WCS and FSSD discuss taking possible legal action against state
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
In an unusual work session last night of both the city and the county schools’ leadership, both entities agreed on one thing: to properly serve students, accurate data must be used by all parties involved in education, including the state of Tennessee.
At issue is the state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman’s refusal to reopen the TCAP/EOC test correction window for data errors that originated at the school level, but now have a lasting impact on how services will be delivered this school year.
“The importance of data has been magnified, while the quality of data has gone down,” Looney said.
“If we are going to hire and fire superintendents, administration and teachers based on data, by George, we have to be as accurate and honest as we can get.”
His counterpart, Dr. David Snowden, director of schools at the Franklin Special School District, noted a similar view during the joint work session.
“Every school system should have the opportunity to have accurate data. That’s the bottom line,” Snowden said.
FSSD Board of Education Chairman Sherry Badger made this observation.
“This impacts the children who we are required to take action for and devise a proper plan,” Badger said. “In order to devise a proper plan, we have to have accurate data.”
In the case of county schools, professionals will need to immediately create a plan of action to address test results, which stem from inaccurate information.
“Resources could be directed improperly,” WCS Board Member Vicki Vogt said. “Data has to be correct to get the resources where they need to go.”
Although these inaccuracies, resulting from human error in coding the tests, were flagged and brought to the attention of state education officials, the state policy decision is to let the record stand.
Coding errors affect not only schools in the area, but districts across the state, Looney said.
According to a survey administered by Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, 45 of the 61 districts that responded said that they would have appealed coding errors if the state had not prohibited the action previously.
The coding procedures also changed this year, Looney said, which included transferring coding responsibilities to the school building level instead of the school district level.
In the midst of a climate, where state officials are beginning to tie teacher certification and licensure renewal to their annual ability to show growth in a child’s academic performance through the collection of data and testing, Looney is concerned that the stakes are too high to ignore the situation.
“It’s inconceivable to allow the action of the state go by without challenging it,” Looney said.
No formal votes were taken at the meeting, but will be required to move forward with legal action. The issue will be added to the WCS board agenda for a vote in September. Although no decision has been made by FSSD, the matter will most likely be scheduled on their September agenda for further discussion, according to FSSD Chairman of the Board Sherry Badger.
At the last WCS board meeting this month, the board approved a resolution formally requesting that the state reopen the window.
A few weeks ago, Looney voiced his intent to pursue legal action, upon approval of the board, if the state refused to comply.
Ultimately, the state recently denied the request, propelling Looney and the board forward with legal action.
“The most important thing is to get data correct and the record straight. We have an obligation to make sure that the data is accurate,” Looney said.
The state decision to allow Metro Nashville Public Schools to be given an exception by the state to correct errors has frustrated both school superintendents.
The state permitted Metro Nashville Public Schools to make corrections to their Native American subpopulation because they had already spent time and resources correcting a previous state mistake.
Snowden said that although he believes that any corrections among subgroup demographics will not affect FSSD’s accountability status, the issue is a “matter of principle and equity.”
Because Metro was allowed to correct some demographic information after the appeals window had closed, Looney and Snowden believe that Metro was treated fairly, while their districts and others were not.
“If superintendents and teachers could lose their jobs over tests scores,” Looney said, accurate data must be gathered.
Because three Hispanic high school students were miscoded as “white” in the demographics portion of the End-of-Year (EOC) test, the entire WCS Hispanic population has been categorized, under the new standard, as “needs improvement.”
Looney said that if just one of the students had been coded correctly, the population would be labeled as “intermediate.”
According to state regulations, schools and the district are required to devise an academic intervention plan for groups that score in the range of “needs improvement.”
Looney said that no district should be judged on incorrect data.
“The Hispanic population should get the recognition they deserve and not be mislabeled,” Looney noted.
The school boards meet separately Sept. 16.
Posted on: 8/30/2013