Testing Testing

Spivey: Latest Common Core ‘repeal’ proposal a compromise

Following intense talks on Common Core between state lawmakers and Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, a compromise bill emerged this week to continue the governor’s review of the controversial academic standards, with one added step – the creation of a third committee in the process.

Under the latest proposal, members of the additional recommendation committee would be appointed by the speakers of both chambers of the legislature, as well as by the governor.

Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) amended a bill originally about drivers’ education to include the new proposal. It passed Wednesday with minimal discussion in the House Education Instruction and Programming Subcommittee.

When presenting the amended bill, Spivey said only: “This bill would repeal the Common Core Standards in Tennessee, and that’s it in a nutshell.”

However, it’s unclear how much that “new” standards adopted under this bill would differ from Tennessee’s existing Common Core State Standards.

Common Core is a set of academic benchmarks that Tennessee adopted in 2010 and began using in some classrooms in the 2012-13 school year. Criticized for reasons ranging from vagueness to testing alignment to federal overreach, some state lawmakers have sought to repeal the standards. Last fall, Haslam initiated a year-long review of the standards, with recommendations for changes to be submitted to the State Board of Education by the end of 2015.

Speaking with Chalkbeat on Thursday, Spivey said his proposal seeks to strengthen the governor’s review process. Even if the resulting standards are similar to Common Core, he said, people concerned with the origins of the standards — which Tennessee adopted along with 45 other states and the District of Columbia — should be comforted by the thoroughness of the vetting process, as well as the state’s stewardship of money already invested to implement Common Core.

Rep. Billy Spivey
PHOTO: TN.gov
Rep. Billy Spivey

“This bill probably isn’t going to make anybody extremely happy, but I think everybody can walk away with some measure of happiness, because it creates a very high college and career standard for Tennessee students, and it does it in a matter that’s not so fast that the teachers are knocked off of their heels again,” Spivey said.

Spivey’s proposal differs from the governor’s only in its official break with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers – the organizations out of which the Common Core was born – and an added review committee, with members not only appointed by the governor, but also by House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Haslam’s current review includes two eight-person committees of educators from across the state, and three advisory teams of educators that work under those committees. Members of these panels were appointed by the State Board of Education.

Spivey said adding the speakers’ appointments to the new committee would ensure a fairer process. He said he trusts the speakers to select members knowledgeable about education. “We obviously trust the leadership we have, or we wouldn’t have placed the gavels with them,” he said. “They’re very capable of finding people relevant to the job at hand.”

Spivey, along with Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), previously had backed off a bill to repeal the Common Core – which included a review process separate from the governor’s – because of its high cost.

The governor launched the state’s review in response to growing concern about the standards in Tennessee, which mirrors controversy about them nationwide. Many critics charge that the standards were imposed by the federal government, although they in fact resulted from a collaborative effort among states.

Advocacy groups supporting the Common Core and the governor’s review say Spivey’s new proposal isn’t ideal, but that it’s better than other bills filed this session that would outright repeal the Common Core. None of the other proposals have been scheduled for consideration this legislative session.

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.

“House Bill 1035, as amended, is the result of ongoing conversations about how best to review and improve Tennessee’s academic standards in a way that doesn’t create confusion in the classroom, and that supports student success,” said Tennesseans for Students Success, an advocacy group with ties to Haslam, in a statement released onWednesday. “Is it perfect? No. But, while we still do not believe this bill is necessary, we’re encouraged that it appears to codify the current review process, respects varying points of view, and most importantly avoids disrupting the progress being made in Tennessee’s classrooms.”

Contact Grace Tatter at [email protected]

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rules and regs

State shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.