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VOL. 128 | NO. 148 | Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Schools Achievement Numbers Show Growth, Gaps

By Bill Dries

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Now that Shelby County’s two public school systems are one, the achievement tests results for the two districts in their last school year apart will be consolidated into a single baseline.

District-wide results for third through eighth graders in Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program – or TCAP – tests were released Monday, July 29.

Achievement test results for the last year of separate city and county school systems show a gap between students in the two systems. It also showed growth in learning proficiency among students in seven Memphis Innovation Schools, low-performing schools that were given more autonomy and a fresh start, with all teachers and administrators applying anew for jobs.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Meanwhile, the school system broke out the seven Innovation Zone schools in Memphis from the overall results for Memphis City Schools. The breakout was not part of the state figures.

The Innovation Zone schools are among the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state by student proficiency and achievement. For the 2012-2013 school year, the school system fresh-started them with all teachers and administrators reapplying for jobs within them and a requirement that each school had to have half of its staff as new teachers and administrators. The Innovation School status came with recruitment and retention bonuses for teachers with them having to meet a standard score on their performance evaluations to be hired.

The University of Virginia partnered with the school system in screening candidates to be principals of the Innovation Schools.

The schools were also given greater autonomy that led to longer school days and new practices for intervention learning in particular.

The first year of the Innovation Schools, by the school system’s breakdown, showed 10 percent growth in proficiency in math, 13.4 percent growth in science and 2.4 percent growth in reading as well as 11.9 percent growth in social studies.

“That’s extraordinary,” interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said as he described the reading results as “far outpacing anybody.”

Chief Academic Officer Roderick Richmond said the coming school year will see the countywide system taking lessons learned from the reading gains in those seven schools to others.

“There has to be a clear focus on comprehension, a clear focus on stamina because kids have to be able to read long passages and comprehend that, and fluency,” Richmond said.

Hopson and his staff said the overall results confirm both school systems made progress in closing the achievement gap among their students. But with the combination of the school system there are inevitable questions about whether the merger undoes that statistical, measurable progress and creates a new redrawn achievement gap.

By the state numbers issued this week, a third of the third through eighth grade students in the legacy Memphis City Schools system are proficient or advanced in math with 37.4 percent proficient or advanced in science. In reading, only 29.1 percent are proficient or advanced.

For the legacy Shelby County Schools system, 63.3 percent of the third through eighth graders are proficient or advanced in math. 73.6 percent in science and 62.4 percent in reading.

In social sciences, 66.7 percent of the MCS students were proficient or advanced compared to 91.4 percent in SCS.

State education officials will combine the results across both districts as they set a single new baseline standard the consolidated district will strive to improve on in the coming school year.

“What’s going to have to happen is the state is going to have to set some new baselines,” said William White, planning and accountability chief of the countywide school system. “All of this new model for achievement is based on growth and comparing you to where you were the year before.”

A similar resetting of the baseline happened last year at this time as the state officials separated results from the schools in the state-run Achievement School District from legacy Memphis City Schools. That resulted in not only a new baseline in the last MCS school year but also a new baseline for growth in the six schools in the first year of the Achievement School District.

Because the baseline is about growth and the ASD schools were in the bottom 5 percent in achievement, the baseline took into account the value of growth particular to those low-performing schools.

The same philosophy prompted the state to rank legacy Memphis City Schools, Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District as “level five” achievers. The designation means they each had more growth than state officials expected given how much was expected of each given the existing achievement and proficiency levels in those schools.

White acknowledged the setting of a new baseline for the countywide school system will likely confirm the continued presence of an achievement gap albeit with different measures of what constitutes an acceptable level of growth.

“I think you are going to end up seeing the traditional types of gaps that you have historically seen between economically disadvantaged students and those that aren’t, between English language learners and non-English language learners, between minorities and non-minorities, special education – the traditional gaps,” White said.

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