Legislators make Tennessee Ready ‘hold harmless’

Xavier Smith • Apr 26, 2018 at 4:58 PM

State lawmakers agreed to lessen the impact of this year’s Tennessee Ready issues on students and teachers Wednesday after weeks of debate following several issues with the state assessment.

The compromise between the two legislative chambers eased concerns of educators, parents and school administrators after legislators passed a bill in response to the testing issues.

As a part of the bill, school districts can choose to apply 2017-2018 Tennessee Ready assessment data up to 15 percent of a students’ final grade, and will not be allowed to base termination or compensation decisions on the 2017-2018 Tennessee Ready results.

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.

Wednesday’s compromise bill addressed those concerns and made it so “no adverse action may be taken” against students, teachers, schools or districts based on this year’s assessment.

Lawmakers from both chambers were at an impasse throughout the day, with each side focused on different aspects of the issue.

“This also completely protects teacher’s TVAAS from being negatively impacted from the 2017-2018 TN Ready scores. If the results are good and the teacher wants to use the results they can. If the teacher does not want to use the TN Ready results from this year, the classroom observation portion will replace that portion on the TVAAS,” said state Rep. Clark Boyd. “This gives our teachers the protection they have been asking for from this disastrous TN Ready test. I am proud to have been a part of this.”

“We have worked closely with legislators to advocate for further measures to protect teachers,” said Audrey Shores, Professional Educators of Tennessee chief operating officer. “We are pleased that legislators unanimously provided that students, educators or schools will not be held responsible for unreliable results from the failures of the TN Ready online assessment platform this year.”

Shores said the group would like to see the Tennessee Department of Education host a taskforce on TVAAS in the near future. 

Problems with online portions of the Tennessee Ready state assessment occurred last week, which caused Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District to suspend online testing throughout the week.

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

McQueen said the 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.

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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