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VOL. 130 | NO. 111 | Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Municipal Schools Leaders Assess First Year

By Bill Dries

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Not so fast with those state achievement test quick scores that went out with some students’ last report cards. Tennessee Department of Education officials said earlier this month that the figures are in most cases rosier than expected.

Ted Horrell and Tammy Mason

The so-called “quick scores” from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, will be reconciled later this month with the scores that show students’ proficiency.

“There’s really no correlation between the quick scores, which is what the parents and students see on their report cards, versus what the proficiency levels are,” said Arlington Community Schools superintendent Tammy Mason on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “I think right now what our biggest job is, is communication.”

Mason and Lakeland Schools superintendent Ted Horrell, who was also on the program, said the explanation is part of a larger transition in which such assessments and the standards they purport to measure don’t yet match the curriculum in many classrooms.

“They keep leapfrogging,” Horrell said. “I’ve heard specific concerns about the Common Core standards, but also more general concerns about the culture of testing and the emphasis and the position it is putting teachers in.”

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

“You are in that constant transition, which has caused a misalignment between curriculum and assessments,” Mason said. “We’re hopeful that we are nearing the end of that misalignment and that we can get those two on the same page. Looking at my community, that’s really been the biggest concern.”

Mason is among those looking ahead to a more “natural process.”

“There’s always been that standardized test,” she said. “Obviously the emphasis on what it all means for teacher accountability and student accountability with the grading, that has increased over the years. … It won’t be highlighted as much as it is now.”

A year ago this month, the leaders of the county’s six suburban school systems got the keys to the buildings in their respective districts from Shelby County Schools.

The symbolic moment in the suburban school systems’ development came six months after those superintendents built their systems from the ground up.

“You had several things that you can’t help but be concerned about,” Horrell said as he reflected on the just-ended first year of the Lakeland Schools system and the five others. “They include the culture and your staffing, the operation and the day to day. And certainly the financial piece was a huge one. We were confident that we would get the funding we needed to make it work and within our budget, but you’re still not quite sure until you do it.”

For Mason and Arlington Community Schools’ central office, the focus at the outset was on the system’s operations, with leaders at the school level more focused on curriculum and standards.

“They really did that part of the heavy lifting the first semester of last year,” she said.

There are other indications of realignments ahead.

Three suburban districts – Lakeland, Germantown and Collierville – are all exploring new school construction. In Lakeland’s case, it would be a new middle school, after voters in April rejected a $50 million bond issue for a grades 6-12 school.

“I think all of the school systems are looking at the capital piece,” Horrell said. “Now we are all trying to assess kind of ‘what is our facility situation and does it meet our needs.’ The facilities were placed with no regard for municipalities. Now we have these municipal borders.”

Mason said Arlington is “at a pretty good size, as far as our buildings and space we have.”

Both school systems are moving into the use of more technology.

Lakeland is building its technology infrastructure with $40,000 in work over the summer break to augment digital devices donated by the Lakeland PTA and the Lakeland Schools Foundation.

“I think we are all heading toward either bring your own device or one-to-one type things,” Horrell said, referring to blended learning technology and curriculum for out-of-school work that blends with classroom teaching.

Arlington is moving into STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – curriculum in the coming school year, with $250,000 spent on equipment. There is also a $500,000 line item for technology infrastructure in which all sixth- and seventh-graders will have devices to use at both school and home by the end of the 2015-2016 school year.

“It’s just not as simple as putting a device in a child’s hands,” she said. “There has to be teacher training with that because it’s a different way of teaching.”

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