The Trouble With Testing

Testing has taken a wrong turn in public education. I have always tried to keep it simple: testing is like your school picture; it is what you look like on that particular day. Kids go in to take a test. Teachers show up to make sure kids are taking their own test. Parents encourage their children to do their best. However, like Ozzie & Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and the Lone Ranger, those days are gone.

With an infusion of $501 million federal dollars of Race to the Top money we hurried to increase standards by adopting Common Core, which we corrected by moving back to state standards. We also increased testing, changing both format and frequency. Tennessee also adopted new evaluation methods. The teacher union supported the incorporation of TVAAS data into the state’s teacher evaluations, which landed Tennessee $501 million from the federal Race to the Top grant in 2010. Professional Educators of Tennessee did not support the use of that data on teacher evaluations, nor did they sign a support letter on the original grant submission.

Not everything Tennessee tried was damaging, but it is not debatable that thus far the Age of Accountability has failed students, teachers, parents and taxpayers. Since 2012 Tennessee has had one misstep after another in testing. In 2013, our tests were not aligned to our standards. In 2014, the issue was transparency, notably quick scores and test score waivers for final semester grades were the major issue. In 2015, the new TNReady online tests had issues in the post equating formula. In 2016, we fired the vender Measurement, Inc because after the online platform was botched and they were unable to get out a paper version of the test. In 2017, we were again plagued by issues due to scoring discrepancies. This year 2018, we have already had issues related to testing, including the belief by the testing vendor Questar that the Questar data center is under attack from an external source, although it is not believed at this time that any student data was compromised.

At no point since 2012 were any of the testing issues the fault of students or educators. However, for educators they are often the ones who bear the brunt, quite unfairly, of parental anger. Students also suffer, with everything from loss of instruction time to not understanding their educational progress. When we make education decisions on the basis of unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally. This is especially unfair to the hardworking teachers in our state. To policymakers and stakeholders alike we must ask these questions:

  • Why are we relying so heavily on test scores to make important educational decisions about students, teachers or schools, especially when the process is flawed?
  • If the Questar data center was under attack from an external source, there should be no greater priority by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to identify and prosecute those individuals guilty of this activity and confirm that no student data was compromised.
  • Should we question the reliability, validity, and accuracy of testing in Tennessee since 2013? Especially when shifting between online to paper tests? Note: Reliability relates to the accuracy of their data. Reliability problems in education often arise when researchers overstate the importance of data drawn from too small or too restricted a sample. Validity refers to the essential truthfulness of a piece of data. By asserting validity, doe the data actually measure or reflect what is claimed?

In Tennessee we appreciate straight talk and candor. We unquestionably detest hypocrisy. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies and even by our government. We are not pointing fingers; just stating a fact. Clearly there is a problem with testing in Tennessee. It isn’t our students or our educators. It is a flawed testing system.

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NAEP Results in Tennessee

FOR RELEASE

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — also known as the Nation’s Report Card — are out.  “Like any other test I am careful about reading too much into the results,” according to JC Bowman, Professional Educators of Tennessee.   He added: “Researchers will keep analyzing data, looking at maps, and searching for trends.  In the end, Tennessee did not see statistically significant changes in its 4th and 8th grade math or reading scores. We did decline in 4th grade math scores.” Tennessee was one of 10 states that saw a decline in scores in grade 4 math.  Nationally, Tennessee ranks 34th in fourth-grade math and reading; we were 35th nationally in eighth-grade math, and 38th nationally in eighth-grade reading.  This NAEP assessment was taken in January 2017, and the next NAEP exam will be administered in January 2019. NAEP is currently transitioning from paper and pencil to digitally based assessments, similar to assessments in Tennessee.   Commissioner Candice McQueen pointed out “we know where we are and have more granular information on better assessments.”   Overall, Tennessee shows a record of improvement on NAEP over the last decade.

Civil Rights and Tennessee

The dream of Martin Luther King Jr. did not die in Memphis in 1968, it is still alive in 2018.    

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On April 4, 1968, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  King was shot and killed in Memphis.  Tennessee has played a seminal role in Civil Rights, that we often fail to appreciate.

The ground breaking 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was the case in which the Supreme Court Justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It signaled the rightful end of the “separate but equal” principle set forth in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case.  The Ferguson case constitutionally allowed laws barring African Americans from sharing the same buses, schools and other public facilities as whites — known as “Jim Crow” laws— and established the separate but equal doctrine that would stand for the next six decades.

Linda Brown, then a nine-year-old girl, became the face of the issue.  Ms. Brown died at age 75 on March 25, 2018.   Her national legacy in Civil Rights went far beyond public education.  Brown said in a 1985 interview: “I feel that after thirty years, looking back on Brown v. The Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes and aspirations of our young people greater, today.”

Few people know the role Tennessee played in Civil Rights and public education.  Avon Williams, Jr., a Knoxville, Tennessee native, became a cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1949 and began a long career in civil rights activism. In 1950, four years before the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, Williams filed Tennessee’s first public school desegregation suit such case when he sued to integrate the public schools in Anderson County, Tennessee. (McSwain v. Board of Anderson County).

Williams’ first cousin, Thurgood Marshall, was the chief lawyer for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP.  Marshall later became the first African-American to serve on the US Supreme Court.  Williams and Marshall worked closely on racial discrimination cases.  Williams went before the Supreme Court seven times to argue cases involving discrimination in public schools, public housing or other public accommodations.  In 1955, Williams, Marshall and Z. Alexander Looby, a fellow African American lawyer focused on civil rights, filed suit Kelley v. Board of Education against the Nashville city schools on behalf of African American children.

Looby and Williams were without doubt the most prominent civil rights attorneys in Tennessee during their lifetime.  The Journal of African American History stated that “Looby and Williams’s work in school desegregation cases alone encompassed every major case in the state (with the exception of Northcross v. Board of Education) and entered the highest realms of legal activity. Federal judges at the circuit, appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court levels cited and considered many of their cases as the post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) litigation world unfolded.” In 1968, Avon Williams, Jr. was elected to the Tennessee State Senate.   He was one of the first African-Americans to serve in that body since the Civil War.  As a Senator, he worked to put guidance counselors in elementary schools and to establish kindergarten classes in Tennessee.  Tennessee has a proud, but often untold history in Civil Rights, which greatly enhanced education in our state.

Racism, bigotry and vitriol hate have no place in a modern culture.   All children are created in the image of God. Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly stated: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Does character still matter? Of course, it does.

For centuries, our country has attracted people in search of a share of “the American dream” from all corners of the world. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, yet it appears that there is no longer a consensus about what that should mean. If you step into our public schools today, the many different cultures are on full display.

Americans like Martin Luther King Jr., Linda Brown, Avon Williams, Alexander Looby, and Thurgood Marshall helped integrate America, and move the nation past the old paradigms and backwards thinking that dominated our society. We need to remember and reflect on that history.  More importantly, we need to fulfill our destiny as a nation where all citizens can realize the benefits of integration and equality of opportunity regardless of the color of their skin. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr. did not die in Memphis in 1968, it is still alive in 2018.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

Bullying is a Global Problem

Bullying is a matter that adults and students alike must take seriously.  Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions,” according to the American Psychological Association.  They add, “The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.”   In addition, bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose according to the US Government website StopBullying.gov.

School violence and bullying is a global problem.  The countries we are most familiar with, South Korea and the United States, recognizes the growing issue.  Almost one of every three students (32%) in South Korean elementary, middle and high schools are victims of bullying according to a Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs study.  In the United States it is almost one out of every four students (22%) report being bullied during the school year according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.  Some victims of school violence and bullying never reveal their secret.

When a 15-year-old high school student killed himself in the Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province in South Korea, it sparked a national discussion of bullying. South Korea had started using surveillance cameras to limit bullying opportunities.  The student left a note that listed the names of five schoolmates who had repeatedly bullied him for two years.  His note said he was beaten by them in locations that were not covered by surveillance cameras.  In Knoxville, Tennessee in December 2017, a video of student Keaton Jones went viral drawing massive celebrity support against bullying.  Jones, alleges that he is often bullied at school. “They make fun of my nose. They call me ugly. They say I have no friends,” Keaton emotionally describes to his mother.  He even said sometimes things get physical at lunch.  “They poured milk on me and put ham down my clothes,” he recounted, fighting back tears. “Throw bread at me.” Then Keaton asked a question we all wonder: “Why do they bully? What’s the point of it?”

What can policymakers and stakeholders do to address bullying?  We argue for a three-point strategy.  1) We must promote awareness of bullying.  We have to confront the harmful impact of school violence and bullying.  2) We must establish systems to report school violence and bullying.  We must also provide support and services to those who are impacted by bullying and school violence.  Finally, 3) We must require professional development that educates teachers and students in order to identify, prevent and respond to school violence and bullying.

Let’s send a global message that bullying and school violence is unacceptable.  It will take a united effort, at the local level, to the state level and even the national level.  We should share ideas of what works in each school.  We need a clearinghouse to share ideas on how to stop the problem.   When you see people make threats, spread rumors, attack someone physically or verbally, and excluding others be that person who stands up for others.  Together, we can stop bullying in its tracks.

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Solee Lee, is an International Exchange Student from Daejon, South Korea.  She is an intern at Professional Educators of Tennessee.  JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Determining Testing Irregularities in Students’ Answers

We asked the Tennessee Department of Education the following questions below and received the following response from Elizabeth Fiveash, Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education.

  • What type of analyses are used to determine testing irregularities in students’ answers?
  • How is it discovered if a student, for example, answers with all C’s?

“This concern is mitigated in many ways by the nature of our test now. Our test is no longer completely a bubble test, and many of our questions are hand scored. Analyses are run after the assessments are completed to look for pattern scoring, and all reports of testing irregularity are investigated by the department. If it is determined that a student did not attempt to test (no answers or random answering), the test is nullified.”

Example: the photo above shows how the lettering alternates from ABDC to MPRS as well as other boxes that can appear on the answer sheet.

Civil Rights, Education & Tennessee

The ground breaking 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was the case in which the Supreme Court Justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It signaled the rightful end of the “separate but equal” principle set forth in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. The Ferguson case constitutionally allowed laws barring African Americans from sharing the same buses, schools and other public facilities as whites — known as “Jim Crow” laws— and established the separate but equal doctrine that would stand for the next six decades.

Linda Brown, then a nine-year-old girl, became the face of the issue. Ms. Brown died at age 75 on March 25, 2018. Her national legacy in Civil Rights went far beyond public education. Brown said in a 1985 interview: “I feel that after thirty years, looking back on Brown v. The Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes and aspirations of our young people greater, today.”

Few people know the role Tennessee played in Civil Rights and public education. Avon Williams, Jr., a Knoxville, Tennessee native, became a cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1949 and began a long career in civil rights activism. In 1950, four years before the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, Williams filed Tennessee’s first public school desegregation suit such case when he sued to integrate the public schools in Anderson County, Tennessee. (McSwain v. Board of Anderson County).

Williams’ first cousin, Thurgood Marshall, was the chief lawyer for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP. Marshall later became the first African-American to serve on the US Supreme Court. Williams and Marshall worked closely on racial discrimination cases. Williams went before the Supreme Court seven times to argue cases involving discrimination in public schools, public housing or other public accommodations. In 1955, Williams, Marshall and Z. Alexander Looby, a fellow African American lawyer focused on civil rights, filed suit Kelley v. Board of Education against the Nashville city schools on behalf of African American children.

Looby and Williams were without doubt the most prominent civil rights attorneys in Tennessee during their lifetime. The Journal of African American History stated that “Looby and Williams’s work in school desegregation cases alone encompassed every major case in the state (with the exception of Northcross v. Board of Education) and entered the highest realms of legal activity. Federal judges at the circuit, appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court levels cited and considered many of their cases as the post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) litigation world unfolded.” In 1968, Avon Williams, Jr. was elected to the Tennessee State Senate. He was one of the first African-Americans to serve in that body since the Civil War. As a Senator, he worked to put guidance counselors in elementary schools and to establish kindergarten classes in Tennessee. Tennessee has a proud, but often untold history in Civil Rights, which greatly enhanced education in our state.

Americans like Linda Brown, Avon Williams, Alexander Looby, and Thurgood Marshall helped integrate America, and move the nation past the old paradigms and backwards thinking that dominated our society. We need to remember and reflect on that history. More importantly, we need to fulfill our destiny as a nation where all citizens can realize the benefits of integration and equality of opportunity regardless of the color of their skin.

Low Morale & Burnout

Our Executive Director posted his thoughts about low morale and burnout in the career world. Read more here…

The Director's Cut

prof classe 05Passion and energy within any organization or company starts at the top with the leadership.   The moment when an employee begins to feel unappreciated is when morale begins to suffer.  Lack of respect and lack of support are often cited as reasons why people leave their jobs.  Other reasons include excessive workload, concerns about management, anxiety about the future, especially job security, income and retirement security, lack of recognition, continuous change and compensation that does not align with exceptional performance.  Anxiety and anger are key ingredients of low morale.

A decade ago, the Gallup Organization estimated that disengaged employees cost the economy as much as $350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness and other low morale issues.  An alarming 70% of American workers are not showing up to work committed to delivering their best performance, and this has serious implications for the bottom line of individual…

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