Tennessee’s $18.5 Million Emergency

By Sally Absher

The Tennessee Department of Education ditched Pearson’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC test, back in 2014 after reports of problems with the online test surfaced across the nation. The department decided to continue with the TCAP for one more year while they looked for a replacement for PARCC.

Many tried to warn the state about Measurement Inc. But the state ignored the advice and signed a $108M contract with Measurement to develop and implement Tennessee’s next standardized test. In 2015 Rep. Rick Womick sponsored a bill to get rid of Measurement Inc., backed up with a lot of facts, but that too was ignored. The state recently canceled Part II of the grade 3-8 assessments and fired Measurement Inc. after repeated glitches, missed deadlines, and failure to deliver, leaving boxes and boxes of completed but ungraded tests sitting in several Measurement Inc. warehouses in North Carolina.

Our all-knowing Commissioner of Education determined this was an EMERGENCY! No matter that the state had already granted waivers so the test scores wouldn’t be included in student final grades. The state even granted teachers options to not include TNReady scores in their evaluations this year. So where is the emergency?

Andy Spears at Tennessee Education Report writes, “To be clear, the “emergency is that some students completed tests that weren’t graded and won’t be graded by Measurement Inc. because they were fired.”

Always ready with a solution in need of a problem, the state has awarded a $18.5M “Emergency” (no-bid) contract to Pearson (yes, the PARCC Pearson) through December 2016 to score the 2015-16 assessments that were completed. This includes high school end of course exams, grade 3-8 Part I tests and any grade 3-8 Part II tests that were completed prior to the assessment being canceled at the end of April. The results are due in December, which is long past the time when they will be useful to teachers, parents, or students.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss recently profiled testing concerns with Pearson, listing over 60 instances of problems that the world’s largest education company has encountered since 1998, most of them in the U.S., with its standardized testing business.

Spears points out a bigger problem – with the new contract, two different vendors will be grading the same test as well as some tests completed in an online format and some in pencil and paper format.

But don’t worry! Grace Tatter at TN Chalkbeat reports that Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Townes (the former KCS Broad Academy fellow “Chief Accountability Officer”) said the state will use a formula to ensure that those scores are comparable to the scores of tests completed on paper, and to be graded by Pearson, this spring.

It was Townes who was responsible for the “post-equating” fiasco that resulted in scores being returned to the districts too late to be used in final grades for 2014-2015

Spears suggests that instead of spending $18.5M on grading tests which will have  limited usefulness, the state could use that money to fully develop and pay for portfolio assessments at the district level for related arts and other non-tested subject areas. It could be used to support the unfunded mandate of RTI2. Or it could be used to develop an alternative assessment regimen – incorporating project-based assessments and reducing the reliance on standardized testing. Or develop an assessment waiver as allowed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (which replaced No Child Left Behind).

As Spears writes, “Out of crisis can come opportunity – and we have an opportunity and some unspent funds that could be used to develop better, more student-focused solutions going forward. Instead, we’re handing money to Pearson and trying to get back to business as soon as possible.”

The Department is working on a separate procurement process in collaboration with the state Central Procurement Office to select a vendor to develop and administer next year’s assessment. Does anyone else think that developing the assessment for next year should perhaps take more than a few months? Are we going to have yet another “emergency” next year?

Mommabears sum it up nicely: “The REAL emergency is the mismanagement of tax dollars and our children’s time in the classroom. What we need is an emergency hearing to understand why grading these tests and working with Pearson is necessary. We need an emergency overhaul of the TDOE!”

 

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