Lawmakers pass Tennessee Ready amendments

Xavier Smith • Apr 20, 2018 at 5:59 PM

State lawmakers passed two bills relative to Tennessee Ready on Thursday and are expected to vote on a final bill next week.

Tennessee Ready online assessment issues plagued districts across the state this week, including Thursday, one day after state lawmakers questioned Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen on previous Tennessee Ready issues.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, expressed their discontent with the issues.

“You have expressed your concerns to me about Tennessee Ready, and I want you to know that I hear you loud and clear, and I share those same concerns. This entire process has been extremely frustrating and upsetting for our parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and most importantly – our students,” Boyd said.

“I want to apologize on behalf of the state of Tennessee for the terrible issues with Tennessee Ready. The House was in session on Tuesday as the problems began. We were shocked and angry to learn of the trouble as we broke for lunch at noon,” Lynn said.

The representatives and other House members passed a bill Thursday in response to the issues.

As a part of the bill:

• Tennessee schools will not receive a letter grade for the 2017-2018 school year.

• Tennessee Ready will not count toward teachers’ evaluations and students’ final grades for the 2017-2018 school year.

• Tennessee Ready tests will be given on paper for the 2017-2018 school year.

The state Senate also approved a bill in response to the testing issues. As a part of that bill:

• Tennessee schools will not receive a letter grade for the 2017-2018 school year.

• school districts will not be allowed to base termination or compensation decisions on the 2017-2018 Tennessee Ready results.

• school districts can choose to apply 2017-2018 Tennessee Ready assessment data up to 15 percent of a students’ final grade.

• none of the Tennessee Ready assessment data will be used to determine if a school is a priority school, unless the data is favorable.

“As you can see, there are differences between the House and Senate bills. These differences will be settled in talks over the weekend, and by Monday we will vote on a final bill,” said Lynn, who said she preferred the House version of the bill. “The Senate does not mention using paper tests, and in Wilson County, we do not have any priority schools, so that portion would never affect us. And per the Senate bill, the 2017-18 Tennessee Ready test can still count toward teachers’ evaluations; they just cannot be used to terminate or determine compensation for a teacher.”

However, questions remain among parents and educators, including the impact the Tennessee Ready scores will have on Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores, which could count 20 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation at the end of the year, which determines a teacher’s pay.

 The TVAAS measures student growth from year to year. In calculating a TVAAS score, a student’s performance is compared relative to the performance of his or her peers who have performed similarly on past assessments.

“Our intention was to protect the teacher, the school and the student,” said Boyd, who said Thursday he felt the bill accomplished that. “I will definitely check into this and see if we missed something with regard to teachers’ evaluations.”

“Student morale is a key component of how well a student does on a test. Losing work, being disrupted mid-exam and constant delays affect students negatively. We are concerned this will impact scores to the detriment of students, teachers and schools,” said Tennessee Education Association President Barbara Gray. “We are approaching a point where the entire testing system is becoming questionable. Students who start and stop exams may suffer emotionally or become distrustful, which may hurt concentration.”    
Problems with online portions of the Tennessee Ready state assessment started Monday and continued Tuesday morning, which caused Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District to suspend online testing for the second straight day.

Wilson County Schools suspended online testing in sixth through 12th grades at about 10 a.m. Students in third through fifth grades were not impacted because their exams were taken with paper and pencil.

The district faced similar issues Monday morning, the first scheduled day for testing, which caused officials to suspend testing. Tuesday was the first day of testing in the Lebanon Special School District.

McQueen explained the issues and answered questions from legislators during a joint hearing Wednesday.

McQueen said Monday’s issues were due to a conflict between the Classroom Assessment Builder and the test delivery system, which previously shared the same login system, causing unacceptable login delays for some students when they tried to access Tennessee Ready. She said evidence suggested the assessment administrator, Questar, and its data center experienced a cyber attack Tuesday from an external source, which caused the second day of delays.

Many parents have said they don’t feel assured personal student information wasn’t accessed and compromised in the possible attack.

McQueen said there is no evidence at this time that student data or information was compromised, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation does not currently have a criminal investigation underway into Tuesday’s incident, although representatives said they would be willing to perform one.

Legislators from both political parties were critical of McQueen, Questar and the continued failures of the state assessment.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, asked McQueen why she felt she shouldn’t resign after the department continued to fail educators and students.

“After months and months and months into years of failures, your department has failed. It’s time for you to resign and step aside and let somebody else come in and try their hand,” Stewart said. “It’s not a comment on you as a person, but as a manager, you have been unable to get control of this problem, and I think you should explain to this committee why you should the person going forward to even address it.”

The questioning and criticism continued for almost two hours, as several legislators expressed their frustrations with the situation.

“We have some pretty tough guidelines for our teachers, especially when it comes to testing. Matter of fact, committee, if there is a breach while a teacher is proctoring a test, she can be severely dealt with from the Department of Education. It’s no joke. For several years now, there’s been a problem, and I feel like we are wanting and forcing to hold our teachers accountability, all the while I don’t k now that we’re really holding ourselves accountable,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. “There are an immense amount of circumstances that surround taking the test on that side, but I feel like we don’t offer very many excuses for that side, but year after year we’re offering excuses for our side.”

“It’s an unfair stress to put on children that are already stressed out. A lot of times I think we forget just how stressed these babies are, and just how much our education system is focusing a little too much on testing. I believe in standardized tests because you have to have a measure of success, but at the same time, these children, these teachers, these administrators, these principals have done what they’re supposed to do, and to have a test failure like this is ridiculous,” said Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis.

This year’s problems follow a series of issues that surrounded the Tennessee Ready exam and its implementation, including last year, which saw more than 9,000 exams scored incorrectly by exam vendor Questar Assessment.

Students in third through eighth grades were unable to take the exam the previous year, as the previous state exam assessor failed to launch an online test and was unable to deliver testing materials to districts in time.

The delays and miscues prompted parents and administrators to question the reliability of the state assessment, as well as the impact it has on students and educators.

The inconsistency prompted Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright to declare the 2015-2016 school year a hold harmless year for Tennessee Ready scores in the district.


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