VOL. 129 | NO. 164 | Friday, August 22, 2014
School Scores Provide Answers, Create More Questions
By Bill Dries
The last phase of the state’s delayed rollout of achievement test scores came and went this week with a blur of percentages for hundreds of schools in Shelby County and explanations of success formulas for elementary and middle school students versus high school students.
Achievement test scores and percentages for individual schools were released by state education officials this week.
(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
Earlier this summer, it was achievement test scores and rankings for the state and then for school districts.
The scores and rankings for individual schools give districts a chance to tout what they are doing right and evaluate what they need to change.
And showing growth in the results from one year to the next can come with increased funding for content specialists, more classroom help and autonomy to continue certain practices.
At its most basic, the individual school scores indicate the percentage of students judged as proficient and advanced in reading, math and science, with other more specific subjects at the high school level.
Like any snapshot from the previous school year, there are some blurry areas that leave more questions than answers two weeks into the new academic year. The questions arise in part from critical-thinking strategies for students that stress weaving specific Common Core standards across different subjects.
Many high schools with low percentages of proficient and advanced students across most of the subjects showed percentages in U.S. history in the high 70s.
At Carver High, 76.6 percent were proficient or advanced in U.S. History I, while only 1.3 percent were proficient or advanced in Algebra I, and none in Algebra II.
At Craigmont High, 95.5 percent of students were proficient or advanced in U.S. History I, but 1.7 percent were proficient or advanced in chemistry. In English I, 52.1 percent of the students were proficient or advanced, but only 17 percent in English III.
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson talked Tuesday, Aug. 19, about the results at Cherokee Elementary, an Innovation Zone school that rose out of the bottom 5 percent statewide in terms of student achievement.
The Innovation Zone schools came into existence two years ago when the state-run Achievement School District – led by Chris Barbic, who was appointed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam – debuted.
Both work exclusively with schools in the bottom 5 percent statewide.
And although the two compete on days like Tuesday when test scores and results are released and for teachers as well as students, Barbic said the two school systems are also a carrot-and-stick approach that adds a sense of urgency to improving education.
“Obviously the stick is the ASD, and part of the value of the ASD, to be quite honest, is the existential threat of the ASD,” Barbic said. “If your school doesn’t get better, it’s going to get taken away.”
The I Zone schools, which have access to “school improvement grant dollars” from the state, are the carrot by that analogy.
Hopson talked about the sense of urgency at Cherokee at the classroom level, which means not only putting a premium on classroom time but having teachers intervene with students who fall behind at the first indication they are behind.
The specifics of achievement test scores for third- through eighth-graders at the school show the problem of reading and language skills present in many Memphis schools.
At Cherokee, 41.9 percent of third- through eighth-graders are proficient or advanced in science, 43.8 percent in math, 65.6 percent in social studies and 26.7 percent in reading and language.
Because it is an Innovation School, Cherokee gets content specialists and other help that involves more state funding.
Shelby County Schools board chairman Kevin Woods met Tuesday with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell about the release of the school-by-school numbers and their relationship to increased funding to spread the approach to conventional schools and keep it when the program for more state funding comes to an end.
“We have to be making data-driven decisions. How can we make sure that what’s working in I Zones, we find an affordable way to do that in more schools?” Woods asked.
Barbic met this week with Jesse Register, the director of schools for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, to talk about a possibly deeper involvement of the ASD in a district that saw an increase in the number of schools and students on the “Priority” list of the bottom 5 percent in the state, while 4,500 students across 15 Memphis schools moved off the list.
“I think the new list gives us a chance to sit back down with them and some operators and see what our plans moving forward are,” Barbic said of Nashville, adding he outlined for Register how the relationship works between Barbic and Hopson in Memphis.