common core

Common Core bill delayed as conversation shifts in legislature

PHOTO: G.Tatter
In February, the state House Education Instruction and Planning convened before a packed crowd interested in the fate of the Common Core State Standards. This week, the crowd was lighter, and the bill was scrapped.

The curtain rose Wednesday at the Tennessee legislature on official debate about the Common Core State Standards, but despite a packed audience, the show was postponed.

The House subcommittee in charge of academic standards was scheduled to discuss House Bill 3, which would scrap Common Core in Tennessee by the 2016-2017 school year.

But citing an “epiphany,” Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) asked Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), the sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, to roll the bill a week while lawmakers confer with Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.

Forgety’s bill calls for creation of new standards in a review process similar to the one Haslam began in last fall. Forgety said it was possible that his proposed review and the governor’s could be aligned so that no legislation would be necessary. He noted that he began drafting his bill in June, almost five months before the governor’s review process was even announced.

The intent of the bill, Forgety said, is to make sure teachers have a voice in the academic standards they must teach by.

“I’m of the opinion that this body (the legislature) should not be in the business of telling a third-grade teacher how to teach,” said Forgety, a former teacher and school superintendent.

While Forgety’s proposal mandates new state standards by 2016-2017, the governor’s review process assumes that Tennesseans might stay the course on Common Core. Otherwise, Forgety’s proposal is not that different from the review already underway. He would have the State Board of Education appoint six advisory teams specialized by subject and grade levels. Each would include at least three public school teachers and instructional leaders; one faculty member from a higher education institution in this state; and two parents of public school students.

In Haslam’s review, all Tennesseeans can comment online on the standards. There are also two eight-person committees of educators from across the state, and three advisory teams of educators that work under those committees. Just as with Forgety’s proposal, members of the panels were appointed by the State Board of Education.

In the months leading up to the legislative session, Common Core naysayers dominated headlines with protests and anti-Core school board campaigns. Many legislators, including some members of education committees in the House and Senate, publicly and adamantly oppose Common Core, and Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey declared the standards were as good as dead earlier in the week, before official debate even began.

But as the week progressed, supporters of the standards — or at least of the review process already in place — have become more vocal. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Organization of State Superintendents (TOSS) released a letter to lawmakers asking them to maintain the state’s current academic standards for now. The conversation seems to have shifted, with lawmakers no longer asking whether to repeal the current standards, but how best to review, and possibly adapt, the standards.

Common Core State Standards are benchmarks in English language arts and math that dictate the skills students should have at each grade level. In 2010, Tennessee joined most other states in implementing the standards and has been developing a test to align with them to accurately measure students’ academic progress. Opposition to the standards – which are tied to education grant programs under President Obama’s administration – is in part due to fears of federal overreach.

Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.
Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.

The House subcommittee’s meeting room was filled with constituents, including teachers, organized by Tennesseans for Student Success, an advocacy group in favor of keeping the standards for now. The group introduced itself to many Tennesseans through television and radio advertisements asking lawmakers for “results, not rhetoric.” Supporters wore green stickers with the slogan “Going Backwards is Unacceptable. No on HB3.” Some wore matching red T-shirts with the same message.

Wayne Miller, executive director of TOSS, said Wednesday he trusts any review process endorsed by Forgety. Miller has said that school superintendents are not against Tennessee changing its standards but doesn’t want a hasty move that disrupts teachers and students.

“I think [Forgety] is ‘spot on’ on wanting to focus everyone’s attention on what’s a good, fair way to make sure that all Tennesseans have buy-in,” Miller said. “He is as purely motivated around this subject as anyone could be. Anytime you get collaborative conversation, you’re going to get a better product.”

Forgety predicted more bills related to the standards will be filed this week. Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville), chairwoman of the Senate Education committee, filed a bill similar to Forgety’s in November.

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.

Making the grade

TNReady scores are about to go out to Tennessee districts, but not all will make student report cards

PHOTO: Chalkbeat Photo Illustration

The State Department of Education will start Monday to distribute the test score data that goes into students’ final report cards, but it won’t arrive in time for every district across the state.

That’s because some districts already have ended their school years, some won’t have time to incorporate TNReady grades before dismissing their students, and some missed the state’s first deadline for turning in testing materials.

“Our timelines for sharing TNReady scores are on track,” spokeswoman Sara Gast said Friday, noting that the schedule was announced last fall. “We have said publicly that districts will receive raw score data back in late May.”

Shelby County Schools is waiting to see when their scores arrive before making a decision. A spokeswoman said Tennessee’s largest district met all testing deadlines, and needs the scores by Monday to tabulate them into final grades. The district’s last day of school is next Friday.

School leaders in Nashville and Kingsport already have chosen to exclude the data from final grades, while Williamson County Schools is delaying their report cards.

A 2015 state law lets districts opt to exclude the data if scores aren’t received at least five instructional days before the end of the school year.

TNReady scores are supposed to count for 10 percent of this year’s final grades. As part of the transition to TNReady, the weight gradually will rise to between 15 and 25 percent (districts have flexibility) as students and teachers become more familiar with the new test.

The first wave of scores are being sent just weeks after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declared this year’s testing a “success,” both on paper and online for the 24 districts that opted to test high school students online this year. Last year, Tennessee had a string of TNReady challenges in the test’s inaugural year. After the online platform failed and numerous delivery delays of printed testing materials, McQueen canceled testing in grades 3-8 and fired its previous test maker, Measurement Inc.

Tennessee test scores have been tied to student grades since 2011, but this is the first year that the state used a three-week testing window instead of two. Gast said the added time was to give districts more flexibility to administer their tests. But even with the added week, this year’s timeline was consistent with past years, she said.

Once testing ended on May 5, school districts had five days to meet the first deadline, which was on May 10, to return those materials over to Questar, the state’s new Minneapolis-based testing company.

School officials in Nashville said that wasn’t enough time.

“Due to the volume of test documents and test booklets that we have to account for and process before return for scoring, our materials could not be picked up before May 12,” the district said in a statement on Thursday.

Because districts turned in their testing materials at different times, the release of raw scores, will also be staggered across the next three weeks, Gast said.