Nashville and Tennessee business leaders are urging the state’s newly elected leaders to focus on education and infrastructure to best support business communities statewide.
Bill Lee, owner of a heating and air company, won the governor’s race Tuesday; U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won a senate seat and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper was re-elected to represent Nashville in the House of Representatives.
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Ralph Schulz urged Lee to build on Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiatives aimed at boosting college graduation rates and adding skill sets among adults. He also emphasized the need for focusing on kindergarten through 12th grade schools and for an improved testing system.
“Workforce is the biggest challenge everywhere in Tennessee and really across the nation,” Schulz said. “These things that have been done to make post-secondary education available are really important and we need to continue to focus on things to improve our ability to build that workforce.”
On the federal level, he said he hoped Blackburn and national leaders will pass immigration reform that establishes clear policy and will expand benefits to the uninsured in Tennessee, given the impact on rural hospitals.
“We see hospitals closing in rural areas,” Schulz said. “Those are both economic centers and health centers.”
Nashville Health Care Council President Hayley Hovious emphasized the impact of the health care sector on the state’s economy, but declined to speak on specific health care policy positions regarding the Affordable Care Act.
“Certainty is always helpful for business,” she said. “They haven’t had a lot of that in recent years.”
Bradley Jackson, CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, said while all candidates — Lee, his Democratic opponent Karl Dean, Blackburn and Democratic candidate for Senate and former Governor Phil Bredesen — were receptive to business issues, the chamber was pleased with the results as they did not represent significant change to the state. Jackson commended Lee’s experience with workforce challenges and his vision on technical and vocational solutions and said he hopes Lee will build on Haslam’s Drive to 55 program.
Jackson said he would like to see requirements for new Tennessee businesses be streamlined on a local, state and federal level and to see adjustments on business taxes.
“We don’t mind regulation,” Jackson said. “We just ask they be fairly applied and that they are easy to comply with.”
Jackson also emphasized the need for Blackburn to address infrastructure needs, including water, sewers, airports and roads across the state. Regarding trade policies with China, he said Tennessee businesses sought consistency and stability.
“We need to know what the rules are going to be going forward,” Jackson said. “‘We don’t like things to change and shift around. We hope it’s positive overall.”
Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Visitors & Convention Corp., urged Lee to continue Haslam’s support for the state’s tourism sector, what he describes as the “best support this industry has ever had” in terms of funding, leadership and statewide collaboration.
“It paid off,” Spyridon said. ” To his credit, it’s the first time in my career here that from southwest from northeast we all were around the table and we stayed around the table.”
He also encouraged Lee to steer clear of discriminatory policies that make the state less welcoming and impedes its ability to conduct business. In 2016, the visitors corporation and several other area businesses spoke out against legislation mandating bathrooms for transgender individuals.
For both Lee and Blackburn, Spyridon also emphasized the need for supporting infrastructure, especially related to transportation.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
The nursing students at Missoula College wield their medical syringes with life-and-death intensity, even though they’re only practicing on fruit.
This bright, high-ceilinged classroom overlooking the Clark Fork River buzzes with enthusiasm born of not only the knowledge that such work is important, but also that registered nursing is among the highest-demand occupations in Montana.
It’s not just an assumption based on this state’s aging population — nearly a fifth of Montanans are 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau — and a looming wave of retirements among nurses who will have to be replaced. It’s a scientific projection using data from employers and state agencies to help determine which subjects colleges should and shouldn’t teach and steer students to the highest-paying occupations that the state most needs to fill.
If this sounds like an obvious way to close the gap between workforce demand and the supply of qualified graduates — and to maximize the benefits to students of an increasingly expensive higher education — it’s rarely undertaken in the way Montana has embraced it.
“Why haven’t we been doing this all across the country?” asked Gov. Steve Bullock, who is also chairman of the National Governors Association. “It seems like common sense, but not enough states have done it.”
Instead, many colleges and universities rely on outdated federal government data about employer needs, continue offering majors whose graduates can’t get work, take years to create new courses in subjects for which businesses have immediate openings, or ignore altogether the question of whether their programs are training students for jobs.
“There’s a disconnect at times, unfortunately, between state government, the business community and higher education,” Bullock said in an interview at his office in the state capitol building in Helena. “There’s often been sort of the separation of, ‘We’re higher education, we do what we do.’ ‘We’re state government, we do what we do.’ ‘We’re business, we do what we do.’”
Geographically huge, but with a comparatively tiny population of people with personal or professional connections — just a small town with very, very long roads, as one government official put it —Montana has managed to bring these groups together in a collaboration among its university system, Department of Labor and Industry, the State Workforce Innovation Board, private colleges and others.
It matched lists of graduates with payroll records to see what jobs they held and how much they were making. Even the self-employed, who are hard to track because they don’t show up in corporate payroll records, were included in the data, thanks to income tax returns provided by the Department of Revenue.
Many states collect this information, according to the National Skills Organization and other groups, which have held up the initiative as a national model. But few use it in the way Montana has, to determine on an institution-by-institution basis what programs should be added, expanded or eliminated by its universities and colleges, and to tell its students where the most in-demand and highest-paying jobs are.
“We’re laying it out: Here’s what we need, here’s what you can earn, here’s what your likely outcome is. You make the call,” said Labor and Industry Commissioner Galen Holenbaugh. “Use this information to help you make your own decision. Whether it’s a business wanting to grow or for a worker: These are the best choices you can make.”
The data show, for instance, that the state was producing too few teaching assistants, paralegals, human resources specialists, dental assistants, lab technologists, purchasing agents, occupational therapists, optometrists, data scientists and veterinarians for the projected need — but too many web developers, civil and mechanical engineers, social workers, teachers, financial managers and physical therapists. State officials said they also found falling demand for workers in the alternative energy sector.
So Montana Tech has added certificate and bachelor’s degree programs in data science. Rocky Mountain College in Billings will add a doctorate in occupational therapy in January. Missoula College has put a moratorium on its energy technology program. (“It’s one of the really, really difficult things as we go through this process,” said Tom Gallagher, associate dean. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t bring it back out when there’s an opportunity for that.”)
The process also found that some students were spending time and money getting degrees that don’t pay off.
While it identified big shortages in fields such as customer relations and culinary arts, for example, the data also showed that students with associate or bachelor’s degrees in those occupations generally could have earned just as much with only a high school diploma and some work experience. Bachelor’s degree holders in public safety, engineering technologies and allied health could have made more, five years after graduating, with just associate degrees in the same fields.
The largest program at most of the state’s community colleges, general studies, also offered little return — even for students who planned to use it as a first step to a bachelor’s degree; only 40 percent of them, it turned out, ever get one.
Information like that could have helped many of the 18 students in the nursing class at Missoula College, at least seven of whom had already earned bachelor’s degrees and were back at a community college because they couldn’t find jobs they wanted.
One, Mark Olson, has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He worked for the federal Bureau of Land Management as a forester and wildland firefighter, but that was not enough to pay the bills when twins came.
Olson saw the data showing that it was hard to get a teaching job — his other choice — so, at 47, signed up to become a nurse.
When he read up on the program, he said, “The main thing that stuck out to me that I remember is that, upon graduation, like 96 or 98 percent of the nursing school graduates get jobs within the first month.” (The number has ranged between 94 percent and 97 percent over the last three years.)
That kind of information “really does help us to more accurately help and steer our students,” said Dylan Rogness, an advisor at Missoula College. “Are there programs that are in higher demand than what they originally came to school for?”
It also reinforces that not everyone needs to get a bachelor’s degree, Rogness said. Credentials from community colleges like his, he said, citing the state data, lead to jobs that sometimes pay more.
“Nationally the reaction to a two-year education is becoming more and more positive, because [graduates] go right into the workforce and they make an impact immediately, rather than someone coming out with a psychology degree and having to go on for a master’s or a doctorate while they work at Subway.”
Morgan Hill drifted through college and the Marine Corps, and “still didn’t know” what she wanted to do for a living, she said. Then she learned about demand for workers in the construction industry, and cashed in her GI Bill benefits to get an associate degree in sustainable construction.
After two years of study, she graduated in the spring and is now “making as much as [someone who attended] a four-year school,” Hill, 26, said cheerfully on a construction site in Missoula. “And we get to work outside all the time instead of sitting in a classroom all day.”
Seeing colleges turn out more graduates who have the skills he needs is encouraging, said Bill Fritz, Hill’s boss and operations manager for the Jackson Contractor Group.
“You can see the demand, the amount of construction that’s going on across the country actually right now, and trying to find qualified and good people that want to work in the industry is super tough,” he said.
He sees other students majoring in subjects that may not lead to jobs in such demand, said Fritz, who got a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University.
“It’s false hope for them. They’re getting degrees in disciplines that no longer exist.”
Construction workers in Missoula start at $22 an hour, Fritz said, and many work while they’re still in school. “They can make money while they learn,” he said, “and when they leave they’re not graduating with $40,000 in debt.”
With unemployment at 3.7 percent nationally, Montana is among several states facing worker shortages. Its Department of Labor and Industry in 2016 forecast 120,000 baby boomer retirements through 2026, and a supply of only half as many workers as will be needed.
“Right off the bat you have a numbers problem,” said Seth Bodnar, president of the University of Montana and a former General Electric executive who once taught economics.
“Nearly all of the jobs that will be created over the coming decade will require at least some degree of education beyond high school,” Bodnar said. “So it’s very important for the economic growth, the well-being of this state, that we as institutions of higher education understand what are those employer needs.”
Meanwhile, he said, “It’s fair for [students] to say, ‘Hey, how is this an investment in my future?’ It’s fair of them to say, ‘Hey, how will I pay off my student loans?’ These reports help us to more effectively do that.”
Bodnar’s is among some voices that warn against turning universities into trade schools, however.
“If I’m preparing them only to be vocationally prepared in a skills-centric fashion for the jobs employers say they need right now, I’m doing them a disservice when they’re expecting to come here and be prepared for a 40-year career,” he said.
To plan their offerings, many colleges outside Montana typically rely not on information about their own graduates, but on other sources, including local employer advisory boards. Those boards often benefit the businesses that show up, rather than providing scientific projections of demand, said Kelly Marinelli, a human resources consultant in Colorado.
In general, “We can see across the chasm” between what colleges offer and what employers need, said Andy Hannah, who teaches entrepreneurship and analytics at the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration and is CEO of Othot, which helps colleges use information analytics. “But what actually builds that bridge across is data. That’s how you can tell if your program is generating the right kind of workers.”
The next step will be to drill down into what makes a particular graduate successful, “and why they’re getting those jobs,” Hannah said. “And then you can take that data and go out to the rest of the student population and say, ‘Hey if you’re interested in this job, here’s the five things that will improve the probability that you’re going to get it.’ ”
What’s gotten started in Montana, he said, “is a glimpse of what’s to come.”HechringerReport.org]
A political novice, Republican businessman Bill Lee has defied conventional wisdom to become Tennessee’s next governor. Now he’ll have to show that he can govern, too, over a state that has pioneered education reforms for a decade and climbed national rankings on student achievement.
Lee touted his outsider and business background in cruising to victory Tuesday over former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.
A native of tony Williamson County, south of Nashville, he has run a 1,200-employee company there with annual revenues of $250 million.
But as the state’s chief executive, he’ll become the top boss to half as many full-time workers in the Education Department alone. He’ll oversee a $37 billion budget, including more than $6 billion to fund schools. And his administration will cast the vision for policies that will affect about a million public school students, a third of whom come from low-income families.
He’ll also appoint members to a state policy-making board that governs everything from school bus safety to cafeteria nutrition standards to teacher licensure requirements.
While Lee won’t take office until Jan. 19, the transition to his new administration will start immediately. On Wednesday morning, a joint press conference is scheduled at the state Capitol with outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam, a fellow Republican who has championed education during his eight years in office.
As Lee prepares to take the handoff, his critical early decisions will include picking his education commissioner, developing his first budget for schools, and mapping out a legislative strategy for policy priorities affecting school communities statewide. Having never served in public office before, he will need good people around him.
Job One will be to assemble his own staff in the governor’s office, including policy advisers on K-12 and higher education, and eventually to appoint an education chief to execute his priorities for students. But among cabinet picks, Lee likely will hire his commissioner of finance and administration first. After all, the governor-elect will only have a few months before he must propose his first spending plan to the General Assembly, which is required by law to pass a balanced budget before adjourning next spring.
Fortunately, the state is in good financial condition, and the Haslam administration has been preparing a budget framework to get Lee started. The outgoing governor told reporters recently that the spending plan will be about 90 percent complete when he exits, leaving discretionary items up to the new governor and his advisers because those are “fundamental policy issues.”
How Lee fills in the budgetary blanks — for instance, whether he proposes to raise teacher pay as discussed on the campaign trail, invest more in school security as Haslam did this year, or allocate more money for school and testing technology as outlined during a recent education “listening tour” — will say a lot about the new governor’s priorities.
The next General Assembly already will have convened by the time Lee takes office, but he’ll want to begin figuring out soon how to work with lawmakers on policy matters. On the campaign trail, Lee spoke passionately about the need to elevate career and technical education and frequently referenced the trade school operated by his own Franklin-based electrical, plumbing, and HVAC business.
A product of public schools who chose a mix of public, private, and homeschooling for his own kids, Lee also talked about giving parents more choices for their children. He bolstered that talk — and raised eyebrows among traditional public education diehards — with his pick of Tony Niknejad as policy director for his campaign. Niknejad is the former state director of the American Federation for Children, a pro-school voucher group once chaired by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Still, Lee offered few outright promises or details on such policies during his months of campaigning.
“On most issues, he has been relatively circumspect. I think a lot remains to be seen,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of policy and programs of Conexión Américas, a nonprofit advocacy group for Latino families in Nashville.
Some uncertainty is inherent in any transition of power. One thing that’s for sure, however, is that Lee and his team will be inundated quickly with requests for meetings with stakeholders invested in Tennessee public education.
“On Nov. 7, regardless of the outcome, we will be reaching out to our governor-elect to begin initiating conversations and to begin establishing a relationship,” said Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers organization.
While TEA’s political action committee endorsed Dean for governor, Brown says her group’s expertise transcends party affiliation, especially as the state seeks to address problems with testing and teacher evaluation programs, among other things.
“Teacher confidence in our state is at a low point,” she said. “We are an organization of practitioners, and we are in a unique place to connect state leadership with teachers everywhere.”
The governor’s office, meanwhile, has been working on transition plans for months. Teams in every department have been generating reports, data, and analyses to pass on to the next administration, and the Education Department has been especially prolific. Among its reviews are the status and impact of reforms launched beginning in 2010 under former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat whose administration raised academic standards and initiated new systems for measuring student achievement and holding students, educators, schools, and districts accountable for results. Haslam has stood by that overhaul.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said her team’s transition reports delve into everything from reading and school safety initiatives to shifting the state’s testing program to one or more new companies beginning next fall. The Haslam administration also is recommending continued increases for teacher pay.
“That’s just good stewardship of the resources we’ve already put into initiatives,” McQueen said of the reports. “We’re saying this is what’s worked and needs to move forward, and these are things where you’ll want to step back and see if that’s the right direction to move.”
She added: “We want a seamless transition.”[Read more at Chalkbeat]
If you’re an 18-year-old student with no children, two college-educated parents and only one task over the next four years — to get a degree — it might not be that difficult to navigate registration, find time to get to the bookstore, or stay late after class for extra help, all leading to a high likelihood that you’ll graduate.
But if you’re a single parent with a full-time job, or the first person in your family to go to college, and are perhaps attending part-time, it’s a different story.
Community college students across the country struggle to complete their programs — only 25 percent of those who start as full-time students at public two-year institutions graduate, according to the United States Department of Education. Only about one of five finishes in two years. Even given twice as long to complete the coursework, just 36 percent of these students graduate.
But in recent years, technological advances have given administrators a chance to offer help when and where students need it, whether it’s reminding them about due dates, nudging them to complete homework or guiding them toward resources that will help them stay enrolled.
“I think all colleges need this kind of help, but community colleges see a significant number of first-time students, people who may not have family understanding of the kinds of things that are necessary,” said Bret Ingerman, vice president for information technology at Tallahassee Community College in Florida.
Students can now expect to get personalized text messages from their college. Instead of a mass email listing the deadlines for payment, a student might receive a text that says: “Dear Ayana, you’re about to be dropped from your fall classes. Click this link to fix that.”
These kinds of technologies allow administrators to nudge their students toward success in a way that wasn’t possible a decade ago. “There’s something about getting a message with that level of personalization, because now you know it applies to you,” Mr. Ingerman said.
He said members of the administration have received messages from students expressing gratitude for the reminder, or asking for help. That opens the door for someone to intervene.
Using software that was originally designed to track technology “help desk” tickets, Mr. Ingerman and his team also route faculty concerns about students who seem to be at risk of dropping out.
“We can have a faculty member identify a student who’s not doing well, maybe they’re sleeping in class because they don’t have housing,” said Mr. Ingerman. “Whatever the issue may be, we know the right people to help.”
Professors also have access to a fuller picture of their students, with information about how often they open their materials, or how long they spent on an assignment.
Some of the most at-risk students who enter community college are those who aren’t considered “college ready” in certain subjects. They have to take remedial courses that won’t count toward a degree, but cost time and money.
“We know that developmental math tends to be the main barrier to college completion. We also know that minority students are disproportionately placed in developmental math education,” said Kevin Li, dean of arts and sciences at Triton College, a public community college in the greater Chicago area.
In the spring of this year, Triton opened the iLaunch Lab for math students, designed to pivot away from the lecture-based classroom and toward adaptive and individualized learning.
Students sit at clusters of computers, where their progress is assessed in real-time using Aleks from McGraw-Hill, educational software that uses artificial intelligence to continuously analyze the progress of the students and adapt learning to their needs.
“The change is tremendous. At my college, using technology, we’ve already proven how we can get students through remedial content in a much quicker manner,” said Mr. Li.
“But in a larger picture, when we talk about competency-based education, we will be able to leverage technology to take on the assessment portion of learning,” he said. “I think that is potentially the crux of how we can really achieve competency-based education to benefit the diverse student populations.”
“It is a fact of life that to attract good paying jobs to our area, we must have a skilled workforce. What many people don’t think about is that building those workforce skills starts with development early in life — through learning to read, solving math problems and learning how to get along with others.” — Madison County Mayor, Jimmy Harris
Expressing concern that a majority of Tennessee third-graders are not proficient in reading and math, mayors from across rural West Tennessee have formed a coalition to support the advancement of early education. The group is part of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education, a statewide, bipartisan, advocacy organization.
“It is a fact of life that to attract good paying jobs to our area, we must have a skilled workforce,” Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris said in a released statement from TQEE. “What many people don’t think about is that building those workforce skills starts with development early in life — through learning to read, solving math problems and learning how to get along with others.”
“We can and must do a better job of educating young Tennesseans in the critical early years of learning to set the stage for success in middle school, high school and beyond,” TQEE Executive Director Mike Carpenter added in the release.
With a new governor soon to be elected and a large turnover occurring in the state legislature because of retirements, the Mayors’ Coalition aims to ensure new policymakers continue current early education investments and expand programs and policies proving to be successful. The coalition believes the state has made significant progress in improving student outcomes, but that there is much more to be done to elevate Tennessee’s citizens and communities.
“I strongly urge our next governor and legislature to continue to promote early literacy with proven efforts like Read 2 B Ready,” Harris added. “I believe this program helps our young children to establish a firm foundation for their education journey. I believe we need to continue to improve the quality and expand pre-Kindergarten programs across the state, and support our teachers with quality training and coaching.”
The Mayors’ Coalition plans to grow its ranks to include mayors of counties, cities and towns across the state over the next several months leading up to the start of the new legislative session.
West Tennessee area mayors presently part of the organization include:
- Barry Hutcherson, Chester County
- Benny McGuire, Obion County
- Bill Rawls, Brownsville
- Brent Greer, Henry County
- Brett Lashlee, Benton County
- Chris Young, Dyer County
- Dale Kelley, City of Huntingdon
- David Livingston, Haywood County
- Eddie Bray, Henderson County
- Jake Bynum, Weakley County
- Jeff Griggs, City of Lexington
- Jill Holland, City of McKenzie
- Jimmy Harris, Madison County
- Jimmy Sain, Hardeman County
- John Carroll, Perry County
- Jon Pavletic, City of Ripley
- Joseph Butler, Carroll County
- Julian McTizic, City of Bolivar
- Kevin Davis, Hardin County
- Larry Smith, McNairy County
- Mike Creasy, Decatur County
- Robert King, City of Henderson
- Roger Pafford, City of Camden
- Skip Taylor, Fayette County
- Tim David Boaz, City of Parsons
- Tom Witherspoon, Gibson County
- Wes Ward, City of Linden
Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE) is a statewide advocacy organization focused on education policy from birth to third grade. Our bi-partisan coalition is comprised of business, law enforcement, faith, education and civic organizations and individuals in communities across Tennessee. The group’s members support high quality early education to improve academic achievement, boost workforce development and enhance quality of life in our communities. Learn more by visiting our website at: www.tqee.org[Read more at the Jackson Sun] Read More
- The NYC Leadership Academy announced the publication this week of new research on the impact of coaching principals in a report entitled “Still in the Game: How Coaching Keeps Leaders in Schools and Making Progress.”
- The research indicates that New York City principals who have worked with leadership coaches for at least five years remained at their schools twice as long as the national average, improved their ability to “supervise staff, distribute leadership, communicate, and lead with resilience,” avoided the complacency that sometimes comes with long-term leadership, and were able to develop beneficial and trusting relationships with their coaches.
- Nationwide, about half of principals participate in mentoring or coaching programs, though support is typically reserved for leaders requiring remediation or first-year principals.
This report, which can be obtained in full by filling out information on the organization’s website, makes a case for long-term support of principals through mentoring by non-evaluative coaches. The purpose of such mentoring is to help these school leaders deal with challenges they face, help them become more effective at improving school culture and performance, and retain them at their school. Principal turnover can be expensive, costing an average of $75,000, according to a 2014 report. Excessive principal turnover can also delay school improvement while teachers and other staff members adjust to a new leadership dynamic.
In a policy brief, the New York Leadership Academy suggests eight policy changes that school district should make to better support principals. These suggestions, which are further explained in the brief, include the following:
- Make coaching a part of new principal induction
- Offer coaching beyond the first two years of the principalship
- Budget coaching into per-pupil expenditures
- Take advantage of the flexibility offered by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
- Provide principals with an ongoing, non-evaluative thought partner
- Re-envision the principal supervisor role as supportive, not just evaluative
- Consider cost-effective ways to supplement and enhance one-on-one coaching
- Develop coach skills and monitor progress to ensure success
As the role of principals changes, principal supervisors‘ roles are changing as well. In the current educational climate, principals need more support than ever before. School districts also need to create principal pipelinesthat can help build leadership skills in potential principals. However, most school districts have tight budgetary frameworks, and providing long-term support for principals in the form of coaches may not be an option. In those cases, professional development programs or stronger collaboration between principals in support of one another may provide other forms of support and leadership development.[Read more at EducationDive.com] Read More
Tennessee will make it easier for school districts to access and purchase the technology — such as laptops — necessary to take TNReady tests starting in the 2019-20 school year.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced the change on Wednesday after a statewide listening tour focused on improvements to TNReady, the state’s standardized test for public school students. The technology upgrades are among the items the state is targeting to fix a flawed test administration over the last several years.
Haslam said to reporters on Wednesday that during the listening tour he heard from teachers that they wanted the state to get TNReady testing right.
“My summary from being at all six of these (listening sessions) and from teachers is: ‘Fix this, don’t start over,'” Haslam said to reporters Wednesday morning. “We’ve been through a lot of change in the last 10 years … what I heard from folks is don’t reinvent the wheel. Make this work.”
Haslam also laid out plans that will guide how the state chooses its next testing vendor, with Questar Assessment’s contract extended only through spring 2019. The state’s search for a new testing company allows a “reset” moment on a test that has frustrated the governor.
Feedback from the listening tour will help improve the state’s overall testing experience and serve as a handoff for the next governor.
“By the end of the school year we will know who our testing vendor will be for the 2019-20 year,” he said.
Cheaper technology tools for districts
Haslam’s focus to make technology easier for districts to access follows complaints heard statewide about internet and computer resources available to teachers.
The state will use its Tennessee Student Technology Enrichment Program to identify companies that can provide “high-quality devices,” such as MacBooks or Chromebooks, at competitive rates, according to Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.
“This is about equitable access during the year just to have keyboarding skills,” McQueen said. “More equitable access allows students to better prepare.”
Districts will be able to purchase, finance or lease the equipment, McQueen said.
And under the lease option, districts will be able to rent technology for a period of three years, and the state estimates that could reduce the total cost of ownership by as much as 40 percent.
The search for a new test company
Tennessee is in the process of finding a new vendor after repeated issues with its current test company Questar Assessment.
The state needed to stick with Questar for one more testing cycle due to how hard it would be to transition to a new vendor within several months time.
Haslam said requests for contract proposals will focus closely on the next company’s technology components.
The state will request its new test company partner with Tennessee businesses and universities to create test materials and score tests.
Haslam also wants the new vendor to be able to allow online access to test results as soon as they are available. And he wants to target a test company that can provide optional tests for districts that mirror what is required on TNReady.
Other changes in place
Although TNReady has been plagued with issues, McQueen has put into place fixes she hopes will improve the tests.
Changes this year include practice runs to ensure the test is working correctly, more overall support and resources for educators and improved training on the platform for teachers.
Districts have begun to get test documents back faster and there are fewer parts to the test overall. The state is using less paper on the paper version.
The state also has full-time staff to help districts with any issues that pop up.
Superintendents sound off on Haslam’s plan
Mike Winstead, director of schools for Maryville City Schools and a facilitator for Haslam’s statewide tour, said he was largely encouraged by the changes.
Technology, he said, ranked as a key topic of discussion at all of the tour stops.
Winstead said that it is critical to start by making sure there are an adequate number of devices in each school.
“I think this announcement will certainly help in that regard,” said Winstead.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas, however, said the simple bottom line is that schools need a system “that works” to restore confidence in Tennessee standardized test.
“This needs to be the year where everything comes together and works successfully like it’s supposed to,” Thomas said.
Haslam takes matters into his own hands
Haslam announced his listening tour in late August to hear from teachers, parents and students on how to improve the test that is entering its fourth year.
So far, the Tennessee Department of Education and its vendors have been unable to administer TNReady without some sort of issue, which has eroded trust in the exam among teachers, parents and state lawmakers. TNReady has become a frequent theme among the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor.
With the impending gubernatorial election, Haslam has expressed fear that either candidate will halt progress made in the state. The TNReady issue has been one that has weighed on him, he said.
“It’s been one of my biggest frustrations,” Haslam said.
Both Haslam and McQueen have said they are committed to moving the state fully to online testing.
But getting there hasn’t been easy.
The first year of the state’s test in spring 2016, Measurement Inc., the state’s first vendor, failed to deliver online testing. The company then was only able to deliver paper tests to high school students during the state’s testing window.
In its second year, after the state switched to Questar, a small number of tests were graded incorrectly and test scores were returned to districts late.
And in the 2017-18 school year, widespread issues stemming from Questar making an unauthorized change caused a slowdown in online testing for high school students.The issue was first reported as a possible “deliberate attack” to Questar’s systems.[Read more at The Tennessean] Read More
The steps announced today to improve the 2018-19 administration of TNReady have rightly prioritized the needs of students and the feedback of teachers.
Governor Haslam, with the help of the Tennessee Department of Education, responded quickly and completely to the concerns raised by educators during the TNReady listening tour. The responses to improve student access to computers and to provide teachers more practice questions will do more than ease the administration of TNReady. These changes will give students and teachers tools that will help improve learning across the school year.
These approaches to address the TNReady challenges are pushing assessment forward in Tennessee, and that’s the right response to what educators said and students need. Assessment is an essential part of the learning cycle. During the listening tour, teachers were not in favor of starting over on statewide assessment because they know how disruptive that would be. With first-class test administration – and the verification done this week was an important step toward that goal – Tennessee’s assessment will provide annual results that will help keep more students on track to graduate ready for postsecondary opportunities in education and work.
We know TNReady content is good because this assessment, unlike the state’s previous statewide tests, is providing a measure of student achievement that is comparable to results of national assessments. The selection process for the next assessment vendor should both retain high-quality test items and remedy administration problems.
The actions taken this week to improve TNReady are welcome and needed but must be followed with continued attention on top-notch test administration this fall and in the spring.
David Mansouri is president of SCORE.[Read more at SCORE] Read More
Almost 50,000 Tennessee students across 51 districts participated in a TNReady practice run Tuesday without any issues ahead of the fall testing window.
The students spent about 40 minutes on the platform to ensure it is running smoothly, according to Candice McQueen, Tennessee’s education commissioner, who emailed state directors Tuesday about the practice test.
The need for the practice run comes after several years during which the state has experienced TNReady issues testing students online. High school students on block schedules take the TNReady test in December.
“The success of today’s test — with students interacting with TNReady test questions at an even higher volume than we typically see in the fall — helps to affirm the steps that our testing vendor Questar (Assessment) has taken to improve ahead of the fall block testing window,” McQueen said. “We will conduct another verification test of the platform in the spring to ensure readiness again.”
The practice test was part of the state’s efforts to ensure the platform is working ahead of wide-scale testing.
Last year Questar made unauthorized changes to the TNReady platform, causing widespread issues. The problem was originally reported as a suspected “deliberate attack” on the company’s system.
Some districts opted to cancel testing altogether for multiple days.
It followed after the 2016-17 school year, when Questar incorrectly graded a small number of paper tests. And in the spring 2016 administration window, online testing was canceled altogether.
It led to the state firing Measurement Inc., its vendor at the time, and hiring Questar.
This fall about 30,000 students will be on the platform during any given day, said Sara Gast, Tennessee Education Department spokeswoman.
“For context, about 90 of our 147 school districts have some or all of their schools on a block schedule,” she said. “We will perform another large-scale verification test in the spring to ensure readiness for the April administration window.”
The test also served as a way to get students familiar with the online platform. Only high school students will be required to take the test online this school year.
“All students who participated in the exam will receive a standards-aligned score report within the next week,” McQueen said. “This feedback, which has never been available before, will help teachers further improve their instruction to meet their students’ needs.”[Read more at The Tennessean] Read More
Fifteen people across Tennessee are being charged with spotlighting issues of equity and coming together to design solutions to better serve all students, but especially students of color.
The group was named as the second class of Mosaic Fellows by the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition in conjunction with Conexión Américas, a nonprofit Latino advocacy group.
“Leaders of color must play an integral role in the K-12 education ecosystem in Tennessee, both to better reflect the communities served by our public schools, but to also bring an essential mix of experience and insights that are required for long-term improvement in student achievement,” the two organizations wrote in the announcement of the fellows.
In recent years, the state has grappled with a shortage of teachers of color. About 14 percent of new teachers in Tennessee training programs identify as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population. More than 100 school districts did not have a single Hispanic teacher and 27 did not have a single black teacher, according to state data from 2014.
Three of the fellows are from Shelby County Schools – the state’s largest school district – including Lin Johnson, who as chief financial officer has overseen a move to student-based budgeting, a key component of Shelby County Schools’ efforts to ensure state and local money is distributed based on student need.
The fellowship launched last year with a class of 16 and was designed as the state’s first fellowship aimed specifically at educators of color. This year’s class ranges from a Nashville teacher to charter organization leaders to higher education officials.
The year-long Mosaic Fellowship will include four three-day seminars that focus on current and historic issues in Tennessee education, leadership and diversity.
- Lin Johnson, chief financial officer, Shelby County Schools
- Jacques Hamilton, program coordinator, Tennessee Charter School Center
- DeVonté Payton, advisor for school development, Shelby County Schools
- Joshua Perkins, advisor, Shelby County Schools Office of Charter Schools
- Indira Dammu, education policy advisor, Office of Mayor David Briley
- Laura Delgado, program director, College of Education, Lipscomb University
- Chris Echegaray, community achieves site manager, Metro Nashville Public Schools
- Karla Coleman García, director for adult learner initiatives, Tennessee Higher Education Commission
- Keilani Goggins, director, Hope Street Group
- Joseph Gutierrez, program associate, Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund
- LaKishia Harris, director of equity and access, STEM Preparatory Academy
- Tomás Yan, STEAM teacher, Metro Nashville Public Schools
- Janine Al-Aseer, New Hopewell, site coordinator, Great Schools Partnership
- Denise Dean, project director, East Knoxville Freedom School
- Brook Dennard Rosser, talent acquisition and retention liaison, Knox County Schools