By Sally Absher

By Sally Absher

Knox Teachers travel to Nashville to meet with Legislators. A group of local teachers, including Lauren Hopson, Amy Cate, Linda Holtzclaw, Sherry Morgan, Christina Graham, and Gloria Johnson spent part of their Spring Break last week in Nashville. They attended Education Committee meetings and met with Senators Becky Massey and Richard Briggs, and Representatives Harry Brooks, Bill Dunn, Roger Kane, and Ryan Haynes.

Conversation focused on vouchers and charter schools. Rep. Kane defended co-sponsoring a voucher bill by saying, “I’ve always been a voucher guy…17 other states have them so I don’t want Tennessee to be behind.” The only problem, as the teachers pointed out, is that it hasn’t worked in those other states. Why would Tennessee enact a failed initiative instead of putting that money into programs that have been successful, such as community schools?

Kane said there are so many amendments being attached to the voucher bills that he didn’t know what the final bill would look like. He also admitted, in a moment of truth, that now that we have charters and online schools, he wasn’t sure we needed vouchers. When Hopson asked him “if you were sponsoring a voucher bill that was exactly what you wanted, what would it look like?” he said, “Umm… I don’t really know.”

The teachers also talked vouchers with Rep. Dunn, sponsor of the voucher bills.  Dunn said he has gotten calls and emails split “roughly 50/50” for and against vouchers. When asked if he would change his position if he received an overwhelming majority of emails against vouchers, he didn’t answer, but referred to “what the governor wants.” He indicated he planned to return calls and emails to those who had contacted him opposed to vouchers, and explain why he favored vouchers. In other words, he intends to try to convince his constituents of his viewpoint instead of listening to theirs. But hearing from a large majority opposed to vouchers “might influence” him.

Johnson said that she thinks there is a chance to beat vouchers. She said the bill was taken off notice because several Reps weren’t happy with the amendments, and she heard they may not have had the necessary votes in the House Education Committee due to some absent legislators. Continuing to point out that our kids already have a “choice” to transfer from a poor performing school to a better performing school is “putting a big dent in the argument for vouchers.” Along with the fact that vouchers have not proven successful anywhere else.

Pearson Inc. Spying on Students via Social Media. In case you missed it, the UK testing giant Pearson Inc. is paying Caveon Test Security of Utah nearly $100K to go through hundreds of thousands of social media postings to determine whether students are revealing anything about the new Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Common Core test.

The PARCC test is underway in several states, including New Jersey, where the alleged security breach occurred.   (Note – Although Tennessee dropped out of PARCC last year, this story should concern you).

According to numerous media reports, the social media monitoring was revealed in an email that a District Superintendent in NJ sent to colleagues about a disturbing episode she was made aware of by her district’s testing coordinator. The email was posted on the website of Bob Braun, former reporter, education editor and senior columnist at the Star-Ledger. Braun called the monitoring of social media nothing less than “spying.”

The email referenced a “disturbing episode” involving notice from the NJDOE that Pearson had initiated a Priority 1 Alert for an item breach within the school. NJDOE initially reported that a student had taken a picture of a test item and tweeted it during the test session. It turned out that the student had posted a tweet (no picture) after the test that referenced a PARCC test question. The student deleted the tweet, and the school spoke to the parent, who was highly concerned about her child’s tweets being monitored.

NJDOE informed the school that Pearson monitors all social media during PARCC testing. The superintendent’s email continues, “If our parents were concerned before about a conspiracy with all of the student data, I am sure I will be receiving more letters of refusal once this gets out.” New Jersey is one of many states experiencing a growing opt-out movement by parents who are refusing to allow their children to take the test.

2014 Tennessee TCAP Writing Assessment Yields 100 Perfect Scores. Tennessee Parents ( reports that just 100 students across the state earned a perfect score on last year’s TCAP writing assessment. This assessment is taken by students in grades 3 to 11 (unless they are lucky enough to have parents who “refuse the test”).

TDOE is promoting these 100 “perfect” students to convince the public that these tests are meaningful. Knox County had six schools with at least one “perfect” student (Bearden, Carter, Farragut, Gibbs, Halls, and Hardin Valley).

TDOE says the rubric for scoring the current year (2015) writing assessment will be the same as was used to score the 2014 assessment. Of course, these assessments are being scored by people found on Craigslist, so you know the scoring is rigorous and meaningful…

Teachers and parents realize the writing assessment, which moved to an online format for 2015, has many problems. Some of these include:

• Technology glitches, slow internet, lost essays;

• A confusing MIST platform students must use to write an essay in a tiny little text box while tabbing between two different articles they must read;

• A significant amount of time spent training students on how to use this cumbersome MIST format that they will never use for any other purpose, unlike standard word processing programs;

• The amount of money wasted on this test that could have been used in the classroom;

• Administering the test over four weeks, tying up computer labs that should be used for technology classes that require computers, and disrupting class schedules for students.

• Requiring students to type to complete the test, even though there is little, if any, formal typing instruction in elementary or middle school.

• Kids in homes without internet access or computers do not have exposure to technology to practice typing, adding to the achievement gap.