Tennessee Commissioner Huffman’s Accountability Immunity

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Following up on my most recent post, about the video capturing Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s “Inspiring” TEDxNashville Talk, a VAMboozled! follower sent me a follow-up article linked here, “about the nightmare schools here in Tennessee have had with big testing/data [over] the past two days.”

Here’s the summary of the situation, although as captured in a different article written in The Tennessean linked here and titled: “Tennessee to Let Schools [emphasis added] Out of TCAP [Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program] Requirement Due to Score Delay.”

It seems that “A move by [Huffman and his Tennessee] Department of Education to make exams better aligned to Common Core standards has delayed the release of [its TCAP] test scores…[T]he unexpected 10-day postponement will mean a four-year-old law designed to give more meaning to [the state’s TCAP] standardized tests won’t be applied to many students, “as these test scores are to “account for 15 to 25 percent of Tennessee students’ final grades.”

“State officials first alerted Tennessee’s school directors of the delay on Tuesday afternoon, explaining that the state had narrowed assessments this year to eliminate factors not aligned with state standards and needed 10 more days to thoroughly review the results.” That is, state officials narrowed the test to (simply) remove items/portions from the tests that didn’t align with Common Core. As they are now figuring out, this was not as simple as it first may have seemed. Likewise, this should have been done with much more care and many more at the table (e.g., teachers for content validity) while doing so. It also seems that the state made these changes without keeping districts informed about the changes that were being made.

Removing items/portions from tests invalidates pretty much everything about them (noting that for what they were valid in even their most perfect forms is typically suspect). In addition, doing this requires complex, additional analyses to put them back into their “best” and “most valid” forms. Doing this also likely means that, now, because of their simplistic approach, behind the scenes state officials are likely dealing with some serious chaos in the test scores that came about as a result.

Education Commissioner Huffman’s role in all of this? Tennessee House Democratic Leader replied, “While Commissioner Huffman has pushed for more and more accountability for our teachers, his own department has yet to be called to account for their own failures.” A local Superintendent replied, “How do we consider the actions of [Huffman and the Tennessee Department of Education] consistent with any reasonable and prudent management decision that we all expect and require at all levels of effective governance?” It doesn’t seem like Huffman follows his own mantra, that his own “results [should] trump all” (see this/his mantra discussed in more depth in the aforementioned post).

Huffman’s response, not to these particular comment but to the situation overall? “If [districts] need to ask for a waiver, they can…Our goal is to get accuracy [emphasis added] over speed.” An apparent tweak to the mantra I suppose.

I don’t believe, from Huffman’s or the Tennessee Department of Education’s perspectives, that this will impact teacher evaluations, but it should. Messing with tests in such a way, without putting high-stakes accountability on hold until the tests are once again re-calibrated and validated is certainly cause for pause, if not at least sub-reasons for the lawsuits likely to be added to the three already in play.

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