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VOL. 129 | NO. 162 | Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Humes Rises From Bottom 5 Percent of Tennessee Schools

By Bill Dries

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Humes Preparatory Academy is no longer in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement, as measured by state education officials.

That according to school-by-school test data from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) and Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data, released by state education officials Tuesday, Aug. 19, in Nashville.

Humes, which is in its third school year as part of the state-run Achievement School District, posted a 2.2 percent gain over the previous year in the students proficient or advanced in math and a 9.9 percent decrease in students proficient or advanced in reading in the 2013-2014 school year – its second in the ASD.

But in putting together the new priority list, the state looked at the entire school’s performance, not just the grades tested where proficiency is measured specifically. Humes also has an upper and a middle school structure which is different and got credit for the increases in proficiency among its seventh and eighth graders in its upper school.


“There were some bright spots and some areas where our schools need to get better,” ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said of the overall results for the school district for the bottom 5 percent statewide. Humes, which is operated as a charter school by Gestalt Community Schools, remains a part of the school district as it improves.

The ASD results also showed four Memphis schools in the district regressed, going from level 5 status to level 1 status.

Every three years, the individual school data is used to run a new list of the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.

The data was run after two schools years of the Achievement School District by state officials in anticipation of a change in the state testing away from the TCAP test. Ultimately the state kept Common Core standards but opted not to begin the move to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test in the current school year. But the state ran the data for a new priority schools list anyway.

This is the first running of the list since the Achievement School District began, and Barbic said Tuesday it shows “clear signs of change.”

Three years ago there were 69 “priority” or failing schools in Memphis where most of the state’s bottom 5 percent schools are located. With Tuesday’s data there were 59 priority schools.

Meanwhile, the number of failing schools in Nashville increased from six to 15 in the three-year period.

The changes mean 4,500 fewer students in Memphis – across the ASD and Shelby County Schools – are attending failing schools in the school year that began Aug. 4 compared to three years ago.

Cornerstone Prep at the old Lester Elementary School posted a 16.5 percent gain in math proficiency and an 11.1 percent gain in reading proficiency. In its first year, the Cornerstone charter operators encountered some community opposition over changing the name of the school and its discipline measures at the inner city school.

Barbic said the gains are an indication that the district’s methods are working.

“When the central office gets out of the way, provides support and lets the folks listen to the kids and make the decisions – if you’ve got the right people they are going to learn quickly and they are going to make those decisions on their own,” he said of Cornerstone.

But the clock is running in the district with the goal being to not only get the schools in the ASD out of the bottom 5 percent statewide but make them top 25 percent schools statewide in five years.

“We’re not going to be a district where schools that are struggling get to do that for 10, 15, 20 years,” Barbic said. “Third-year schools that can’t clear the bar are going to get replaced. This is definitely not a fail-over-decades mentality.”

The percentage of students proficient or advanced in math dropped at Westside Achievement Middle School, as well as Corning Elementary School.

Westside’s proficiency in math dropped 4.8 percent and 0.6 percent in reading.

Corning’s number of students proficient or advanced in math dropped 1.8 percent while its reading proficiency rose by 0.3 percent.

Westside got a new principal mid-year last school year as an adjustment to a school that is run directly by the Achievement School District, not a charter organization.

“We’re optimistic that they are going to have a good year this year,” Barbic said. “We are going to hold ourselves to the same standard we are holding our charters to, which I think is very different to how traditional districts operate. Districts are quick to close charters in some cases, but they are not quick to hold themselves accountable when their schools aren’t doing well. We are not going to treat ourselves any differently than we are treating charters.”

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