“We must make this the decade of education reform,” he wrote in January 2010, later citing initiatives he favors: decisions driven by “transparent on student achievement,” differentiated pay for high-performing teachers and, perhaps most telling, “taking seriously who needs to leave the system” to upgrade the teaching profession. (http://archive.tennessean.com/article/20131125/NEWS04/311250021/Chorus-criticism-doesn-t-stop-reform-minded-TN-education-chief-Huffman)
The above is the most telling paragraph in an article written by Joey Garrison on Kevin Huffman in November of 2013. Everything in that statement frames the situation Mr Huffman and the Tennessee Department of Education now find themselves embroiled in. He says that student achievement data needs to be transparent. Currently it most certainly is not. We have no idea about what’s on the test or how scores are calculated and apparently those rules are being written on the fly. Meanwhile it is the time to apply his assertion about “taking seriously who needs to leave the system.”
This has been the year of heavy scrutiny upon standardized tests. Parents are paying more attention then ever to what kind of testing their children are being subjected to and have started to raise questions. Its fair to say that a level of distrust has begun to ferment. Criticism’s have been leveled that testing reduces a child to just the measured and that “cut scores” are merely political machinations. If there ever was ever a time for a process to run smoothly and error free, now was the time.
Unfortunately, the Tennessee Department of Education failed to rise to the challenge. What they’ve created is akin to telling a heart patient they have six months to live but you can get them their medicine in 7 months. Think that’s hyperbole? Talk to some Tennessee families about the stress they’ve endured this spring over testing. Talk to some teachers and administrators about the pressure they’ve felt over the upcoming tests and their effect on their livelihood. I think the illustration is spot on and in this case the patient has “done died”.
Think about it. How valid can we really consider these scores to be? You may call it “post-equating” but to me it sounds like manipulation. We’ve all taken tests given by teachers. They write the test, hand it out, grade it in a timely fashion and return it. There is no need for “post-equating”. You either knew the material or you didn’t. Occasionally results were applied to a bell curve buts it was done by the teacher and all students were made aware of how and why that curve worked. It was all pretty simple. Apparently its not so simple when the state is involved.
I’ve always believed these test scores were finessed to tell the political story that was desired at the time. “We’re doing great. we need to continue with the same policies.” or “We are doing terrible. Its time for change”. It was an unspoken truth that “cut scores” changed annually. Problem was, test were so lacking of transparency that you could never cite evidence to 100% prove that they were manipulated and the message was so controlled that it was hard to dispute.
This latest debacle blows a hole in the argument that scores aren’t massaged. I’m sorry “post-equated”. Added to the “post equating” is some mumbo jumbo about making sure questions “align with common core”. To me that sounds like arbitrarily looking at questions and throwing a few out. Anybody who’s ever looked at these tests in-depth is aware of much just changing one or two variables can change the whole narrative. Back home, we call it cooking the books.
I can hear the chorus coming from TN department of Education now, “You’re spreading half truths! We’re emphasizing accuracy over speed!” Well here is another truism that I’ve lived with my whole life in the customer service realm, perception is nine tenths of reality. That’s why these results have now been corrupted beyond redemption. There will always be a question of their authenticity. This is inexcusable and someone needs to be held accountable.
The integrity of the test and its results have been placed on such a pedestal that it has now become the focus to a large portion of the population for several months a year. The ramifications of test scores have grown exponentially. Commissioner Huffman was willing to stake teachers careers on test results. Parents hire tutors and make decisions on extra curricular activities based on the test. Remember Little Leagues don’t play games during test week. Teachers and administers lay awake at night fretting about how to wring more points out of their children. After all if they lose their jobs due to test scores, the mortgage gets hard to pay. They try to use that to justify attention diverted from their own families. Yes Mr Huffman, teachers have families, but that’s another story for another day. Today’s story is how you took all this focus and made it for naught.
The crowning point of this CF is the solution. So we’ve already established that this years data is useless, but its still supposed to be included in students final grades per a Tennessee statute. The Tennessee Department of Education’s response is to further re-enforce the worthlessness of the results by granting waivers. That’s right, all school districts who request a waiver for these scores being used in final grades will receive a waiver to include scores in final grades. Now I’ll admit I’m a little lazy and I haven’t looked it up, but I’m pretty certain the Tennessee statute doesn’t read, “TCAP tests shall make up 15 to 25% of a students final grade unless the Tennessee Department of Education fails to do its job.”
Its interesting because the commissioner has always liked to play a little loose with the waivers. Last year he granted one to a charter outside of Memphis but when I asked if MNPS would be eligible for one, I was told he doesn’t have that kind of power. Somebody must have given it to him since then because he’s certainly handing them out now, further reinforcing the perception that the test results are worthless. Hopefully some elected state officials will take a look at where he got that power.
Hopefully by now you’re starting to realize the scope of this fiasco. Its not some harmless clerical error. Those of you who have ever proctored one of these test know how fiercely the propriety of these tests are guarded. Walls are covered up, teachers swear blood oaths and parents are never allowed to see the questions. That’s got to change. Mr. Huffman needs to resign and tests need to be released to those who truly have the best interests of the students at heart, the parents and the teachers. If he truly believes in making this the decade of education reform, Mr. Huffman needs to honor the statement he made back in November of last year, otherwise it all becomes eternally corrupted and useless.