Testing Testing

Senate panel votes to void Common Core

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A bill that would dump Common Core standards in Indiana has passed a legislative committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote later this week.

Senate Bill 91’s passage means the state will no longer follow Common Core standards as of July 1, author Scott Schneider said, ending months of sometimes intense debate. That date was intentionally chosen to coincide with a standards review, mandated by the legislature last year and already underway. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has said the review will result in recommendations for new standards by the deadline.

Common Core supporters did not fight the bill, to the surprise of many Democrats on the Senate Education Committee.

Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, led a small group of Common Core backers to the microphone who said they did not object to the bill, once it was amended to go into effect on July 1. The original bill would have voided Common Core once it was passed, potentially leaving Indiana without standards for a short period.

“We do not believe all of this is needed but we believe the process is a reasonable one,” Redelman said.

Democratic senators Earline Rogers, D-Gary, was incredulous.

“You’re OK with striking all references to Common Core?” Rogers asked.

Redelman responded: “It doesn’t prohibit Common Core in the future.”

In just more than a year, Indiana morphed from a strong Common Core state to one that appears ready to toss the national standards aside. In 2010 Indiana was one of earliest of the 45 states that ultimately agreed to make Common Core their state standards with the goal of assuring high school graduates are ready for college or careers. But aopposition, which started with a pair of Indianapolis mothers who thought the standards weakened learning, broadened into a potent force at the statehouse.

Before the November 2012 election, the state’s governor, state superintendent and key legislative leaders all supported Common Core. Then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett was an active promoter of Common Core nationally.

But after Bennett’s defeat by Ritz and the election of Gov. Mike Pence, the state’s commitment was in question. Both were noncommittal about Common Core. Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, announced in early 2013 he changed his mind and aligned with Common Core opponents.

Push back resulted in a 2013 bill that “paused” implementation of Common Core, which the state had been implementing a grade per year starting with kindergarten in 2011. The bill instructed the Indiana State Board of Education to review the standards, take new public testimony and vote by July 1, 2014, as to whether Indiana would continue with the Common Core.

As a result, Ritz and the board initiated a process by which all academic standards are being reviewed with recommendations coming this spring as to whether each should be kept as is or changed. Momentum swung against Common Core earlier this month when Gov. Mike Pence called for “uncommonly high” standards that were “written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers” in his state-of-the state speech, statements widely interpreted as moving away from the national standards.

After the speech Ritz said she did not expect Common Core standards to emerge unchanged from the review process and Common Core supporters said instead they hoped Ritz would propose new standards that incorporated many of its elements. Common Core supporters echoed that sentiment today.

Warren Township Superintendent Dena Cushenberry cautioned that the new standards must reflect Common Core so that students will be able to perform well on college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT, which are moving to connect the tests with the standards.

“If we are not careful, Indiana students will actually lose scholarship money because their standards are not aligned with Common Core,” she said.

But Schneider, and opponents, said the state board should interpret Senate Bill 91 as rejecting Common Core and not try to adopt most of its principles under a new name.

“If some want to say this is an advancement of Common Core and through this process trying to make that happen, so be it,” Schneider said. “But I will tell you there is as a whole group of parent in this state, many of them in this room, that will be watching.”

TNReady snag

Tennessee’s ill-timed score delivery undercuts work to rebuild trust in tests

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
The Tennessee Department of Education worked with local districts and schools to prepare students for TNReady, the state's standardized test that debuted in 2016.

After last year’s online testing failure, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen pledged to rebuild trust in Tennessee’s new TNReady assessment, a lynchpin of the state’s system of school accountability.

A year later, frustration over TNReady has re-emerged, even after a mostly uneventful spring testing period that McQueen declared a success just weeks ago.

Preliminary TNReady scores are supposed to count for 10 percent of students’ final grades. But as many districts end the school year this week, the state’s data is arriving too late. One by one, school systems have opted to exclude the scores, while some plan to issue their report cards late.

The flurry of end-of-school adjustments has left local administrators to explain the changes to parents, educators and students who are already wary of state testing. And the issue has put Tennessee education officials back on the defensive as the state works to regain its footing on testing after last year’s high-profile setbacks.

“We just need to get more crisp as a state,” said Superintendent Dorsey Hopson after Shelby County Schools joined the growing list of districts opting to leave out the scores. “If we know that we want to use (TNReady scores), if the state says use them on the report card, then we got to get them back.”

The confusion represents one step back for TNReady, even after the state took two steps forward this spring with a mostly smooth second year of testing under Questar, its new test maker. Last year, McQueen canceled testing for grades 3-8 and fired Measurement Inc. after Tennessee’s online platform failed and a string of logistical problems ensued.

Why TNReady’s failed rollout leaves Tennessee with challenges for years to come

But the reason this year’s testing went more smoothly may also be the reason why the scores haven’t arrived early enough for many districts.

TNReady was mostly administered on paper this time around, which meant materials had to be processed, shipped and scored before the early data could be shared with districts. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide.

After testing ended on May 5, districts had five days to get their materials to Questar to go to the front of the line for return of preliminary scores. Not all districts succeeded, and some had problems with shipping. Through it all, the State Department of Education has maintained that its timelines are “on track.”

McQueen said Wednesday that districts have authority under a 2015 state law to exclude the scores from students’ final grades if the data doesn’t arrive a week before school lets out. And with 146 districts that set their own calendars, “the flexibility provided under this law is very important.”

Next year will be better, she says, as Tennessee moves more students to online testing, beginning with high school students.

Candice McQueen

“We lose seven to 10 days for potential scoring time just due to shipping and delivery,” she said of paper tests. “Online, those challenges are eliminated because the materials can be uploaded immediately and transferred much much quicker.”

The commissioner emphasized that the data that matters most is not the preliminary data but the final score reports, which are scheduled for release in July for high schools and the fall for grades 3-8. Those scores are factored into teachers’ evaluations and are also used to measure the effectiveness of schools and districts. 

“Not until you get the score report will you have the full context of a student’s performance level and strengths and weaknesses in relation to the standards,” she said.

The early data matters to districts, though, since Tennessee has tied the scores to student grades since 2011.

“Historically, we know that students don’t try as hard when the tests don’t count,” said Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for Wilson County Schools, a district outside of Nashville that opted to issue report cards late. “We’re trying to get our students into the mindset that tests do matter, that this means business.”

Regardless, this year’s handling of early scores has left many parents and educators confused, some even exasperated.

“There’s so much time and stress on students, and here again it’s not ready,” said Tikeila Rucker, a Memphis teacher who is president of the United Education Association of Shelby County.

“The expectation is that we would have the scores back,” Hopson agreed.

But Hopson, who heads Tennessee’s largest district in Memphis, also is taking the long view.

“It’s a new test and a new process and I’m sure the state is trying to figure it all out,” he said. “Obviously the process was better this year than last year.”

Laura Faith Kebede and Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

Not Ready

Memphis students won’t see TNReady scores reflected in their final report cards

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

Shelby County Schools has joined the growing list of Tennessee districts that won’t factor preliminary state test scores into students’ final grades this year.

The state’s largest school district didn’t receive raw score data in time, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education began sharing the preliminary scores this week, too late in the school year for many districts letting out in the same week. That includes Shelby County Schools, which dismisses students on Friday.

While a state spokeswoman said the timelines are “on track,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the timing was unfortunate.

“There’s a lot of discussion about too many tests, and I think anytime you have a situation where you advertise the tests are going to be used for one thing and then we don’t get the data back, it becomes frustrating for students and families. But that’s not in our control,” he said Tuesday night.

Hopson added that the preliminary scores will still get used eventually, but just not in students’ final grades. “As we get the data and as we think about our strategy, we’ll just make adjustments and try to use them appropriately,” he said.

The decision means that all four of Tennessee’s urban districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga won’t include TNReady in all of their students’ final grades. Other school systems, such as in Williamson and Wilson counties, plan to make allowances by issuing report cards late, and Knox County will do the same for its high school students.

Under a 2015 state law, districts can leave out standardized test scores if the information doesn’t arrive five instructional days before the end of the school year. This year, TNReady is supposed to count for 10 percent of final grades.

Also known as “quick scores,” the data is different from the final test scores that will be part of teachers’ evaluation scores. The state expects to release final scores for high schoolers in July and for grades 3-8 in the fall.

The Department of Education has been working with testing company Questar to gather and score TNReady since the state’s testing window ended on May 5. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide in grades 3-11.

State officials could not provide a district-by-district listing of when districts will receive their scores.

“Scores will continue to come out on a rolling basis, with new data released every day, and districts will receive scores based on their timely return of testing materials and their completion of the data entry process,” spokeswoman Sara Gast told Chalkbeat on Monday. “Based on district feedback, we have prioritized returning end-of-course data to districts first.”

Caroline Bauman and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.