MCS board, director disagree about using state tests in teacher evaluations

Board Member Wesley Ballard (center) criticized McQueen’s response as lacking any established timeline for expediting the scoring process. CHELSEY ZHU

Frustrated by the late return of TNReady test results to schools, the MCS board sent a letter addressing their concerns to state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

 

The board pointed out delays to teacher evaluations and curriculum changes are two negative effects of the late scores, which have in recent years reached schools in September or October. The letter garnered approval from members of the Tennessee state legislature, including from Senator Jim Tracy and Representative Bryan Terry.

On Monday, Oct. 2, McQueen responded to the concerns with her own letter, reassuring MCS board members that the state is aware of the issue and supports a speedier return of results.

“We know educators, families and community members want these results so they can make key decisions and improve, and we want them to be in their hands as soon as possible,” read McQueen’s letter.

The commissioner cited an “extended scoring process,” in which the state department checks test scores multiple times in various ways, as the main reason for the delay. The state is also working with a new testing vendor following the system-wide crashes of TNReady in 2016.

McQueen said scores will soon be returned in a more timely manner once the assessments are fully moved online, which will occur for grades 5-12 by the 2018-2019 school year.

“My hope is that local leaders, like the Murfreesboro City Board of Education, consider multiple sources of feedback in making those determinations, since there is complete local discretion in that process,” said McQueen.

Board members discussed McQueen’s response at the Tuesday, Oct. 10 meeting, expressing general dismay at the lack of “commitment” displayed in the letter.

“I felt like it was a lot of words for not really answering our questions,” said Board Member Jared Barrett. He referred to the response as having “excuses” and “dodging the question.”

“My first response when I read this letter was that there’s something in here that doesn’t add up,” said Board Member Phil King. “My fear is they haven’t solved the problem of getting the paper tests in our hands in a timely manner.”

Although tests will soon move online, King argued that the test results for the 2017-2018 school year, which will be on paper, will not be useful if they are not returned months sooner.

He went on to recommend that, if scores continue to be sent out too late, the MCS board should completely eliminate the importance of TNReady in teacher evaluations and only use district-specific measures, allowing schools to be more independent of the state assessment. MCS already does this to some degree with its employment of local testing programs.

Director of Schools Linda Gilbert disagreed with this point, stressing that a comprehensive state assessment provides a critical way to measure teacher effectiveness. According to Gilbert, independent measures, which often include class observations or in-person evaluations, may not offer the quantitative evidence of the teacher’s skill that a standardized test would.

Board Chair Butch Campbell and Barrett pushed for arranging a meeting with state legislators in the near future in order to directly address the issue with lawmakers, bypassing discussion with the education commissioner. Members seemed to agree that the meeting would be the most likely to yield a concrete course of action for quicker test results.

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