TEST FOR ECHO

2

This past weekend, I sat down at the computer fully intending to take a deep dive into the newly released TNReady test scores. As happens so often, before I got to my intended task, I got sidetracked.

First, I read Andy Spear’s piece on the results at the TN Ed Report. Andy’s takeaway is as follows:

“So, we had a testing season full of lies, deception, disruption, and mixed-up tests but we’re supposed to look at the “results” of those tests and take them seriously? No thanks.”

Then I ended up over at Volume and Light blog reading Vesia Hawkins’ interpretation. Hawkins acknowledges the problems with this year’s tests, but argues they still have value:

Last year’s shockingly deplorable literacy scores sent me into an apoplectic rage. I simply could not grasp that more than 80 percent of children of color and 85 percent economically disadvantaged were not reading at grade level. Sadly, here we are one year later, still, more than 80 percent of Black, Brown, and children in poverty are not reading at grade level. A group of students in Detroit recently sued the state of Michigan for this very reason. Reading is the key that unlocks every other aspect of the educational experience. Without it, what else? Back to the chase: we have test scores. We must use them.”

I must stop and point out one, for lack of a better word, fallacy in Hawkins’ piece. She applauds MNPS Director of School’s Shawn Joseph for his repurposing of Reading Recovery teachers as first instruction teachers:

All I know is what I heard and the public position taken during the presentation resonates with me. Dr. Joseph proposed “restructuring” the Reading Recovery system in two ways: place the highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers in the twenty-one priority schools because as he so plainly stated, “priority schools have to be a priority” and instead of focusing on Tier 3 (greatest need) students, the former Reading Recovery teachers will focus on Tier 1 – whole group instruction. Nothing about this says restructuring, but I like it.

Call me when new Titan’s coach Mike Vrabel receives accolades for turning his wide receivers into linebackers. Teaching is like any other team sport; everybody has a role to play, and the team is most successful when you utilize people in a manner that reflects their skill set. But that’s another argument for another day.

After finishing Hawkins’ piece, I read PET director JC Bowman’s take. He points out:

Students improved most in early grades reading, and narrowed achievement gaps.  In addition, the results show a need for deeper, more sustained work to support improvement.  The release of the results of the latest statewide assessment, while flawed, do provide a data point for educators to consider.  We encourage them to look at the results, take the result seriously and consider the steps they need to take to help all students and schools succeed.

A key point that Bowman also makes, that I hope policy makers read repeatedly:

In general, we must always be careful in determining teacher performance based strictly on the test scores of students to whom the teacher is assigned during a school year. The risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance based on test scores is too high for it to be the major indicator of teacher performance, especially when you look at issues such as student demographic characteristics.

After reading all three of these excellent opinion pieces, I came to a realization. Before we can fully utilize the data that TNReady provides, we need to first agree that it is a valid form of measurement.

It’s like this, if I show up to help build a house, everybody involved in the construction agrees that a yard stick is a valid measurement tool. We all utilize the same yard stick, and so when we lay a board that is supposed to be 17 inches long, we all lay a board the same length.

That doesn’t happen in education. Here we lay out results and then everybody shows up with their own measuring stick. Some of those sticks are 35 inches long and some are 42 inches. Some of us even bring two measuring sticks and we utilize them in order to tell the narrative we desire.

On Twitter this past week, I read a statement on TNReady from MNPS board member Mary Pierce that got me thinking:

Initially, I must admit that I started an eye roll, but she’s not wrong. You seldom hear an argument about the results of a measurement using a yard stick. It’s an agreed upon measurement that continually produces consistent measurements. The yard stick measurement in Franklin is the same as the one produced in Nashville. The same cannot be said for state achievement tests. There is never a narrative around a decrease, but there is nearly always one around a growth point.

I’m not a testing guy. Full disclosure: in my opinion, entirely too much weight is given to them, and the results they produce form an incomplete picture that is prone to be used for political fodder. I think they can be useful as mile markers and to guide instruction if results are released in a timely fashion. However, school starts in three weeks. How much instruction are these test results actually guiding?

The other thing that bothers me about these tests, and this probably will get me in trouble, is the way we group students. We group students based on race and economic level. But do those grouping serve as true representations of the students placed in them. Are all black students the same? All Hispanic? I would argue that with some of these students, if you created a Venn diagram, the only similarity would be the color of their skin.

There is rightfully some celebration that minority groups scores grew and therefore the gaps are shrinking. But what does that really mean?

When we say scores for black students increased 1 point, what does that say? By now it’s commonly accepted that scores on standardized are as much a reflection of socio-economic status as they are learning. By placing students in sub-groups based on race we are subconsciously saying that all members of that sub-group have the same socio-economic status. I don’t think anybody would make that argument.

Let’s look at Hispanics for a second, since they as a sub-group showed a large amount of gains on this year’s test results. We all read the news and see the impact that the Trump presidency has had on immigration. That decline changes the socio-economic makeup of this particular sub-group. Is it not possible that some of those gains recorded this year are as much as a result of that shift as they are of actual performance? It has to play some role.

As more members of the individual sub-groups make socio-economic gains, it only falls to reason that students from those families will produce better results. Which again reiterates the importance of robust government policies for pre-K, affordable housing, increased wages, health care, and incarceration rates.

I understand that the creation of these sub-groups was necessitated because of members historically being chronically underserved. I’m just not sure that as America has become more diverse that the focus on the sub-groups doesn’t provide cover for hiding some of those students who are still being underserved and in fact gives us a distorted picture of achievement. At the very least it’s a conversation we should be having.

I suspect that this year’s results will produce an echo in the various silos of opinion across the state. But for an endeavor that requires as many resources and devotion of time as TNReady does, that shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone. We need a measurement tool that isn’t open to individual interpretation but rather one that acts as a consistent form of measurement.

IT’S THE CLIMATE

These days, principal pipelines are all the rage. There is good money in recruiting and training school leaders. And with good reason, as anybody who has ever worked under a bad principal can attest – I hear you Paragon Mills ES and Antioch HS.

There is also a growing awareness of the importance of culture in any organization. The most successful businesses all have healthy cultures. People want to be a part of them. Think about it, how often do you choose Publix over other options just because of the way you feel when you shop there?

Studies are showing that the same holds true in schools. According to study co-author and director of UChicago’s Consortium for School Research Elaine Allensworth:

A lot of times people think school climate is something you work on and take care of so you can get to the real work of teaching and learning, but what we find is learning is inherently social and emotional. If students don’t feel safe and engaged, they aren’t learning.

I concur wholeheartedly. Nobody impacts school climate like a principal. That point can not be overstated. I encourage you to read the whole article from EdWeek.

QUICK HITS

NOAH_Action is facilitating Candidate Meeting for School Board District 6 and 2 this week. Yours truly will be participating on Thursday. This, unfortunately, is one of the few opportunities this election season to see candidates on stage together discussing what matters, the issues. Please take advantage of the opportunity.

Big Picture High School student Emma Miller and Hillwood High School student Latiana Carter spent their summer writing and producing a two-hour play locally. “The Story That Ends” finished its run this past weekend at The Barbershop Theater. Kudos to the duo!

Many of you have either participated in or followed the many discussions this summer in regards to the value of teaching the classics. Maplewood HS teacher, and Project Lit founder Jarred Amato has been a driving force locally in that conversation. But he’s not alone.

According to the Chicago Tribune, four educators — Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena German, Kimberly N. Parker and Julia E. Torres — are aiming to foster a nationwide discussion to challenge existing sentiment about these books, while suggesting the persistence of the traditional canon is crowding out other perspectives.

Their project is called Disrupt Texts, and I urge everyone to check it out. The conversation can get discomforting, but we all need a little discomfort in our life.

Back to school time means back to school sales and ads. This year there seems to be an increased number directed at educators. I guess we are just not pretending anymore, and it’s become an expectation that teachers will utilize their own funds for school supplies. That’s not okay. Teachers, I urge you to resist this subtle entrenchment.

POLL QUESTIONS

I love it when a good poll comes together, and based on the amount of responses generated, this week was a good poll. Thank you for your participation. Let’s review.

Question 1 asked what your mindset was with school set to start soon. Out of 127 responses, 24% of you admitted anxiety was starting to creep in. 22% of you were already working on your classrooms. 9% of you were still deciding if you were going to show up, and only 3% of you were excited. Those results make me a little uneasy and highlight the work that needs to be done in teacher recruitment and retention.

Here are the write-ins:

counting vacancies and wondering about SUB situation with no ESS 1
Hoping to sub 1
Not able to get in the building. 1
going on vacation 1
Thankful I just retired! 1
Thank goodness Austria left Paragon Mills and we have sanity 1
Pissed I was hit 3x. No Cost of living adjustment, No Step, Insurance went up 1
Anxiety never left over the summer & it is getting worse now

Question 2 asked for your take on TNReady results. 130 of you responded to that question, with 31% answering that results were meaningless. 25% indicated they were about what you expected and 18% admitted they had no expectations. Only 1 of you indicated that they exceeded expectations. I appreciate Dr. Felder’s participation.

Here are the write-ins:

Sad. Very sad. All the while Joseph has convinced 1
So disappointed 1
Our instruction was rigorous & test-aligned. Scratching our heads now. WTH?! 1
Classes sizes are enormous. 35 is far too many. 1
Waiting for the spin doctoring. 1
What is high school DOING?!? 1
blah test scores. Just saying… 1
dysfunctional scope and sequence with lack of materials = duh! 1
You mean MAP predictions were wrong? How could that be? 1
It appears the teachers were right,teaching more new stuff doesn’t help scores! 1
Testing company was a flop 1
Growth measure is more important to me. 1
These tests this year are meaningless 1
SAD 😦 1
extremely disappointed…mnps is backsliding 1
Sad to hear that results were no better. 1
Wow. We really suck, don’t we?

The last question asked for your opinion on board member Jill Speering’s public criticism of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. This was a popular question, and 135 of you responded to it. Out of that 135, 39% of you wished that other board members would see what she sees, and 24% applauded her for speaking up. All told, 86% of responses were of a positive nature. Only 5 people thought she was out of line, and 4 indicated she should turn it down a bit. Hopefully other board members are paying attention.

Before I give you the whole write-in list, I would like to respond to the first comment – “I love Jill… I don’t want TC on the board. You have an axe to grind’!” I just want to point out that if this is true, I’m just keeping with a South Nashville tradition. Current board member JoAnn Brannon ran in response to being dismissed as a principal by then-Director Pedro Garcia. Safe to say she had an ax to grind as well, yet she served with distinction for several years. It’d be an honor to follow in her foot steps.

Here’s the rest of the write-ins:

it’s too 1 sided and may be an outlier 1
very disappointed in the board evaluations of the other 7 1
Dr. J is hurting students of color. Wake up! 1
She’s rightfully frustrated but going to the media isn’t helping views of MNPS 1
Go get him Jill! I praise your truth! 1
It’s hard to know what the truth is—somewhere in that murkey gray area. 1
People are over it. We need to focus on our students. 1
Her evaluation was full of supporting data, unlike any of the positive evals. 1
Where is Will Pinkston? Used to respect his willingness to speak his mind. 1
Where’s Will Pinkston’s bravado now?

And that’s a wrap. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Feedback is always welcome and I will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance 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 my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can. Early voting is underway… so please vote.

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2 comments on “TEST FOR ECHO

  1. Stick it to me says:

    So what **should** our yardstick be? You are running for the board. I think this is an important question.

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