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VOL. 125 | NO. 247 | Tuesday, December 21, 2010

School Report Card Delayed Until January

By Bill Dries

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The state is late – so late that long overdue data on adequate yearly progress (AYP) by students and the state report cards for schools will wait until a new administration takes office in Nashville.

Both are normally rolled out in August and November. But last week, state education officials delayed the release again, this time to mid-January.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Bruce Opie and his staff had a tentative goal of Dec. 22 to release the numbers that will show for the first time how Tennessee students and school systems have fared under new and higher state standards.

The delay, Opie said, is because of the Christmas holidays when schools will be out.

“This is so high stakes there is absolutely no reason to try to rush and get this out now, since it’s so late already,” Opie said. “We don’t want any mistakes against any school system or one student.”

The delay to Jan. 22 also means school officials may not have to offer school choice to students from “high priority” schools, something the students and their parents are entitled to under federal education standards. The state is seeking a waiver that would allow it to wait until the next school year on that. The waiver was applied for Dec. 10.

For those who aren’t educators or parents with a school choice option, reaching any kind of basic specific conclusion about student performance or school performance will be just as complex as it was under the old state and federal standards. And to a large extent, state education officials continue to warn against making those kinds of conclusions.

“It’s a baseline year as we begin this new journey together,” was how Dan Long, executive director of the state education department’s office of assessment, put it.

Education officials have for years discouraged reporters from referring to “high priority” status schools as “failing.” But outgoing Gov. Phil Bredesen hasn’t hesitated to describe such schools as failing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave the state an “F” in truth in advertising in 2007 for its standards.

It was Bredesen who pushed for the change in state standards in proficiency, arguing that the existing standards were so low and out of kilter with national standards that they were worthless.

Despite the delay in the numbers, Opie told reporters in a conference call last week that the number of failing schools or schools with problems didn’t spike as he and other educators believed it would with the higher standards.

“Our folks at the state were very proactive in not waiting until the test hit but actually one and two years before providing staff development to teachers on what was ahead of them,” Opie said.

“We are anticipating more schools having to go through the accountability process because the standards have been raised and the assessments reflect that for the very first year,” he added.

And Long added that the numbers will show “fewer students at the proficient and above level in this current school year based on previous years.”

To Opie and Long and Debbie Owens, chief officer of local education agency support, those three forecasts do not contradict each other.

“The message is that we are trying our best to develop standards and measures that are world-class,” Opie said.

Asked what she would tell parents of students whose performance is judged once the new results are released, Owens answered, “They are learning more.”

The number of school systems appealing the state data that is already in is also something of a mystery. Opie and his staff said they didn’t have the numbers with them on how many appeals had been filed.

Owens said the number of schools appealing was about the same. Opie said it is a “fluid number.”

“We don’t have firm data to even give you a real good estimate at this point, because we still have some appeals outstanding,” he said.

Opie expects Gov.-elect Bill Haslam to appoint a new commissioner of education. Opie is filling the post following the October resignation of Tim Webb. Opie said he and his staff will make recommendations and cooperate in the transition.

He also expressed hope that the new leadership will streamline the state report card.

If that happens, expect another “baseline year” in which state leaders call for suspending judgment because the standards have once again changed.

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