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VOL. 131 | NO. 76 | Friday, April 15, 2016

No New ASD Schools Added in 2017-2018 School Year

By Bill Dries

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The state-run Achievement School District will not add any new schools in the 2017-2018 school year, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Friday, April 15.

ASD leaders said the decision isn’t a moratorium, but an extension of the state department’s decision to allow teachers to not have TNReady achievement test scores from this year used in their evaluations.

The waiver was allowed because of problems with the online version of the new test that forced many school districts to go to a written version of the test.

Educators, including Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson, expected the scores to drop in the first year of the new test even without the online problems.

McQueen’s decision Friday means the student achievement test scores under TNReady also won’t count against “priority” or failing schools that are eligible for takeover by the ASD.

The ASD announced in December the four Memphis schools it would add to its system for the 2016-2017 academic year along with their charter operators.

Those schools, Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, Raleigh-Egypt Middle, Kirby Middle and Hillcrest High School, are not affected by Friday’s announcement.

“We remain committed to improving all schools, as well as the work being done by the ASD and its long-term impact on Tennessee’s ability to help students to find the path to a better future,” McQueen said.

ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson referred to the year without new schools as a “hold harmless year.”

“The ASD is committed to strengthening our local partnerships and collaboration with communities and local districts over the next year to collectively ensure families with students in Priority schools have the best possible education options going forward.”

The Achievement School District is for schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement.

In her written statement, McQueen said the decision isn’t a rethinking of the ASD despite calls in the Tennessee Legislature to abolish the district or freeze its size while it is re-evaluated.

Proposals to do both in the current session of the Legislature didn’t pass.

But the proposals surfaced in the wake of a Vanderbilt University study that concluded over the first three academic years of their existence, Innovation Zone schools, particularly those run by Shelby County Schools, had outperformed ASD schools, most of which are in Memphis.

The study also concluded that it was too early to draw long-term conclusions about the comparison.

Innovation Zone schools are also for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. But they are run by local school districts with the same autonomy that ASD schools have, including extra funding for teaching assistants to intervene with students as they fall behind.

Unlike ASD schools, I-Zone schools do not include charter operators running schools.

Hopson, in a written statement Friday said the decision to forego adding new schools to the ASD in the 2017-2018 school year "does not eliminate the sense of urgency to provide our underperforming schools with appropriate intervention models to ensure academic growth.

"This gives us more opportunity to work closely with the educators and families in our communities to accelerate student achievement," he added.

Democratic state Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis favored a three-year moratorium on new schools and has been a vocal critic of the ASD.

Parkinson said Friday he is "encouraged" by the one-year hold on new schools.

"The fact that the ASD/DOE is listening and holding the 2017-18 school year as a hold harmless year is a positive step in the direction," he said. "It's the right thing to do given the trouble we've had with the TNReady assessment."

Democratic state Rep. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis described the launch of TNReady as “arduous and frustrating.”

“Today’s announcement is a solid next step in ensuring that the state gets this right,” Akbari added in a written statement. “Taking a year to step back and look at all angles for improvement is a step in the right direction.”

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