united in orange but not on bill

State Board splits over testing and standards delay

State Board of Education members — who work hard to bridge partisan and philosophical divisions — fractured dramatically Friday over a new bill that proposes to delay implementation of state academic content standards and new tests.

During the legislative session the board meets regularly to consider taking positions on bills. Top of the agenda Friday was Senate Bill 14-136, which was introduced last Monday by several Republican legislators (see this story for details).

The discussion accelerated quickly after a briefing by Jennifer Mello, board and Department of Education lobbyist.

Noting that state content standards (adopted in 2009) already are being rolled out in school districts, Democratic member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver said, “I don’t know that we can support it when the standards are being implemented. It’s totally inconsistent with the work the department has done and is doing.”

Marcia Neal, a Grand Junction Republican, weighed in to say, “I have very little patience with this bill. We all know it is not going to pass. Why are we being dragged through this?”

She added that the bill seems “designed to make Republicans look bad.” Neal participated via speakerphone, as did three other members, giving the meeting an occasionally disjointed feel.

But Republican board chair Paul Lundeen of Monument, also on speakerphone, defended the bill, saying that public conversation only now is “catching up” with the issues of standards and testing. “Sometimes the fastest way to make progress is to turn around,” he said, adding the bill is “appropriate, in my opinion.”

Neal asked, “Are you taking this bill seriously?” to which Lundeen said, “This may be the first step in a long journey.”

Republican member Deb Scheffel of Parker described ideas behind the bill as “a grassroots effort on the part of parents … this bill addresses part of that concern.” Pam Mazanec, a Republican member from Larkspur, agreed, saying, “This bill is a response to a growing concern … and I don’t see anything ridiculous about it.”

Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder said SB 14-136 would undo the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which mandated new standards, new tests and better alignment of K-12 and higher education. “I don’t think our education system can stand the kind of change” that would be forced by moratoria on standards and testing.

Neal moved that the board take a “monitoring” position on the bill – taking no position. Berman, Schroeder and Democrat Jane Goff of Arvada supported the motion, while Lundeen, Scheffel and Mazanec voted no. (Neal said later she neither supports nor opposes the bill at this point.)

“The motion carries. We’ll monitor this bill,” Lundeen said, ending the discussion.

The board also had a split 5-2 vote on support of House Bill 14-1182, a measure that would tinker slightly with annual state ratings of districts and schools for one year during the transition between old and new tests (details in this story).

The bill wouldn’t affect possible board interventions in struggling districts that have reached the end of the five-year “accountability clock.” Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said failure to pass the bill would mean such districts “basically get a hold harmless year.”

Lundeen said, “I’ve got a little bit of heartburn with this” without elaborating, and he and Scheffel voted against the motion to support the bill.

Not on the board’s agenda was House Bill 14-1202, a measure introduced Thursday that would allow school districts to waive out of some state testing requirements. It’s backed by the Douglas County school board (see story here).

Testing will be on the board’s agenda later this month, when it’s scheduled to hold a study session on the topic.

Hammond also told Chalkbeat Colorado earlier this week that CDE is working with WestEd, an education consulting organization, to study the implementation of new Colorado tests both this school year and next.

The intent is to “really study the intended and unintended consequences,” said Associate Commissioner Jill Hawley. The research will include surveys of districts and focus groups.

During the interview both Hammond and Hawley noted that implementation of standards and tests is required by state law and that testing and student growth data are the foundation of the state’s performance rating system for schools and districts and an important part of teacher evaluations.

“There’s not a way to go back in time,” Hawley said. “Our duty and our obligation is to carry forward with” helping districts implement the law.

Board members, who are elected from congressional districts, represent a spectrum of educational views in addition to their partisan differences. Anxious to increase the body’s influence on education policy, members have worked hard to bridge differences and present a united front in recent years.

But that unity appeared to crack a bit on Friday.

At one point, Berman (in the board room) said to Lundeen (on the phone), “I personally think, Paul, that you are making a strong political statement and are being very partisan. … If this board is to be taken seriously … you are not the leader helping us get there.”

Lundeen said, “I do seek board unity” but encourage “robust, open and wide-ranging conversation.” He said standards and testing are not partisan issues for the general public.

Surprising report

EXCLUSIVE: Did online snafus skew Tennessee test scores? Analysts say not much

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will release the results of Tennessee's 2017-18 standardized test this week, but the reliability of those TNReady scores has been in question since this spring's problem-plagued administration of the online exam.

An independent analysis of technical problems that disrupted Tennessee’s online testing program this spring is challenging popular opinion that student scores were significantly tainted as a result.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Wednesday that the disruptions to computerized testing had “small to no impact” on scores, based on a monthlong analysis by the Human Resources Research Organization, or HumRRO. The Virginia-based technical group has expertise in psychometrics, the science behind educational assessments.

“We do believe these are valid, reliable scores,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on the eve of releasing state- and district-level scores for TNReady, the state’s standardized test in its third year.


Here are five things to know as Tennessee prepares to release TNReady scores


The state hired the research group to scrutinize several issues, including whether frequent online testing snafus made this year’s results unreliable. For instance, during at least seven days out of the three-week testing window, students statewide reported problems logging in, staying online, and submitting their tests — issues that eventually prompted the Legislature to roll back the importance of scores in students’ final grades, teacher evaluations, and school accountability systems.

But the analysis did not reveal a dramatic impact.

“For students who experienced the disruption, the analysis did not find any systematic effect on test scores that resulted from lapses in time between signing in and submitting their tests,” McQueen told Chalkbeat.

There was, however, a “small but consistent effect” if a student had to log on multiple times in order to complete the test, she said.

“When I say small, we’re talking about an impact that would be a handful of scale score points out of, say, a possible 200 or 250 points,” McQueen said.

Analysts found some differences in test score averages between 2017 and 2018 but concluded they were not due to the technical disruptions.

“Plausible explanations could be the students just didn’t know the (academic) standards as well and just didn’t do as well on the test,” McQueen said. “Or perhaps they were less motivated after learning that their scores would not count in their final grades after the legislation passed. … The motivation of our students is an unknown we just can’t quantify. We can’t get in their minds on motivation.”

About half of the 600,000 students who took TNReady this year tested with computers, and the other half used paper materials in the state’s transition to online exams. Those testing online included all high school students.

Out of about 502,000 end-of-course tests administered to high schoolers, educators filed about 7,600 irregularity reports – about 1.4 percent – related to problems with test administration, which automatically invalidated those results.

The state asked the analysts specifically to look at the irregularity reports for patterns that could be cause for concern, such as demographic shifts or excessive use of invalidations. They found none.

TNReady headaches started on April 16 – the first day of testing – when students struggled to log on. More problems emerged during the weeks that followed until technicians finally traced the issues to a combination of “bugs in the software” and the slowness of a computerized tool that helps students in need of audible instructions. At one point, officials with testing company Questar blamed a possible cyberattack for shutting down its online platform, but state investigators later dismissed that theory.

While this year’s scores officially are mostly inconsequential, McQueen emphasized Wednesday that the results are still valuable for understanding student performance and growth and analyzing the effectiveness of classroom instruction across Tennessee.

“TNReady scores should be looked at just like any data point in the scheme of multiple data points,” she said. “That’s how we talk about this every year. But it’s an important data point.”

heads up

Tennessee will release TNReady test scores on Thursday. Here are five things to know.

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

When Tennessee unveils its latest standardized test scores on Thursday, the results won’t count for much.

Technical problems marred the return to statewide online testing this spring, prompting the passage of several emergency state laws that rendered this year’s TNReady scores mostly inconsequential. As a result, poor results can’t be used to hold students, educators, or schools accountable — for instance, firing a teacher or taking over a struggling school through the state’s Achievement School District.

But good or bad, the scores still can be useful, say teachers like Josh Rutherford, whose 11th-grade students were among those who experienced frequent online testing interruptions in April.

“There are things we can learn from the data,” said Rutherford, who teaches English at Houston County High School. “I think it would be unprofessional to simply dismiss this year’s scores.”

Heading into this week’s data dump, here are five things to know:

1. This will be the biggest single-day release of state scores since the TNReady era began three years ago.

Anyone with internet access will be able to view state- and district-level scores for math, English, and science for grades 3-12. And more scores will come later. School-by-school data will be released publicly in a few weeks. In addition, Tennessee will unveil the results of its new social studies test this fall after setting the thresholds for what constitutes passing scores at each grade level.

2. Still, this year’s results are anticlimactic.

There are two major reasons. First, many educators and parents question the scores’ reliability due to days of online testing headaches. They also worry that high school students stopped trying after legislators stepped in to say the scores don’t necessarily have to count in final grades. Second, because the scores won’t carry their intended weight, the stakes are lower this year. For instance, teachers have the option of nullifying their evaluation scores. And the state also won’t give each school an A-F grade this fall as originally planned. TNReady scores were supposed to be incorporated into both of those accountability measures.

3. The state is looking into the reliability of the online test scores.

In addition to an internal review by the Education Department, the state commissioned an independent analysis by the Human Resources Research Organization. Researchers for the Virginia-based technical group studied the impact of Tennessee’s online interruptions by looking into testing irregularity reports filed in schools and by scrutinizing variances from year to year and school to school, among other things.

4. The reliability of paper-and-pencil test scores are not in question.

Only about half of Tennessee’s 600,000 students who took TNReady this year tested on computers. The other half — in grades 3-5 and many students in grades 6-8 — took the exams the old-fashioned way. Though there were some complaints related to paper testing too, state officials say they’re confident about those results. Even so, the Legislature made no distinction between the online and paper administrations of TNReady when they ordered that scores only count if they benefit students, teachers, and schools.

5. Ultimately, districts and school communities will decide how to use this year’s data.

Even within the same district, it wasn’t uncommon for one school to experience online problems and another to enjoy a much smoother testing experience. “Every district was impacted differently,” said Dale Lynch, executive director of the state superintendents organization. “It’s up to the local district to look at the data and make decisions based on those local experiences.”

District leaders have been reviewing the embargoed scores for several weeks, and they’ll share them with teachers in the days and weeks ahead. As for families, parents can ask to see their students’ individual score reports so they can learn from this year’s results, too. Districts distribute those reports in different ways, but they’re fair game beginning Thursday. You can learn more here.