After a Little More Thought

“I don’t want fine. Fine isn’t enough. Isn’t not about the open fire or whatever other clichés you can conjure up, but yes, I want a connection. I want you to care as much as I care. I want you to need it and want it and mean it. I want it to matter.”
Alexis Hall, Boyfriend Material


Over the weekend I had an opportunity to further review last week’s House Education instruction Committee hearing on the third-grade retention law and came away with a few more items worth mentioning.

On Friday, I quoted Chalkbeat TN, about a provision mentioned by Commissioner Schwinn affording kids the ability to advance forward:

“Parents 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 wrote that this provision wasn’t included in the law or the rules written by the State Board of Education (SBE) – not entirely accurate, and worthy of further discussion.

Under the rules for promotion and retention, Rule 0520-01-03-. 15 defines a student considered as having a “Significant Reading Deficiency” as one who scores in the 15 percentile or lowers on one of the state’s approved reading screeners. “At Risk” students are those who score between the 16th and 40th percentile. Those students below 40% are considered below proficient. So I’m assuming this is where the 40th percentile number is pulled from.

It’s a little tricky here though because screeners, assessments, and benchmarks, are all used as if they are interchangeable. They are not.

While all of the approved reading screeners must be nationally normed, meaning screener scores, classifications, and score distribution percentiles are reported and calibrated using a representative National Sample, that doesn’t mean that they are nationally normed to the same group of students. They are nationally normed to students of school districts who purchase the vendor’s product.

As a side note, TNReady is not nationally normed, but rather state-normed. Because hypothetically it measures Tennessee State Standards, and no other state utilizes Tennessee State Standards, thus making finding a norming group impossible.

Since there are inherent differences in the norming groups, it stands to reason that 41% on Aimsweb is not the same as 41% on MAP or Fastbridge. All three of them are considered state-approved screeners. Now the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has cooked up some kind of malarky that it is possible to take all 7 approved screeners and create a composite score, but that’s kinda bull shit. All 7 are different tests and utilize different norming groups, therefore producing different results.

Now if we jump down to the “appeals to the department section” of the SBE rules, ground 1 says:

The student demonstrated growth above the national norm as demonstrated in the student’s composite score from a State Board-approved Universal Reading Screener or the Tennessee Universal Reading Screener administered by the LEA or public charter school; and

The student demonstrated growth in standards mastery based on the student’s scores on a state-approved standards-based benchmark assessment administered by the student’s school

This just talks about growth, not hitting a 40% threshold. So while the rules elude to the Commissioner’s supposition and assertion, I’m not sure they support it. This furthermore illustrates an incongruence between TCAP and the screener/benchmarks, where the percentile for proficiency is around 50%.

Here is another nugget that nobody is talking about. The existing rules on retention state:

If a retention decision has been made, then the school shall develop an individualized academic remediation plan for the retained student within thirty (30) calendar days after the beginning of the next school year. A copy of the academic remediation plan shall be provided to the student’s parent or legal guardian within ten (10) calendar days of the development of such plan.

I would interpret that to mean, that every third-grader who is retained must be provided a written plan. So if a district like Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) retains, say, 500 kids – probably a low estimation – that’s 500 kids that individual plans need to be written for, who’s going to do it? Who’s going to pay the additional expense? It’s probably something that ought to be talked about, but I’ve yet to hear nary a mention.

While I touched on the potentially shifting sands of TCAP proficiency scores in Friday’s piece, I think there is more that needs to be said. Parents likely assume that scoring proficiency on TCAP means getting the same number of questions right every year, but that’s not accurate. It’s a shifting mark. In some years, scoring a 455 would be considered proficient, in others, it would take a 460, while in another year it would only take 450.

Most experts recognize this and accept it as part of the process, and it would be such if the consequences for failure to reach proficiency were not so dire. There are no other tests that operate this way. Any tests we take as adults come with known expectations. You know exactly how many questions you have to get right in order to pass. That’s not the case with TCAP, students take the test and then it is decided how many right answers are needed to pass.

In talking with lawmakers, and I’ve talked to a lot of them, I get the sense that this year will bring little change to the “accelerating students law”, as they prefer it referred to, and I’m not convinced there should be.

Hear me out, changing legislation based on presumption or appeasement, is rarely effective. Sometimes you just have to run things and see if the resulting data supports the predictions and then adjust. Making adjustments sans data is no better than crafting policy sans data. In both cases, you are shooting blind.

Lawmakers will tell you that they’ve carefully studied data from other states, and believe that derived an effective strategy. Maybe, but the devil will be in the details, and right now those details are constantly shifting.

Opponents accuse them of haphazardly crafting policy fueled by ill intent. I will say, in talking to legislators, I haven’t found any of the latter and I’m not sure the former would be accurate either. Though I will say, always beware of the well-intentioned man…or woman.

The Private Sector Recruits from the Public Sector

It’s been rumored for a while, but it is now official, Charlie Bufalino is heading to the National Alliance for Public Charters. Charlie served as the TDOE’s Government Liaison and is now returning to whence he came, the charter school world.

Bufalino cut his teeth working as a starter-up employee for Rocketship Academy, where he learned about the real estate, I mean education world. Sorry Freudian slip.

In his bio for the National Alliance, he takes credit for, “executeding the passage of 13 administration education bills, highlighted by the historic passage of major reforms including: The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (a full overhaul of Tennessee’s K-12 funding formula for the first time in 30 years); The Literacy Success Act (foundational reform of early literacy instruction, teacher preparation, and funding supports); and The Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act(permanently established summer learning camps and tutoring opportunities for at-risk students).

It’ll be curious to see if he lists those items on his resume 5 years from now.

Quick Hits

Should be another interesting week on the Hill in Tennessee. Of particular interest will be a presentation to the House Education Instruction Committee by assessment vendor Pearson. Sure to come into question will be this year’s assessment timeline. Last week, Commissioner Schwinn told legislators that it was a tight one, but she was confident. This week we’ll hear from those tasked with meeting the timeline.

We’ve also got our first caption bill of the season, HB1214/SB1194. Andy Spears at The Education Report has the preliminary report. Per Spears here are the two things this 9-page amendment does:

  1. Creates a scheme for allowing charter schools that serve homeschooled students
  2. Allows for the creation of residential/boarding schools that are charter schools

Admittedly this one is just entering our radar, but we’ll be digging in. It’ll appear on Tuesday at the House K-12 Committee.

The Nashville Scene has a new interview up with Nashville School Board member turned mayoral candidate Fran Bush. Bush tells the Scene, “I’m a native Nashvillian. I grew up here. I know this city. I know what it means. I know what it wants. I know people, and I want to be able to connect and get this work done. And people are ready for change. I’m fresh. I’m new, I’m young. I have common sense, right? And that’s what people are looking for, someone they can connect with.”

I’ve been late reporting this but it definitely merits mention, PENCIL has a new Chief administrative officer, and she is a good one. Jane Meneely took the reins effectively on January 30th. In her new role, Ms. Meneely will be a strategic analyst and vision setter. She will proactively assure that the operating activities of PENCIL are running smoothly and efficiently at all times so that team members have the guidance and resources they need to be successful and that the work environment supports both their productivity and individuality by creating easy-to-use systems and supports at all levels of the organization. No small task, but one she is surely up for.

That’s all I got today.

– – –

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.

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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

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