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


Help The Signal Mountain Robertson Police And Fire Christmas Fund

Over the last year and a half, there have been terrorist attacks on two Chattanooga military facilities, multiple shootings, a horrific bus accident, and out of control wildfires. During these moments, police, fire, and emergency personnel, typically the first responders, courageously run towards these tragedies to save, protect, and defend the people impacted. In the last year, ... (click for more)

Thankful For The Relationship Between McCallie And Ridgedale Community

I would like to thank all the leadership at McCallie for allowing us to use the ROC for holding the Ridgedale annual Christmas party. It is very ironic that the initial meeting Patricia Rogers held to see about forming a community association in Ridgedale was held 23 years ago in December.  Miss Rogers' vision to end the decay and blight surrounding her and her mother was ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Council Looking Into Taking Over Schools

A new group of Signal Mountain Town Council members is looking into taking over county schools within the town boundaries.   Two newly elected board members, Amy Speek and Dan Landrum, joined the council Friday afternoon at the first work session after the election. The election of mayor and vice mayor for the next two years came first on the agenda. Dick Gee, mayor ... (click for more)

East Ridge Meth Dealer Gets 168 Months In Federal Prison

A man that agents said was dealing large quantities of meth from his East Ridge residence has been sentenced to serve 168 months in federal prison. Kenneth Lemons appeared before Judge Curtis Collier. Agents said they made several controlled drugs buys from Lemons at his residence in 2015. On Oct. 27, 2015, he drove up to a residence where DEA agents were making a controlled ... (click for more)

Bradley Totally Dominates Ooltewah Invitational

We’re just now through the second week of the high school wrestling season, but the Bradley Bears appear to already be in mid-season form. The Bears, defending state champs for the duals and the traditional tournament, won the Heritage Duals last weekend and they added the Ooltewah Invitational this week as they claimed 10 champions and won going away with 268.5 points. The ... (click for more)

Irish Stick Around, Rally Late To Beat Hixson 64-61

Notre Dame’s basketball team proved Saturday that it’s better to lead late than early. The Irish trailed Hixson for almost 30 minutes – and by as many as 12 points – before taking a 59-57 lead on Akil Sledge’s two free throws with 2:02 left and went on to knock off the Wildcats 64-61 in the eighth Hoops For Hope charity basketball event at Girls Preparatory School. Notre ... (click for more)