There is one thing that has remained consistent since I began writing this blog 5 years ago: the inability of the state of Tennessee to conduct an error-free standardized test. Normally, this inability would get tossed into the “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of good” bin, but first off, I’m not even sure that we’ve reached good status, and secondly, the stakes are just too high to settle for mere good. If you are going to have a policy that has this kind of impact on the lives on children and teachers, it better be damn near perfect or it needs to be done away with.

State testing started last week, and like it does every year, problems quickly surfaced. It didn’t take long for the same denials and half-truths to again emerge. Though this year, the TNDOE introduced a new creative wrinkle: the tests were hacked. Which, to me, is a head scratcher. Because why bother with a hack when you know you can depend upon the TNDOE’s incompetence to disrupt things? It seems like a whole lot of extra work to get the same result, but I’m sure it will be investigated.

The beautiful thing about writing this blog is that I don’t have to depend upon the official narrative to deliver the truth. I’m blessed to have access to an army of teachers who are equally committed to providing the truth. So while State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen was reassuring us that everything was going well, here’s what was really happening in a middle school last week:

The following is a written account of our testing day on Thursday, April 19, 2018. This was actually a more successful day for us than Monday and Tuesday. The students referenced below were supposed to begin their test session at 9:30am and end by 11:05am. The starting lunch times for these students ranged from 11:25am- 11:45am. 
9:30: 137 students at my school are seated and testing instructions begin.
9:32: During the instruction process, students are directed to login. Students begin experiencing the following problems:
– After entering usernames/passwords, many of their screens freeze.
– Some are able to login, but screen freezes when trying to enter their test-specific access code.
– Some are able to get their test-specific access code entered, but then are knocked out of the test and kicked back to the login screen.
9:50: Four out of 137 students have successfully logged into the test. The other 133 students are continuing the battle by repeating the following process:
Students are having to log off the computer, log back into the computer, pull up the Questar program, and re-enter their username and password. All students repeated this process at least three times before some students were able to get to the next step. Thirty-eight (of the remaining 133) students are finally able to get to the point where a PROCTOR password (8-digit code) has to be manually entered by the test administrator of the classroom. These students wait until the test administrator is able to reach them to enter this special password as it is considered a secure password and we are not allowed to let students enter this password on their own (Please note: there are five labs testing, so each class has between 25-30 students, and each test administrator is having approximately 7-8 students to manually enter the proctor password while still trying to keep record of every individual student’s start time on the test.).  
While this is going on, the rest of the students are stuck in different stages of the login process: some are still freezing repetitively at the login screen, some are getting stuck right after the students login. 
Students continue repeating the cycle of logging off, logging back into computer, opening the Questar program, entering their login credentials, etc.
As time passes, students slowly get further and further along the login process, as their test administrator is having to run around and manually enter the PROCTOR password while trying to accurately document every student’s starting point.
10:32: All 137 students trying to test are all finally logged in, taking their test.
10:37: Random students begin getting kicked out of the system. After being kicked out, up to 12 students per room are at different phases of the login cycle (having to repeat the same login process outlined above several times before getting back into the test). Once again, the test administrator is responsible for keeping an accurate log of each student’s individual time. 
10:38: Thirty-eight students are still trying to get back into the test after getting kicked out. 
10:52: All students are back into the program (once again, after continuously repeating the login procedures above).
As these issues are taking place, students who are in the program are experiencing the following glitches that Questar has been made aware of, but not fixed:
Students cannot backspace. They are writing an essay, but their backspace does not work in the program. If they try the undo button, it causes more typing issues. Also, there were times that the program randomly stopped allowing them to type. To fix this, they have to hit the back button and go back to the previous question and then go back to their essay to start typing again. Many students had to repeat this process over 10 times during their essay writing. Keep in mind, THIS IS A TIMED TEST and these are 11 – 13 year olds having to fight this program to this extent just to take this test.
11:25-11:35: As their scheduled lunch times pass, students work hard at trying to overcome these challenges to get their essays completed. They just want this to be over.
11:45: Students begin to try to submit their essays. Errors start popping up for the students saying that their computer is not connected to the internet, that their progress is not going to be able to be saved. We are told to have students log off, log back in, and then try to submit. Students then go through the repeated cycles of logging off, logging back in, getting to different stages of the login process before they may or may not get kicked back off or their computer freezes. The test administrator is trying to run to the ones who get to the point of entering the PROCTOR code so they can progress to the next step to hopefully submit their essays.
11:58: Students have surpassed their scheduled lunch time, so we have to end this cycle of trying to submit their tests and send students to lunch (which overcrowds the lunch area and causes issues during lunch trying to get everyone served).
Testing is halted after this for our afternoon session by our district office.
Similar accounts of what testing has been like are happening all across the state.
I don’t know what definition you use for success, but this narrative doesn’t feel like it would fit. McQueen’s definition didn’t work for Tennessee state legislators either. Last week, they passed legislation that proposed to protect schools, students, and teachers. For that, I applaud them. However, they didn’t go quite far enough. This year’s test scores can still be factored into teachers’ TVAAS scores, which are based on three years of growth, and therefore can negatively impact a teacher’s career. Clearly it was the intent of legislators to protect teachers, but they just need to close one more loophole. It’s a correction easily rectified. They just need to replicate what was done in 2016 with the Evaluation Flexibility Act – SB2508/HB1419 (PC No. 172) – which stated that student growth composites would be excluded unless they resulted in higher evaluation scores, with the qualitative portion of the evaluation score increased in its place. That is, if they can’t get completely rid of the tests.
The aforementioned is just the tip of the iceberg, but unfortunately we are under a bit of a time crunch to get action taken, so we have to stick to basics. At the bare minimum, pun intended, we need to make sure our teachers are given equal protection that has been provided to schools. Basically, it’s got to happen this week. So… everyone needs to heed the advice of the Momma Bears and contact the people that can git ‘er done. You need to:
Let’s get to it! We need to get this done. Thank you.
As I wrote on Friday, there has been a bit of a dust up on MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph’s recent move to decentralize Reading Recovery in the district’s proposed budget for next year. The move has created a continual debate over whether it’s a move rooted in policy or politics. School board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering both posted pieces on the subject this past weekend, and I also talked with several educators I know about it. The result is… more questions and skepticism on Joseph’s motivation.
If Dr. Joseph is making this move solely as a policy move, then what Tier 2 intervention will be provided next year to those children who would qualify for Reading Recovery? What is the budget, and what will the services look like? Because whether there are 1,000 kids or only 5, they still deserve to receive services. If it’s not Reading Recovery, then what is it going to be? Reading Recovery is made up of primarily English Learners and impoverished students; they are, by all accounts, our neediest students. As much as we talk about equity, this is a prime example of what inequity looks like.
Moving current Reading Recovery teachers to the classroom does not constitute as service for those needy kids. Also, keep in mind, many of our current Reading Recovery teachers will be applying their training, paid for by MNPS, in more appreciative neighboring counties. It’ll be interesting to see how many actually make the transition to being classroom teachers. We’ve actually tried this nonsense before. It ended up with a whole bunch of teachers leaving and a greater cost to train their replacements when we realized our mistake. Everyday is Groundhog Day here, I guess.
Next question: in looking at the internal study done by MNPS about RR, it becomes clear to me that we are not getting our bang for the buck out of our Tier 2 interventions in 2nd grade and above, so I ask why not? What programs and strategies are we employing and why are they falling short? If a kid needs intervention in 1st grade, it’s usually tied to a socio-economic issue or a learning disability. Therefore, while Reading Recovery can get a kid up to grade level, it doesn’t “fix” them. The challenges that led to the initial intervention will still remain, and therefore they are still likely going to need intervention resources going forward. So if Reading Recovery delivers 67% of its kids to 2nd grade on grade level, what’s happening after that?
Dr. Joseph argues that Reading Recovery is expensive. Okay, but what does that mean? So it costs $7 million and granted, that is a lot of money. People will say that a Porsche is expensive, but when I compare it, quality wise, to a Kia, is it really? It’s always interesting to me that the cost argument always comes to the forefront when we are talking about services to the poor. If it’s a wealthier demographic, the conversation always focuses on quality. My question again is what is the alternative to Reading Recovery? What is the comparative cost and the comparative value? And if it’s cheaper, why?
By the way, what is the expected result from Reading Recovery? I don’t know that I’ve heard it stated clearly. Just that it currently wasn’t living up to expectations, even though it was highly praised in the past. Again, what does that mean?
Why are we talking about our literacy plan like it’s not a multi-faceted and complex plan? I, for one, would love a simple flow chart that lists the individual programs we utilize, the percentage of the population they serve, which population they serve, and their relative success rates. My need for such a document must stem from the fact that I am just a parent and not an administrator, because I’m told such a document doesn’t exist. Now if you’d like something that tells you how many kids will be reading at grade level by 2025, or is all about rigor or complex text, that’s available. Which do you think would prove more valuable?
There is an MNPS School Board meeting scheduled for tomorrow. In looking at the agenda, I don’t see any mention of an evaluation for the Director of Schools. For those not keeping score at home, according to their own policies, the board is to conduct two evaluations a year, one in January and one in June. To date, the January one has yet to be completed.
What I do see on the agenda is some more money for Teach For America. Once again, time to give them some summer school funds. Hmm… do we have a study on their value? Good news is that they still only get a little under $3.5 million. But I’m sure that will grow in the future.
Some principal interviews will be starting to take place in the next few weeks. Antioch HS, Hillwood HS, and Eakin ES are all in the market for a new building leader. Curious to see where Eakin goes – they can give it to the very popular AP or they could try and replicate last year’s process. Sometimes, in the words of Ray Davies, you have to give the people what they want. One of the finalists for Antioch HS is a principal who is currently in charge of a middle school that’s had its own fair share of challenges this year. Probably not the right person for a school that needs healing and love right now.
Nice story in the Tennessean about a retired 96-year-old teacher who got a surprise visit from students she taught in the 1960s. Pretty cool.

I’m just about through the first chapter of Making The Unequal Metropolis and it’s raised a few questions and observations for me.

The book talks about the shift to a focus on education as a means for economic outcomes (i.e., vocational schools) as a driver of inequity. This makes me wonder how our emphasis on STEAM is not just a modern day variation of this. It’s always been about increased property values in Nashville. The author cites the creation of homogenous neighborhoods anchored by a neighborhood school as a major driver of segregation. Does the recent movement towards community schools not carry the same inherent risk of recreating that effect?

These are my initial thoughts. There will be a Nashville Ed Chat community discussion about Chapter 1 of Dr. Erickson’s book coming up on April 28.

There’s a FREE training session for parents or people who know parents of a child receiving special education services. If you’re wanting to be an active participant in your child’s education, but just aren’t sure where to begin, then this session is for you.

The Special Education Advocacy Center and Nashville Rise are joining forces to bring you Knowledge Is Power training sessions for parents of students with disabilities. Learn the ins and outs of special education and gain the tools you need to successfully advocate for your child in the special education system.

Transportation, Child Care, and Interpretation Services provided if requested during registration.


We got some incredible response to this week’s poll questions. I suspect that a Reading Recovery teacher or two might have been stuffing the ballot box, but you know what they say…vote early and often. Let’s look at this week’s results.

First question asked if you though that Dr. Joseph’s decentralization of Reading Recovery was politically motivated. Out of 207 responses, 157 of you replied, “I do and it bothers me.” Only 7 of you answered, “No. The data supports the move.” I don’t think I need to say anything else. Here are the write-ins:

Not a fan of reading recovery. But this reeks of retaliation. Childish. 1
Absolutely, ticked at all board members that allowed it to happen! 1
yes, but it needed to go 1
It’s messed up. So is the $$$ for IFL and others 1
Absolutely… the research reports were dated March 2018 & April 12, 2018 1
I am not sure, but the program was way too expensive. 1
Clueless about effective literacy instruction: Petty, Lipsey, Felder, & Joseph 1
I’m a reading recovery specialist. What do you think?? 1
Absolutely 1
Not sure, withholding judgement 1
Absolutely! And the only ones who will pay for it are our students. 1
Absolutely! 10000% 1
Are you kidding me?? Of course it is. 1
I think that was the plan from the day he started… two birds, one stone.
Question 2 asked if TN Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen should resign over the repeated testing fiasco with TNReady. Surprisingly, the vote was split. Out of 191 respondents, 51 replied, “Absolutely. You have one job.” And 44 responded, “No. It’s not her fault.” Quite a few of you indicated that you would be okay with her being replaced even if you weren’t strongly calling for her termination.
I must admit the results surprised me, but probably shouldn’t have as I know many teachers have a great deal of personal affection for Dr. McQueen. Here are the write-ins:
Ask the legislators to resign who voted this mess into place. 1
No. That’s by a part of her responsibilities 1
The state legislature should resign… wholesale. 1
I thought it was a contractor issue 1
No. She’s just dealing with Huffman’s legacy. 1
not resign, but go back to drawing board for a total reset 1
She’s dealing with Huffman & his incompetent cronies decisions 1
Not specifically for TNReady issues but over additional problems 1
too complex to answer here 1
No, it’s remiss technology had some issues, but the reaction has been hyperbolic 1
Absolutely. Why free pass for state? Teacher would be fired for same mistake. 1
Technology is not paper pencil… but shouldn’t there be a plan B?
Last question was about the upcoming referendum on Nashville’s transit plan. This one shocked me. I was sure the numbers would go the other way. Out of 183 responses, 100 said they were voting “no” on the plan. A mere 57 said “yes.” That is a little stunning to me, and I would say Transit Plan supporters should be a little concerned. Here are the 3 write-in answers:
don’t live in Davidson Co., but I would vote no for this particular plan. 1
I don’t live in Davidson County. 1
Helps no one coming into Nash from the EAST. Music City Star? Pah-lease. 1
Out of county, but if I could I’d vote NO
That’s a wrap. If you need to contact me, you can do so at I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

Categories: Uncategorized

6 replies

  1. A couple of items:

    1. Happy News: Mrs. Wiggins was principal at Julia Green when my son (age 40 now) started there. We loved her!! Amazing that she still drives herself to church!!

    2. Hard News: The 40+ year-old MNPS preschool gifted program has been written out of the budget.

  2. I think you may have some small misunderstandings of how tier 2/3 are supposed to work vs. how they generally work in MNPS and anywhere else in the state for that matter. RR could easily be used in any tier, though from a practical point of view it makes sense in tier 2/3 because it supposes small ratios and dedicated time blocks. Tier 2 is quasimandated in TN as a separate time block from tier 1 which everyone gets. The near-bottom swath based on national norms gets additional time during the day, and those tiered interventions are really only supposed to be delivered at that extra time. Of course you could have other classroom interventions for done students (tiered or not) during “tier 1” time. Practically speaking, the RTI block doesn’t actually get some off the shelf package in most schools in the state. MNPS hasn’t ever subscribed to a blanket program or even anything approaching it. Rather, principals can decide to tell teachers to do whatever the admin wants, for all practical purposes. In many places, the instructions are: you’re on your own. Some whole districts use this time to try each tier 1 material without using any kind of modification. Some schools still and kill skills that are a couple years lower than grade-level (you can do worse than this). Some districts skirt the time requirements or just provide an online program and so on. Bottom line is the law is squishy to begin with and no one ever gets called out by the state for lack of fidelity to the time suggestions. Because if you read their materials closely you see they are just that- suggestions. The only reason Reading Recovery isn’t used for tier 3 (and I will bet my bottom dollar it is, somewhere, under the radar) is that the initial research showed it worked best (when it worked at all) for tier 2, while the lowest student that are usually 3-4 years behind cannot expect it to work. A gazillion other packages exist that either have different time requirements or structure or training or ratios or properties with respect to who will succeed or price. None are a substitute for principal leadership to decide what’s going to work with the staff and students they have at their disposal. For the most part, the tiering protocol has “worked” from the state’s point of view because without sufficient data from the RTI, a school can’t get a student an IEP. That’s what the state wants- less IEPs. So the students and teachers flail about in the RTI because classroom teachers aren’t given any specialized resources or plain directives. What do you think happens? No one gets remediated but they also end up with lots of students that stay just off of the EE rolls.

    Yes it would be nice if the district just made up its mind what the strategy for that time would be. Whether they purchase a product (or a training in the case of Reading Recocery) is almost immaterial. I think I’d prefer maybe they don’t bother, based on cost. Plain directives would be a better start.

    Oh, and that tiny little amount of money the governor kicked in for interventionists? That’s called a drop in the bucket. E for effort once again.

  3. TFA has like equal or better growth scores for new teachers to any ed scho in the state. This may not be true across all subjects (ok, its NOT true)…… but rn in the absence of an hr stratagem on stuff like sped and math and ell……. TFA is 100% necessary. 😦

    Historically (and this might even be ancient information) they didn’t do so well in science and they used to do quite well in 6-8 math.

    There’s no getting rid of them at this point, man. It’ll be decades before/if ever the financial incentives for teachers to enter and STAY in the profession draws in enough people to obviate the need for TFA here. And don’t forget they’ll give a certification for a fraction of the cost of an ed school.

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