by Eric Holcombe
You are seeing plenty about Tennessee school achievement and the TCAP scores that are “closing the gap” or like last year were “exemplary” based only on changes in scores. Of course with Tennessee’s “waiver” from the No Child Left Behind requirements that we begged from Obama, it is incumbent upon the state to show progress. Some are using these reported changes in scores (but never the actual scores themselves mind you) to attribute the success to academic standards that were changed and as Gov. Haslam does in the first linked article, all these improvements seem to need to be compared back to 2010:
“This is a very positive step for our state,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “We’ve had steady growth and progress since 2010.”
As readers of this blog well know, that was the year Tennessee lied on their application for Race To The Top federal funds, fraudulently claiming unanimous consent by all school districts and school board chairs to implement the yet-unwritten Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts. A little over sixty days later, we were rewarded with over $500 Million in public taxpayer funds which has now been spent implementing the so-called “state-led” standards. Public money was also used in the federal Race To The Top program to create two new, mandatory achievement testing firms: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Joining a “multi-state” online testing consortium to measure your human capital widgets’ compliance with the Common Core State Standards was a federal requirement contained within the Race To The Top application (but keep telling yourself it is “state-led”). PARCC governing board member and Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Assistant Commissioner of Curriculum and Instruction Emily Barton both testified in Senate hearings on SB1985 that Common Core is “fully implemented” and we are seeing such great results on NAEP assessments due to Common Core that somehow going back to only 2013 would be a step backward academically. Well, what do we have to show for our $500+ Million spent over the last four years?
Well, besides an illegal, multimillion dollar, no-bid testing contract with PARCC, not much. We can hide in the TCAP bubble for only so long. TCAP tests are not nationally-normed, meaning your Tennessee students’ scores only compare to other Tennessee students. Useful for ranking your in-state districts vs. one another, but not good for comparing ourselves to other states. We are told we needed (I mean we states created) Common Core so our children can “compete in the global marketplace”. It seems like we would be interested in academic performance comparisons outside our little TCAP bubble. But we are told that Common Core is “rigorous” and “internationally benchmarked”, so we should have nothing to worry about, right? Jamie SCORE Woodson claimed in the Senate Education Committee Common Core “fact-finding” hearings that one reason Common Core was implemented was because of TN’s poor performance on the NationalAssessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, a.k.a. the Nation’s Report Card) tests. These tests are not comprehensive of all grades, but test 4th and 8th grades (and now some pilot states participating in 12th grade) in several subjects, but not every subject every year:
“National Assessments include many subjects, including mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history. These assessments follow the frameworks developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, and use the latest advances in assessment methodology. Each subject is assessed at grades 4, 8, and 12, although not all grades are assessed each time.”
Since TN does not use a nationally-normed achievement test like Iowa Basic Skills or Stanford Achievement, we only have the NAEP to let us know how we compare to the rest of the country. Since the testing schedule is intermittent in nature, it makes it even more difficult to reliably trend results. So how do we stack up after four years and $500 Million spent?
Unfortunately, Tennessee is still below average on every single metric for 4th and 8th grade students. We are almost nearly average on some, but not yet. Among the thirteen 12th grade pilot states, Tennessee is next to last in both mathematics and reading proficiency at 17% and 31% respectively. Just think, Gov. Haslam claims they have improved the last four years to get to that point. I don’t care how you slice it, that is an ugly score. How many more years will it take with “exemplary, closing the gap” years to get to say, 50% proficient?
Note that the last data point is 2013. Huffman and Barton claimed both that the gains up to 2013 were due to Common Core, and backing up to where we were in 2013 is a step backward in academic standards (which they claimed were already fully implemented, thus nothing to “delay”) even though they have ZERO test results. They can’t have it both ways.
In either case, we have spent four years and $500 Million extra and are still below average on every count. Tennessee should be the Common Core flagship, getting round 1 RTTT money, getting round 1 NCLB waivers and all those trips with Arne Duncan telling us how good we are, all those checks from Bill & Melinda Gates to Bredesen and Haslam’s Achieve Inc., Bill Frist and Jamie Woodson’s SCORE, the TN Dept. of Education, the City of Memphis and so on.
So when are we going to get the “World Report Card” to go with our Tennessee Report Card and Nation’s Report Card? After all, we are told that we states created Common Core so we could would have “internationally benchmarked” standards so our children can “compete in the global marketplace.” Or hasn’t Bill Gates sent a check for that yet?
Arne Duncan in his latest appearance with Gov. Haslam (reminding us that Common Core is “state-led”) asked “where’s the outrage” on education achievement gaps. What gaps Arne? We are told everything is great, we are improving every year. Don’t you read the paper? It’s just like Gov. Bredesen was telling us before we all-of-a-sudden “needed” Common Core.