The Girl is Back in Town

“I used to think that revenge was about defending one’s honor, but it turns out that honor is just spite dressed up for Sunday.”
Cat Sebastian, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb


Seems like forever since we’ve seen Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education in the state’s halls of governance. This week she turned up at a State House education committee hearing on the third-grade retention law. Per her standard practice, she brought as many questions as she did answers.

Schwinn showed up to tout the state’s recently passed literacy bill, calling it the most comprehensive literacy bill in the country and telling legislators that other states were rapidly emulating it. She reiterated that any changes to any specific legislation must be rooted in what’s best for the students of Tennessee, and what is going to promote and accelerate their achievement as rapidly as possible. It’s 100% about students.

After that declaration, Chair Mark White (R-Memphis) opened the floor for questions.

In response to a question from Representative Gino Bulso (R-Brentwood) on the testing timeline, Schwinn stated, “What I will acknowledge is that over the 4 or 5 years before I started in 2019, the state’s standardized assessment was challenged, and I’ll frame it that way, where we’ve gotten since with our vendor is a very tight timeline.”

Per this timeline, parents will receive their first home literacy report in mid-October, with the second to follow in January of that school year. In March sign-ups for summer programming will begin, with priority given to students identified as needing additional support. May 15 – 26 is when results from TCAP will begin to be available. This year she says raw scores will be available, along with raw scores to scale conversion tables, on May 19th.

The conversion tables are new this year and will allow parents to convert their child’s score to a preliminary scale score. Allowing them to tell whether or not they meet expectations, or are expected to fall below expectations.

May 30th to June 2nd is when parent notifications will go out. The retest opens on June 30th. Schwinn gives little clarification on what retesting will look like, but conversations with superintendents indicate that it will be TCAP administered online, without the writing portion, in order to provide a rapid turnaround of scores. The parent appeals process will also open on May 30th.

Color me a bit skeptical of the feasibility that all of this transpires as advertised. For those unfamiliar, raw scores have always been available early, but are of limited use to districts, as they only indicate the number of questions a student got right. There is still more work required in order to translate those scores, including the setting of cut scores, which vary from year to year. Purportedly, the tables being supplied by the department will allow for translation, though it’s unclear how cut scores will be handled.

The caveat here is that the pre-equating and post-equating scale scores match. The setting of the pre-equating is an estimate based on field tests and other operational tests of how many questions kids will get right. That may or may not match after the test results from the current year are analyzed. Sometimes they do…and sometimes they don’t. No explanation was offered for what would occur if they didn’t match.

I do find the irony in the argument that prior to Schwinn’s arrival testing was challenged. Earlier in the hearing, former Mississippi Commissioner and Chiefs of Change member, not to mention Schwinn’s bestie, testified to the great work being done by their assessment vendor – Questar. In case you forgot, Questar was Tennessee’s vendor prior to Schwinn’s arrival.

Schwinn goes on to tout the many exceptions included in the third-grade retention law that allow students the ability to advance even without an adequate proficiency score. Summer school is among those options, as long as students maintain a 90% attendance rate. However, Schwinn indicates that there is a provision for students to make up missed dates later in the year if they fail to meet that threshold. A provision that is not included in either the legislation or the governing rules crafted by the State Board of Education.

Furthermore, an article in ChalkbeatTN includes the following passage:

Parents also can appeal a retention decision if their child performed at the 40th percentile on a different test that allows for comparisons with national benchmarks, or if the child experienced an event that reasonably impacted the child’s performance on the TCAP test.

I can’t find any reference to this in either the rules or the legislation. Far be it from me to cast aspirations, but it feels like somebody is writing their own rules as we go along.

In relooking at the rules, I did find this in reference to avoiding retention through tutoring:

The student is assigned a tutor through the Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps (TN ALL Corps) to provide the student with tutoring services for the entirety of the upcoming school year based on tutoring requirements established by the department.

TN All Corps is the creation of the TN Department of Education. Membership is dependent on districts dedicating a portion of their ESSER money to TDOE initiatives. Currently, only  87 of Tennessee’s districts are members, Which represents roughly 200K of the state’s 1 million students. Does anybody else see a problem here?

Discussions with legislators reveal that most are unaware of this stipulation.

While it was good to see the Commissioner, once again, she leaves us scratching our heads and scrambling for answers.

Word on the Street

Remember back when TISA, Tennessee’s new school funding formula, washing discussed and critics raised questions about the ability to identify students who showed “characteristics of Dyslexia”? Schwinn and the company downplayed the issue. Well here we are and we need an actual accurate number for funding calculations. Now the TDOE is recognizing the issue and is reportedly telling districts that for the next two years, each district will have 5% of their students recognized as showing characteristics of dyslexia, while the department works on a plan for procuring accurate numbers in the future. This ain’t a problem for some districts, but for others, like Nashville and Memphis, it could create an additional financial burden.

I can’t help but wonder how dyslexia advocates, who were essential to the bill’s passage, feel about this supposed turn of events. Always remember, the devil is in the detail.

Speaking of suppositions and hypotheticals, here’s one for ya. Suppose the TDOE ran the funding numbers for next year and found out that they were…say…$350 million short in funding? How would they rectify that? I guess you could have the Governor announce a one-time historical investment of $350 million in education with his next budget. Nah, he’d never do that. Well, I guess we’ll find out when actual TISA numbers are released later next month. You’d think that an additional $350 million would raise the base number, right? Maybe the base number will go up…or maybe it won’t.

The State Board of Education has released its evaluation of Tennessee’s Charter School authorizers. Bet you won’t be shocked to discover that the state’s Achievement School District scored a 1.5 on the rubric. Is there anything the ASD is good at?

Nashville neighbor, Sumner County Schools, has a vacancy on its school board and it won’t be filled by voters. That job falls to the county commissioners. This has some folks thinking it’ll be filled by an ultra-conservative, despite the runner-up in the last election, Democrat Roxie Kelsey, still wanting the gig. Kelsey says, ““Even with beauty contests, they have a first runner-up. In this case, I was the first runner-up. I’ve shown that I work hard, that I’ll continue with it,” she said. “I’m honest. I’m dependable. What else are you looking for?”

Sumner County has been home to some of the fiercest education policy battles over the last couple of years. Candidate Josh Graham was a third-place finisher and endorsed by Constitutional Republicans. Parent Hillary Lounder says this school board appointment reminds her of last year, when a Democrat and a Constitutional Republican tied in a race to represent part of Gallatin. Rather than send it to a runoff, commissioners chose who would fill the seat. And they waited until the new, more conservative, commission was sworn in.

Today’s episode is short and sweet, but hopefully, you found it useful.

– – –

A new year doesn’t equate to greater financial stability. Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be appreciated.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying, Christmas is right around the corner.

If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier, but equally informative.

Categories: Education

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: