Cook: Kevin Huffman should resign over missing TCAP scores

Cook: Kevin Huffman should resign over missing TCAP scores

May 23rd, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

No TCAP scores? The test is belly-up, dead-in-the-water?

I don't know whether to laugh or cry, whether this is a nightmare or some sick joke.

Our public schools live and die by the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program; state officials have yoked TCAP scores to teacher livelihood and student futures. All year, thoughts and fears of the TCAP dominate classrooms.

And now -- after having months to prepare -- our state can't finalize test scores in time? Our state can't ship test results back to schools before report cards go home for summer break?

It is a bureaucratic collapse, an embarrassment to the look-at-our-Tennessee-miracle narrative that school officials keep trying to tell the rest of America.

It strips the Department of Education of its legitimacy, of whatever moral authority it once possessed.

And it turns Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman into our state's Kathleen Sebelius: a high-profile government official charged with implementing a program of massive importance, yet unable to do so.

Huffman is responsible for the TCAP collapse in the same way that Sebelius -- the former Health and Human Services secretary -- was for the layered, online mess of the Affordable Care Act.

It is difficult to comprehend what the TCAP collapse does to the heart of a teacher. All year, they've written and rewritten curriculum, basing it all on Test Day. They've worried about their own licensure and salary.

They've compromised their own philosophies, having to ignore those sweet moments of classroom creativity and improvisation -- one student says this, which leads to that, then this -- in order to "teach to the test."

Students? They get anxious. Can't sleep. Mothers tell me their kids vomit with nerves on Test Day.

And now, Huffman's department has the audacity to say this was all for naught?

Our state can process millions of ballots on Election Day -- we vote in the morning, and know the results by the evening -- yet it cannot preside over the grading of multiple choice tests even when given multiple days to do so?

Normally, our kids take the test and within days, schools receive the results, then used to finalize year-end grades. Summer hits, and kids run home with TCAP-influenced report cards.

Yet earlier this week, the state emailed school systems, announcing it wasn't ready to release scores yet, saying that schools could apply for a waiver to disregard TCAP scores, or wait until scores were finished to then finalize report cards.

This is fraught with trouble.

Will some districts receive waivers but not others?

If the state is willing and able to disregard TCAP scores as they affect student performance, will it do the same for teacher evaluations?

If a child takes home a report card today, yet his next-week TCAP scores lower his grades, which grades count?

When will Pearson, the global corporation responsible for the creation of TCAP, issue its refund?

It should, because our state has a multiyear, $150 million contract with Pearson. And the entirety of that refund should be divided into a one-year bonus for every public school teacher.

Huffman's department is blaming the delay on its inability to collect data; as old standards give way to new ones, the state wants to measure last year's test scores with this year's. They call it post-equating.

"Post-equating allows the department, our psychometric staff and our TAC [Technical Advisory Committee], to review the data more thoroughly before finalizing quick scores and given the number of changes made this year, we want to do this before releasing scores," emailed one education official.

Make sense? Of course not. Wade through the psychometric hogwash and you'll see this: They want more time before releasing scores.

You don't do that when things go smoothly. You don't do that if scores are peachy.

My guess? The test was faulty.

I think this year's TCAP had multiple mistakes on it, and as state officials gasp in growing horror at low TCAP scores, they're backpedaling, waiver-giving and post-equating their way into a bureaucratic nightmare.

Tell me I'm wrong. In fact, prove it.

Release a copy of the TCAP to the public.

Let us see the test our own children take. Let us hold in our hands the test that our state uses to grade our kids. Let us see it for ourselves.

Otherwise, next year's TCAP is already meaningless. You've rendered it so.

"I apologize," said Sebelius, during her Capitol Hill testimony. "I am accountable to you for fixing these problems."

Last month, she resigned.

So should Huffman.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.