Straight Talk On TCAP Delay

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Tennessee we appreciate straight talk and candor. We unquestionably detest hypocrisy.  We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies and even by our government.   This has been quite evident in recent days by the Tennessee Department of Education, who inexcusably failed to get test scores to districts on time after months of preparation.  

Perhaps in a kinder, gentler world we could shrug our shoulders and say “go get them next time.”  However, this is the age of accountability with the “survival-of-the-fittest” or “me-first” attitude that thrives (largely driven by the politics and culture in which we live).  In this case, accountability in public education on the TCAP problem begins and ends with the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Test results, as pointed out by one editorial in Knoxville “are used in teacher evaluations, in grading the overall performance of individual schools and systems and for other purposes.”  State law requires that TCAP results account for 15 percent to 25 percent of a student’s final grade.  An argument can be made that Common Core and TCAP are not aligned so it does not make sense to use the TCAP scores in calculating students' final grades.  An appropriate response to that statement would be, perhaps they should not have been teaching standards that did not align with what students were going to be tested over the last couple of years and making it part of a student’s final grade. 

Our belief is that this latest testing gaffe was simply due to incompetence, rather than any intentional violation of laws, regulations or established procedures not being followed.  The men and women at the Tennessee Department of Education work extremely hard, just like the men and women who teach in our schools.  They strive for excellence, and should not be impugned by this particular fiasco, no matter how well intentioned the stated objectives for the delay.   A mistake was made, and we should endeavor to make sure it does not occur in the future. 

As an organization, we believe in due diligence and avoiding overreacting to issues.  We have adopted the discipline by carefully choosing our words carefully, like the carpenter who measures twice, cuts once. At times, systems simply do not work, and they need to be corrected.   That is our message to policymakers and stakeholders alike.  There is no attempt to imply any nefarious activity.     

However, there is no denying that school systems across the state were blindsided by the delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores.  Every system in the state was impacted.  Policymakers must ensure the public is served:  especially the children, families and school districts across the state.  To that end, we requested that legislators inquire, formally or informally, specific information from the Tennessee Department of Education immediately.  In fact, if the Tennessee General Assembly were in session we believe a hearing on this matter would be appropriate.  The goal here is not to blame, but rather correct system failure. 

We would suggest asking the following questions: 

When was Ms. Erin O’ Hara, assistant commissioner for data and research, made aware of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores?

When were other state officials and members of the General Assembly, such as Commissioner Huffman and Governor Haslam, made aware of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores? 

Who made the decision to not notify superintendents immediately of the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores? And when was that decision made?

Who were the unnamed “external experts” that signed off on the validity, reliability and accuracy of the results? Please list their names, qualifications and any existing contract authorizing their role in this issue. 

Was any unnamed “external expert” granted access to individual student data?  If so please disclose the names, qualifications and contract that granted experts access to the information they utilized .

Where in current existing state law is permission granted to the Commissioner of Education to issue waivers for exemption from a state requirement that TCAP scores account for 15-25 percent of students’ final grades?  (According to the Tennessean 104 school districts requested waivers). 

What is the financial cost to the school districts and state created by the timing issue and delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores? Will the state cover this cost for districts? 

What safeguards can be put in place to avoid any future issues, or should we simply not count test results in students' final grades? 

The use of high-stakes testing as the sole measure of student achievement is justly under increased scrutiny.  We welcome that discussion and debate.

As we have continuously pointed out, transitioning to any new test, the most common issues that the state has not addressed is ongoing or increasing costs, technical concerns and fears that the test could limit flexibility in crafting future curriculum.  Transitioning Tennessee’s value-added data from TCAP to whatever future test the state ultimately adopts and utilizes will also take some time and adjustment---that is to be expected.  A potential issue we anticipate is that the state has not adequately made clear how TVAAS will handle the transition from all bubble-in tests to constructed response tests. Legislators must start asking more detailed questions, and seeking answers from educators in our schools. There will always be issues, debate and discussion in public education.   

In the end, getting accountability correct is the objective.  The decisions policymakers make on behalf of students are actions of no small consequence. No one, least of all educators, would desire to see students victimized by testing. When we make decisions on the basis of untimely data or careless research, we place students at risk.  We can and we must do better.

J.C. Bowman and Audrey Shores


Trump Needs To Come Run Hamilton County Schools

After shoveling through all the hyperbole, rhetoric, blustering, and noisy tantrums in the local news outlets this week, it's clear that no leadership involved with the darling Hamilton County School System knows how to manage things.    Why is building a new Harrison Elementary such a problem for people?  Word is that raw sewage erupts from restroom stalls.  Who ... (click for more)

Killing Public Education

Bill O'Reilly has gone on quite a killing spree. He has written books such as Killing the Rising Sun, Killing Reagan, Killing Patton, Killing Jesus, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. I think he should also write one called Killing Public Education.  Here is what is killing public education: A Culture of Disrespect is rampant in our schools. This can be created by a ... (click for more)

St. Elmo Woman, 45, Dies At County Workhouse On Wednesday Night; Investigation Underway

An inmate died at the county workhouse at Silverdale on Wednesday night, and an investigation is underway.   She was identified as  Dana Shunice Palmer, 45, of St. Elmo.   Ms. Palmer was booked into the Hamilton County Jail from the Chattanooga Police Department on Feb. 14 on a public Intoxication charge. She was transferred from the jail to CoreCivic ... (click for more)

Shannon Whitfield Raising Rates At Money-Losing Walker County Landfill; Moratorium Placed On Fracking, Deep Well Drilling, Tiny Homes

New Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield is raising rates at the money-losing Walker County Landfill. The higher charges go into effect on March 1. Mr. Whitfield, during his campaign, said the landfill had been losing about $500,000 per year for many years. He said other area landfills were making a profit, but Walker County was having to subsidize its landfill. ... (click for more)

Legendary Howard Coach Henry Bowles Dies At 80

Legendary Howard High Coach Henry Wesley Bowles, Sr., has died at the age of 80 after a lengthy illness. Coach Bowles was born in Chattanooga on Oct. 14, 1936. He graduated from Howard High School, class of 1955, and received his bachelor of arts degree from Lane College, Jackson, Tn. While at Lane College, he was student council president, business manager and Who’s Who among ... (click for more)

Silverdale Girls Claim District 5-A Championship

The face and philosophy might have changed, but the expectations for the Silverdale Baptist Academy girls’ basketball team remained the same. Heading into the season with five seniors and a first-year, first-time head coach in Victor Underwood, the Lady Seahawks had their sights set on winning a District 5-A championship. Wednesday night, they achieved that goal with ... (click for more)