MURFREESBORO, April, 2018– Folks, as many of you now know, there was another debacle related to TN Ready, the statewide testing assessment. This past week, many members, including myself, took the lead in protecting students, teachers, and schools from adverse effects of the invalid assessments. Despite our efforts to hold these students, teachers and schools harmless for the failures of the system, one should know that there were and still are forces out there against these protective measures. They are for forging ahead without any track record of reliability or validity in the system and for preventing further protections from the errors in the system.
Where we were in education as a state and where we are now does lead credence to the fact that we have made some positive strides. But, unfortunately, many of those who point towards the successes have turned a blind eye to the setbacks, drawbacks, and failures of the system. Leadership is about determining our values and goals, looking towards the past to learn and build, then make choices for the future to best achieve the goals. Failed leadership is assigning blame and refusing to accept responsibility while pushing forward without adapting to address the mistakes of the past.
The current philosophy of the system is to set high Tennessee specific education standards, then to assess on a yearly basis how well our students have learned the standards. In addition, there is the belief that accountability measures for students, teacher, and schools should not only improve outcomes, but improve the validity of the assessments. Whether one agrees with the philosophy or not is another debate, but coinciding with this philosophy, Tennessee has shown growth in our educational scores. However, one must question which parts of the philosophy have had the most impact, which parts have failed, and what are any unintended or negative consequences of such a philosophy.
Every year since I have been in office, I have looked to address the failures and shortcomings of the system while making improvements for the betterment of students and teachers. Having a fair, consistent, and valid system that improves our education outcomes is as important as ensuring morale and confidence in the system improves, as well.
I have been leading and will continue to lead in this area. It was my amendment which provided legislative intent to rescind Common Core standards and provided the General Assembly with confirmation powers over the standards committee. It was me who brought the confirmation appointments to a halt when it was determined that these individuals weren’t being vetted properly.
Last summer, I spoke with a representative for some teachers in Rutherford County to discuss the results of the TN Ready assessment. From my perspective, the results were statistically impossible, yet teachers were being punished. Based on that discussion, an investigation ensued and it was determined that roughly 10,000 tests were mis-scored including those in Rutherford County. Following that, I was able to bring Commissioner McQueen to an education round table involving our Rutherford County delegation and Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City School Boards to discuss the philosophy, as well as the past, present and future of education. Subsequent to the discussion, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) provided me with a document surrounding the validity of the TN Ready assessments.
As many of you may know, I have been harping on the problems with validity in the system and that the state should have a reliable testing system prior to applying accountability measures to students, teachers, and schools. The failure of the TDOE to produce a reliable and valid assessment all the while imposing accountability measures has led to poor morale and anxiety within the education system. Until this is addressed, we will continue to see an exodus of good teachers and an uprising of students, parents, local education officials, and legislators like me.
Consequences of testing(holding students, teachers, school accountable) is a measure of evidence for validity and does or will improve the validity of the entire system. However, the other forms of evidence for validity which are test content, response processes, internal structure, and relation to other variables need to be proven prior to adding in consequences of testing. Unfortunately, that is not the philosophy of many in the position to make changes. Tennessee needs to have an actual error proof baseline of one or two years before enacting any accountability measures. The fact that we just passed a “hold-harmless” measure leads proof that our General Assembly believes the tests are invalid despite the position of the TDOE.
I am of the opinion that without a known valid baseline for comparison(relation to a known variable, response processes), that the data shouldn’t be used. Since there have been glitches and mistakes for several years, there isn’t a valid baseline. In their own report to me on validity, the TDOE pointed out that usability is a response processes that is vital to validity. Understanding that students and teachers are having problems with the platform and directions should provide evidence that the response processes for TN Ready isn’t valid. Add in that the testing problems provides proof that there isn’t consistency in the testing which invalidates relation to known variables, and you have an invalid test.
The bottom line is that if the conditions of a test are flawed, then the results of the tests are flawed. For example, if you have a free throw shooting contest, but player A shoots in a gym and player B shoots at an outside park with 30 mph winds, you can’t compare the accuracy between both shooters because conditions are different. And you can’t punish player B’s coach because he makes less free throws.
To further use the basketball analogy, we all want Tennessee students to be the best basketball players(student scores) in the country, and we want our teachers to be the best coaches and our schools to be the best teams. Providing high standards like shooting, rebound, dribbling and defensive skills while understanding team based philosophies like trapping, pressing, man to man, zones, high/ low schemes, and offensive shot selection improves outcomes compares to basic standards like “shoot if you’re open” or “stay between your man and the goal”. Additionally, providing the proper and enough equipment including basketballs, goals, and nets in an environment conducive to practicing or playing, improves the chances that the final product succeeds.
However, providing students and teachers with deflated balls while asking them to play on goals that aren’t consistently 10 feet and expecting the results of the Golden State Warriors isn’t fair to students, parents, teachers or schools. Before we take the accountability step, shouldn’t the state at least have some reliability, consistency, and validity in the system?
As an update to the TN Ready debacle, on the last night of Session, the House stood in unison to protect our teachers from the invalid assessments. Last week, we had passed legislation that had been supported by the TEA to hold students, teachers, and schools harmless for the scores from this year’s TN Ready testing due to multiple problems. As part of that measure, I insisted that it apply to all teachers including those using paper testing because there had been multiple problems with both online and paper tests.
However, earlier in the week, Commissioner McQueen declared. “TNReady data from 2017-18 will count for 10% of a teacher’s overall evaluation score. The legislation passed by the General Assembly last week ensures that this 10% cannot be used in making termination or compensation decisions.” While holding teachers harmless in termination and compensation decisions for an invalid test is a goal, the implication that a teacher could still have invalid measures used in an evaluation or other adverse ways was unacceptable. More action needed to be taken and we took charge.
Last night, after hours of negotiations and heated debate, we passed an amendment on HB 75 that said that “No Adverse Actions” can be taken against students, teachers, schools, or LEAs for the 2017-18 TN Ready assessments. That phrase was vital to the amendment as using invalid tests on an evaluation to go into a teacher’s file is an adverse action.
Teachers who may benefit from the assessments may include the assessment in their evaluations or they may use their qualitative observations to count for 60% instead of 50% of their evaluations. Students or schools who may benefit may use their scores if they benefit them, as well.
Applying yearly patches to address either a failed system or failed implementation of a system is not serving students, teachers, nor taxpayers in a sensible capacity. Under the given circumstances, this amendment may have been the best feasible option for the year, but having eight months until the 111th session begins should give the next administration and General Assembly the opportunity to present a long term solution.
Just my two cents,
Rep. Bryan Terry