Education Commissioner McQueen Convenes Testing Assessment Task Force


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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.


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8 Thoughts to “Education Commissioner McQueen Convenes Testing Assessment Task Force”

  1. Jennifer Hamblin

    The sooner McQueen is gone the sooner we can regain our schools!

  2. Dave Vance

    Somebody should send this to the LEE campaign so he will know who Candace McQueen is the next time he is asked about her. You would think somebody that was on the Higher Ed Commission and harps on the importance of education would know who she is and the failures she has been associated with!

  3. Horatio Bunce

    “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.”

    That was the state’s claim in the application – actually they claimed “unanimous” consent by the districts to the federal memorandum of understanding that committed all districts to implementing Common Core standards (which they couldn’t read yet), the mandatory online testing with multi-state testing consortia (which became the federally-created choice of either PARCC or SBAC) and the student data-mining expansions (so they can sell your children’s individual information back to the federal government and others). That was a lie. They do not have the signatures from those districts on the memorandum of understanding provided by the federal government dated prior to submitting the RTTT application for taxpayer money. If they did, it would be a smoking gun indictment of all those signatories because they committed to academic standards they couldn’t even read yet because they didn’t exist.

    See here:

    What they do have signatures on are similar state-made memorandums that were signed months after the $501M of RTTT taxpayer money was awarded to TN. The state by then had leverage to obtain those signatures – the awarded money – and the threat that you don’t want to be the one keeping your district from getting their share.

    Isn’t lying on a federal grant application for $501M of taxpayer money committing federal fraud?

      1. Horatio Bunce

        Sorry JC, not a single memorandum of understanding signature page in that link. I know the state claimed they had them, but the application says they only included a copy of the federal government provided one memo, and that is what they had all districts sign because the state had the same goals the feds were pumping.

        Phil Bredesen, Tim Webb, B. Fielding Rolston and Bob Cooper lied on the signed application or Kellie Gauthier lied in writing claiming they don’t exist (after they passed off the scopes of work forms signed in april-june of 2010 after the RTTT money was already awarded as being those signed for the application which was submitted in January of 2010 – before anyone could even read the common core standards they were committing to in that memo. The unanimous signature claim in the application and the language of that memo is why I requested copies. They stonewalled for a month, then said I would have to drive to Nashville despite me asking for electronic scans, then when I drove to nashville, Gauthier acted as if I “didn’t confirm” I was coming, even though she picked the day/time. Then they handed over the stack of scopes of work all the districts signed after the money was awarded. Then I sent another request for what I asked for in the beginning-which are explicitly claimed in that application. The response was “they do not exist”.

        1. It is referenced in many places. Check out Mr. Wimans’s letter in the application here: Note page A-27 and 28. I think it is ON Page 54 and 55.

          Every single application and file is here:

          I hope this helps.

          1. Horatio Bunce

            No, it doesn’t help because those signed memoranda of understanding do not appear in the 1200-page application – although the state did explicitly claim the federal MOU forms were unanimously signed. Just because the NEA was claiming they advised the district reps to sign them does not mean they exist. The state dept. of education has admitted in writing they do not exist. If you will look at your link to Appendix A, see pages 29-31.
            This is a blank copy of the MOU form that the state claims all those districts signed – but there are no signature pages provided. They claim they were signed but only included this blank as an example in the application.

            This is a no-win smoking gun. IF the MOU forms were signed prior to the RTTT application submittal in January 2010, then that means that all those personnel committed their K-12 schools to implementing Common Core “state” standards before they could even read them, they committed to the mandatory online testing with multi-state testing consortia and they committed to selling out children’s individual data to 3rd parties. They claimed “to have all requisite power and authority to execute this MOU” and that they were “familiar with the State’s Race To The Top grant application and is supportive of and is committed to working on all or significant portions of the State plan.” Their whining about Huffman implementing the very plan they signed up for and claimed to be “familiar with” rings very hollow.

            IF they didn’t in fact sign these forms prior to submitting the RTTT application, then the signatories of the 1200-page application lied on a point-based federal grant application. But it won’t matter because the fix was in for TN to get that round 1 money. Bill Frist quit his job just in time to come home and start spending Bill Gates’ money promoting Common Core (and hiring Jamie Woodson). It was a federally driven overreach. The feds don’t care that TN committed federal fraud on that application – because as Jamie Woodson said, “we were going to do it anyway”.

  4. 83ragtop50

    I am totally unimpressed with the state’s ability to deal with the firms providing the testing services. What assurances have been put into place to prevent the continuance of this incompetence? Have the vendors been financially penalized for their errors and delays?