Sunday, May 1, 2016

Keep Calm and Stay Positive

Unless you are supremely talented, it takes several tries to master a new skill. As a teacher, my lessons are sometimes better in the afternoons than in the mornings because I’ve had an opportunity to tweak them throughout the day. This same concept applies to field of education in general.
Five years ago, Tennessee adopted the Common Core State Standards for math and Language Arts. This change was desperately needed because the previous state standards were among the weakest in the country and high schools were graduating students en masse without the skill sets needed to successfully enter college or the work force. Since that time, CCSS has undergone a lengthy public review process in which nearly three-fourths of the comments for revision were made by experts--teachers across the state who have been teaching the standards the past several years. The new version of these standards has just been released, and they are much improved. The language in the standards is easier to understand and the layout on the page also makes more sense as it better allows educators to see the progression of each standard through the different grade levels. It took a few years for the state to get it right, but our children are greatly benefitting from the process of implementing higher standards. I’ve seen it with my own fifth grade daughter.
In case you haven’t heard about the latest TNReady debacle, after the Tennessee Department of Education decided to pull the plug on online testing and move to paper and pencil testing, Measurement Inc. has once again failed to deliver the test materials to schools on time. This happened during the first part of TNReady back in February, and Measurement Inc. has done little to keep from repeating the same mistake again. This time, all high schools have their materials but elementary and middle schools across the state vary widely in the amount of materials they have received, and the Department of Education has vowed that they will not push back the testing window--meaning, if the materials don’t arrive in time, then no test will be given at all.
Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Dr. Candice McQueen, inherited the contract with Measurement Inc. due to poor decision-making by the Tennessee Legislature to scrap the PARCC Assessment (whose online assessment worked without any glitches this year) in favor of a cheaper option that isn’t controlled by testing giant Pearson. Dr. McQueen has said publicly that she has lost all faith in Measurement Inc., and House Democrats have called for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury to look into how much the state has paid this testing company that is having a horrible time successfully administering a test. Additionally, after hearing the cries from parents and teachers that TNReady is too long (and it is), changes will be made next year to shorten it, but it’s unclear at this time what that will look like.
It’s a shame that Tennessee’s testing situation is such a mess, because TNReady is a greatly improved assessment over the previous TCAP/EOC assessments. Instead of entirely being multiple-choice, TNReady requires students to explain their answers in writing and it contains multiple-response questions that have more than one correct answer. It moves beyond the simple recall of information to analyzing the concept behind why the correct answer is what it is.

TNReady is in its first year of implementation and it is too early to start reaching for the panic button. Because of Measurement Inc.’s blunders, TNReady will not count this year as part of teachers’ evaluations (though it could still be factored in down the road) and it will not impact students’ report card averages. Tennessee House Democrats have again called for a three-year moratorium on holding districts accountable on TNReady measures. This common-sense solution will hopefully gain some traction in the next legislative session because, like what happened with the standards, it will take some time to get the kinks worked out of TNReady. This will hopefully mean that the state will find a new vendor for TNReady because Measurement Inc. have proven themselves more than incompetent. In the meantime, let’s take a collective deep breath. The education system in Tennessee is vastly improving. This process takes time, and there will be speed bumps on the road to success, despite everyone’s best intentions.

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