 and again in 2012, as well as many of the supporters of First to the Top legislation in 2010 and 2012.
Based on the Race to the Top Application, supported in 2010 by state and local union leaders, they agreed that 50 percent of teacher evaluations would include 35 percent based on student growth on tests. It is significant to note that 131 of 136 participating districts and 4 state special schools submitted all three applicable signatures – superintendent, school board president, and union leader – in their Race to the Top applications. More importantly, the state had a 93% success rate in obtaining the signature of every applicable local teachers’ union leader, and the application confirms 115 out of 124 local union leaders signed the Race to the Top Application. Professional Educators of Tennessee did not endorse Race to the Top or use of growth scores for teacher evaluations. In hindsight, it would have been a better strategy to have ensured a more reflective voice for classroom teachers at the time. It could be argued that the evaluation system is at least partly responsible for driving some quality teachers out of the profession, or serving as a barrier for teachers entering the field.
According to the former union president Earl Wiman, he acknowledged meeting with former Governor Phil Bredesen about Race to the Top and said the union had “considerable input into the process.” Former State Representative Mike Turner stated that the TEA’s support was “critical to passage of the legislation.” He added, the “TEA could have vetoed this at any time and they chose not to do that.”
Furthermore, six of the fifteen member advisory panel who designed the evaluation process were union representatives, according to Mr. Wiman. He seemed pleased by the fact the first meeting was also to be held in the state union’s office. Union buy-in and support of the new Tennessee teacher evaluation system occurred from the very onset in 2010, but now they seemingly have buyer’s remorse. The comments made on the World Socialist Web Site by a union lobbyist confirm the union effort in Race to the Top in 2010.
Professional Educators of Tennessee outlined to their members three significant events Race to the Top caused and/or will continue to cause: 1) changes to how evaluations were conducted; 2) tenure reform; and, 3) merit pay. These elements were introduced in this state by Race to the Top, and the subsequent First to the Top legislation. It has been these peripheral issues that are the most concerning to Tennessee educators.
Excessive testing is a topic increasingly raised by parents, politicians and others. Tests are mandated at both the state and district levels and teachers aren’t always aware of which ones are state-mandated versus district-mandated. Districts vary in the number of tests they mandate. The biggest obstacle to effective teaching is time. Teachers could teach more effectively if they had more instructional time available to them in the classroom. Excessive educator workload was the number one issue in our recent survey. However, testing was frequently mentioned in teacher comments. We support Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally’s call for an investigation into ACT Inc., the organization that administers the ACT test to high school students. ACT officials upheld their recent decision not to accept test scores of some Tennessee students, which colleges and universities use to determine admissions eligibility. Many scholarships also require ACT scores to decide which students qualify for the awards.