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VOL. 128 | NO. 143 | Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Achievement School District TCAPs: Reading Down, Math and Science Up

By Bill Dries

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Student achievement test scores for the first school year of the Achievement School District shows students in the set of historically low performing schools made gains in science and math proficiency but fell further behind in reading.

Results of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program – or TCAP – tests were released by school district starting Wednesday, July 24. Countywide school system leaders expect to get results Thursday for the last school year of the separate city and county school systems.

“What we’re expecting and what we are working toward over the summer … is that we’re responding to the data,” said Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic. “We’re adding time for instruction. We’ve got schools that added an hour in their schedule for more reading.”

The Achievement School District is a state-run school system that includes schools in the bottom five percent of schools across the state in terms of student achievement. Most of the bottom five percent schools are in Memphis and most of the ASD schools are in Memphis.

The 2012-2013 school year was the first academic year for the district whose goal is to move the schools to the top 25 percent in five years.

The TCAP percentages showed 24.2 percent of the students in the Achievement School District were proficient in science. Only 16.5 percent of the same students were proficient in science the year before.

The ASD showed a smaller gain in mathematics with 19.6 percent of the student proficient in that subject area this past school year compared to 16.3 percent the year before.

In reading, 13.6 percent of the Achievement School Districts student tested as proficient last school year compared to 18.1 percent the previous school year.

The statewide proficiency growth numbers showed a 3.5 percent gain in math proficiency with the Achievement School District posting a 3.3 percent gain. Statewide there was a 2.1 percent gain in science proficiency compared to a 7.7 percent gain in the Achievement School District. Reading proficiency improved by 0.4 percent statewide but declined by 4.5 percent in the Achievement School District.

“When you look at national research and what is being done on turnarounds, it seems as though reading is kind of the last one to turn,” Barbic said. “I think the reason for that is that math and science are a little bit more immune to what is going on outside the schools. I know that 2+2 is 4. I can teach a kid the steps of long division. But when we’re talking about reading, you have kids coming in with half the vocabulary of a kid coming out of a middle class household or you’ve got parents that can’t read so no one’s been reading to that child before they get to school.”

ASD leaders expected the reading numbers to be a problem.

Russ Ramsey, the principal of the new 9th Grade Academy within Westside Achievement Middle School, said last month the academy will debut next month with a push to bring up reading proficiency in the transition from the eighth grade to the ninth grade.

Barbic said the push needs to begin even sooner.

“I think it’s critical even earlier than that,” he added. “We need to make sure and as we move forward we will continue to make sure that kids aren’t leaving third grade not being able to read. When we do that … then we are essentially dooming kids to a life of poverty.”

Barbic noted the TCAP results came with a “Level 5 growth rating,” an endorsement of efforts by the district.

“It means that our kids grew faster than they were predicted to grow and more than a year’s worth of growth in a year’s time. … We’re looking at schools where the average school had 10 to 12 percent proficiency,” he said. “Our teachers are working in some of the toughest environments and toughest schools in the state and to see three out of four of them saying they plan on coming back the following year versus roughly half at the state level – it speaks to the kind of people we have and the leadership we have in the schools.”

School by school ratings and proficiency numbers from the TCAP tests are to be released by state education officials next month.

The Achievement School District is a mix of schools run directly by the district and schools run by charter operators under contract with the school district.

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