Statehouse roundup

Ranks of testing bills culled as session’s days dwindle

Four testing bills were killed by the House Education Committee Monday, including measures that would have repealed the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests.

The committee did approve a measure that would impose new data privacy requirements on vendors who provide services to schools.

All four testing measures had Republican sponsorship and had been expected to die in the Democratic-majority House, although the committee didn’t split along party lines on two of the four bills. The measures have been hanging around on the calendar while lawmakers have been trying to reach agreement on the issue.

The bills died after a hearing of more than six hours that featured now-familiar testimony from testing critics and from interest-group representatives who want only minor changes in the system.

The committee’s action leaves six testing-related bills alive in the legislature, which has only 16 days before adjournment. The two major assessment measures, House Bill 15-1323 and Senate Bill 15-257, are on the  House and Senate floor calendars Tuesday, but they may or may not be heard then.

These are the bills that were killed Monday:

House Bill 15-1105 – The main elements of the bill would have ended Colorado’s participation in the Common Core and PARCC and required creation of new state standards. 9-2 bipartisan vote.

House Bill 15-1123 – The key feature of the bill would have given districts flexibility is choosing their own tests rather than having to give the statewide assessments. 8-3 bipartisan vote.

House Bill 15-1208 – The measure originally would have taken Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards, required adoption of new state standards and new tests and given districts some flexibility in choice of tests. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, offered a successful amendment to trim the bill down to just pulling out of PARCC. Then the committee killed the bill. 6-5 party-line vote.

House Bill 15-1125 – Its provisions were similar in many ways to HB 15-1105, but it also provided district and State Board of Education flexibility and created a schedule for periodic updating of academic content standards. Sponsor Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, made a last-minute plea to have the bill laid over, but chair Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, declined to do that. 6-5 party-line vote.

Republican Reps. Kevin Priola of Henderson, Jim Wilson of Salida, and JoAnn Windholz of Brighton voted with committee Democrats on some of the four bills. Only GOP Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Lundeen supported all four of the bills.

A 9-2 majority of House Education members passed HB 15-1323 on April 13 (see story).

The two bills pending on the House and Senate floors don’t touch the Common Core or PARCC but would reduce high school testing and streamline early literacy and school readiness assessments. The major difference is ninth grade testing, which the House bill would continue but the Senate bill would eliminate. The Senate bill also proposes some district flexibility in testing.

One testing-related measure, Senate Bill 15-233, doesn’t propose changes in the assessment system itself but codifies parent rights to opt students out of tests and clarifies what happens to schools and districts when test participation levels fall below required levels. That bill currently is scheduled in House Education on April 27.

(Get more details on the measures decided Monday and all other assessment bills in the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article. Learn more about HB 15-1323 and SB 15-257 in the chart below the Tracker.)

Privacy bill still in play

The data privacy measure, Senate Bill 15-173, has been the subject of intense negotiations since it passed the Senate more than a month ago.

Technology industry lobbyists have been promoting amendments to soften some of the bill’s requirements, particularly the amount of disclosure companies would have to make about contracts with school districts. Parent activists have been fighting to keep the bill in the form it left the Senate.

House Education Monday approved two amendments, one intended to meet some of the industry concerns and a second that adds further limits on the types of student data that vendors can’t use for commercial purposes.

The main thrust of the bill prohibits educational data companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data, and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data.

The committee sent the bill to the House on a 10-1 vote.

For the record

The House gave final approval Monday to these education bills:

House Bill 15-1317 – The bill would authorize the state to set up “pay for success contracts” under which private investors and philanthropists could fund social services such as early childhood programs and recover their investments from savings in other programs such as special education. 52-11

House Bill 15-1326 – The measure would prohibit state colleges from discriminating in admissions and financial aid against graduates of high schools in unaccredited school districts. 35-28

The House also gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1334, which would create a legislative study committee plus a technical advisory group with powers to review the state’s school finance system and makes recommendations for changes to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

Prime sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told her colleagues, “This is a really important bill. You’ve probably been under a rock if you haven’t heard we have some issues in our state regarding school finance.”

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.