Category Archives: education

Pearson gets contract to handle TNReady test scoring this year

Pearson Education has landed an $18.5 million contract with the state to score TNReady assessments this year, reports The Tennessean. The previous vendor company had been fired and state officials took advantage of a law that says the state can enter into non-competitive bidding in cases of emergencies arising from any unforeseen cause.

“After we terminated the contract with Measurement Inc. on April 27, we began quickly collaborating with state central procurement in securing an emergency vendor,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “It is usually done with someone that has prior experience in the state.”

Pearson previously administered the state’s standardized tests from 2003-14 and is used in Tennessee for an optional test in kindergarten through second grade.

“Pearson, known for scoring NAEP (The National Assessment of Educational Progress) for three decades, is currently partnering with 25 states across the country, including Kentucky, Virginia, and Indiana,” McQueen said in a letter to schools directors.

The company was also set to be the state’s test vendor through the PARCC Consortium, which administers a Common Core State Standards-aligned test, before lawmaker backlash led to the five-year, $108 million contract with Measurement Inc.

But that move didn’t work out for the state after Measurement Inc.’s online testing platform in February couldn’t meet the testing demand. The state switched to paper tests, but the company then couldn’t deliver all of the materials needed.

The state canceled its contract with the company in April and has paid about $1.6 million of the contract for the company to develop the tests. The state was expected to pay about $30 million of the $108 million contract with Measurement Inc. to score tests.

“The state budgeted a total of $30 million for Measurement Inc. this year; therefore at this point, we anticipate being well under budget on assessment (costs),” Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball said in an email.

Note: A Department of Education handout on Pearson’s scoring process is HERE. An email sent by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to school directors across the state, as provided to media by her office, is below. Continue reading

TN Republicans join in bashing Obama bathroom directive

Some Tennessee Republican politicians have joined other members of the party in bashing a directive from the Obama administration that calls on schools to allow use of bathrooms based on an individual’s “gender identity.”

Republican state Rep. Susan Lynn of Wilson County, who unsuccessfully sponsored a bill in the legislature this year mandating use of school bathrooms based on the gender designated on birth certificates, was focus of a Tennessean story after a Facebook post on the subject. Excerpt:

“Transgenderism is a mental disorder called gender identity disorder — no one should be forced to entertain another’s mental disorder and it is not healthy for the individual with the disorder,” Lynn said in a list of responses to the federal directive.

“We can and we will legistativly (sic) protect children from hormone abuse — a directive has no impact on that issue only the Orwellian redefinition of sex would do that.”

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander news release:
WASHINGTON, May 13 – Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on the Department of Education’s guidance to local school districts regarding transgender student’s use of public bathrooms:

“This is the kind of issue that parents, school boards, communities, students and teachers should be allowed to work out in a practical way with a maximum amount of respect for the individual rights of all students. Insofar as the federal government goes, it’s up to Congress to write the law, not the executive departments. And guidance issued by the departments does not amount to federal law and should not be treated as such.” Continue reading

Rep. Daniel’s ‘social justice’ comments criticized by Democrats, GOP opponents

State Rep. Martin Daniel’s complaints about the civil rights movement as a theme in a Knox County Schools fourth-grade reading exercise have ignited debate on social media and drawn criticism from Democrats and from his Republican opponents in the Aug. 4 state primary.

Further from Georgiana Vines:

“It is unbelievable that Rep. Martin Daniel wants to roll back the clock to pre-civil rights era,” Knox County Democratic Party Chairman Cameron Brooks said… “Saying that we should not teach this historic (civil rights) movement to our children is outrageous. Tennessee Republicans once again want to force their extremist ideas on our youth by erasing our country’s rich history.”

Daniel wrote to the Knox County school board — with copies sent to state education officials and Gov. Bill Haslam — that the reading exercise in his daughter’s class at Sequoyah Elementary School deals with “social injustice.” He asked whether it was appropriate for a fourth-grader and said he was “shocked” by the content.

..Former state Rep. Steve Hall, who is running in the GOP primary to regain the 18th District House seat from Daniel, said he thought the class exercise was appropriate.

“Maybe I didn’t realize it was in a reading class, but we don’t instruct now in just reading. It’s not like back when I was a kid. As long as it’s a truthful statement or could have been, it probably was a fairly accurate statement. I think our children need to be aware of that kind of stuff,” Hall said.

Another opponent, James Corcoran, referenced Daniel’s remarks in March during a state House debate on a proposed “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” in which Daniel said campuses could be used to recruit for any group — even ISIS, “so long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus.” The bill was removed from consideration for the rest of this year.

“So, the incumbent that would have protected ISIS’s ‘right’ to recruit at public universities wants to fight against fourth-graders learning about civil rights,” Corcoran wrote on Facebook.
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Legislator protests ‘social justice’ theme in 4th grade textbook

State Rep. Martin Daniel has complained to education officials and Gov. Bill Haslam about a fourth-grade reading exercise that incorporates themes from the civil rights movement into English and language arts activities, reports Georgiana Vines.

Daniel, a Republican representing the 18th District in the West and North Knoxville areas, said the exercise deals with “social injustice” and asks whether this is appropriate for children at a young age.

The exercise describes a student whose textbook is “worn and missing a dozen pages.” The student is in a black community where schools receive old, damaged books while those in white areas get new textbooks. Through a court case, the school board agrees to revise the system for providing materials to schools.

In the exercise, the fourth-grade student is asked to explain the cause (why something happens) and effect (what happens).

Daniel has a fourth-grade daughter at Sequoyah Elementary School who brought the exercise home. He said he was “shocked” at the content. Otherwise he is “very happy” with the school, he said.

He discussed his concern with Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, who wrote to Daniel to say the unit was part of a series, “Reading Street,” adopted by the Tennessee Board of Education upon recommendation of the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission and of the Knox County school board “through a vigorous process that includes teacher recommendations and opportunities for public review and input.”

Daniel wrote to the county school board — with copies to Haslam, the chairs of the state House and Senate education committees, the state textbook commission and the state Board of Education — that he is concerned the subject matter “subtly, but unnecessarily, injects a dose of ‘social justice’ into our impressionable youth.”

Note: The Nashville Scene’s Cari Wade Gervin offers critical commentary, more comments from Daniel and a link to the full letter.

TN featured in AP report on migrant children barred from schools

By Garance Burke and Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Candelario Jimon Alonzo came to the U.S. dreaming of becoming something more than what seemed possible along the rutted roads of his hometown in Guatemala’s highlands. This was his chance: He could earn a U.S. high school education and eventually become a teacher.

Instead, the 16-year-old spends most days alone in the tumbledown Memphis house where he lives with his uncle, leaving only occasionally to play soccer and pick up what English he can from his friends.

Local school officials have kept Jimon out of the classroom since he tried to enroll in January. Attorneys say Jimon and at least a dozen other migrant youth fleeing violence in Central America have been blocked from going to Memphis high schools because officials contend the teens lacked transcripts or were too old to graduate on time.

The Associated Press has found that in at least 35 districts in 14 states, hundreds of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been discouraged from enrolling in schools or pressured into what advocates and attorneys argue are separate but unequal alternative programs — essentially an academic dead end, and one that can violate federal law.

Instead of enrolling Jimon and the other minors in high school, their cash-strapped district routed them to an adult school in East Memphis that offered English classes a few hours a week. But before Jimon could even register, the state shut the GED and English-language programs over concerns that few students were graduating, effectively ending his chances for a formal education.
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TNReady contract terminated

News release from state Department of Education
NASHVILLE— Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today the department will terminate its statewide testing contract with Measurement Inc., effective immediately. While high school testing will continue as planned, the state will suspend grade 3-8 testing during the 2015-16 school year due to Measurement Inc.’s inability to deliver all testing materials.

After revising their shipping schedule for a third time this month, the state’s testing vendor, Measurement Inc., failed to meet its most recent deadline. As of this morning, all districts were still waiting on some grade 3-8 materials to arrive with a total of two million documents yet to be shipped. In February, the department was forced to move from the originally planned online assessment delivery to a paper-based format due to the failure of the vendor’s online platform.

“Measurement Inc.’s performance is deeply disappointing. We’ve exhausted every option in problem solving with this vendor to assist them in getting these tests delivered,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “Districts have exceeded their responsibility and obligation to wait for grade 3-8 materials, and we will not ask districts to continue waiting on a vendor that has repeatedly failed us.”
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Lamar: TNReady troubles are Obama’s fault

OK, so the headline is a somewhat an exaggeration. Here’s the WPLN report:

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says federal interference could be at fault for the state’s continued delays in standardized testing. He spoke at Belmont University Monday about passing his fix to the No Child Left Behind law. He also addressed Tennessee’s problems moving to a new test.

TNReady wasn’t the original plan. Tennessee was supposed to use the PARCC test that goes along with Common Core classroom standards. But when lawmakers decided to back away from Common Core, they also decided to go with a new test — even though that meant hiring a company for $107 million to design a new one.

Senator Alexander chairs the education committee and previously served as the country’s top education official. But he blames the feds.

“You had the backlash to Common Core, so you had to change Common Core,” he said during a presentation to students and education officials. “Then you had to change the assessment. Well you can’t just do that overnight, and it costs a lot of money. And a lot of that was because people felt like Washington was telling Tennessee what its standards and tests ought to be.”

At the moment, state education officials are primarily pointing fingers at the company hired to create TNReady. This week, Measurement Inc. said it could not guarantee that the paper tests would be delivered in time for students to take them by the state’s deadline of May 10.

Note: Alexander’s press release on his Belmont speech is below. Continue reading

More on TNReady being unready — but they’re trying

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The president of a North Carolina-based testing company said Monday that he can’t guarantee all students in Tennessee will receive the test on time.

Measurement Inc. president and CEO Henry “Hank” Scherich said his company is working furiously to get the new TNReady materials to students.

“I wish I could promise them,” Scherich said. He added they were doing everything humanly possible to get the tests to the students on time.

All of the students have at least some of the testing materials, he said, but the company has found itself scrambling to print and ship 5 million test booklets for Tennessee.

State education officials are preparing for the possibility that some students won’t be able to take the test. They announced last week that they were meeting with the U.S. Department of Education, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office and others to determine what to do.
Continue reading

TNReady turmoil clouded legislature’s education agenda

Excerpt from a Chalkbeat Tennessee review of education issues during the 2016 legislative session:

While a private tuition voucher bill fizzled and Gov. Bill Haslam touted a $261 million K-12 funding increase as historic, problems with TNReady hovered over the Capitol like a cloud. The state’s new online assessment had been trumpeted as the beginning of a new era in Tennessee education by the governor, the Department of Education and many lawmakers.

In the end, the legislature — which had set the creation of TNReady in motion in 2014 by voting to delay an existing Common Core-aligned assessment known as PARCC — passed a new law to allow teachers to discount first-year TNReady scores from their teacher evaluations.

Here’s a recap of other education highlights from this year’s legislative session (listing only the first sentence of each topic):

Surprising school-choice supporters, vouchers were blocked yet again…. But other school-choice measures passed.

…The formula used to fund schools for the past nine years was put into state law — even as some school districts are suing the state over funding.

…New research on pre-kindergarten helped to shape new strategies for early childhood education.

…Lawmakers opted for further study of Tennessee’s school turnaround efforts through the Achievement School District.

…TNReady’s troubles trickled into legislation.

TNReady still unready

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee education officials are preparing for the possibility that some students won’t be able to take the new achievement tests this year after the latest problem with the assessment, state officials said Friday.

It’s getting close to the end of the school year and some students in lower grades have yet to receive materials so they can take the new achievement test known as TNReady, state officials said. It’s the latest debacle with the rollout of an assessment that was supposed to be far better at gaging a student’s academic and critical thinking skills.

The test was originally supposed to be administered to students online. But after computer glitches prevented some kids from taking the test on the first day of the rollout in February, state education officials said kids would take the TNReady test the old-fashioned way, using paper and pencil.

The problem now is that some kids in grades 3-8 have not yet received the testing materials, said Ashley Ball, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education. And Measurement Inc., the North Carolina-based company contracted to design and administer the test, can’t tell school officials when they will be able to get the assessment materials to the students, she said.

“We are still discussing appropriate next steps to respond to this delay, and we, like many educators, remain very frustrated that (the company) has put us in this position,” Ball said.

The state Department of Education is in talks with federal education officials, school districts and the governor’s office to figure out what to do if kids can’t take the test.

Gov. Bill Haslam, during a press conference Friday on this year’s legislative session, was critical of the company after the latest problem.

“To say their performance has been dismal would be generous,” Haslam said.

An email sent to a spokeswoman for Measurement Inc. was not immediately returned.

The state awarded the company with a contract of more than $107 million for work from 2015 to 2020. State officials say they have paid only $1.6 million of that contract to the company for development of the test and will not pay any extra money for the failures.

Educators are still hoping the kids get the testing materials in time. But officials, mindful that students have a lot of field days, outings and other fun programs planned for the end of school year, said they will not ruin those experiences for them and will not test after May 10.