Municipal Districts Tout ACT for Testing

By Bill Dries

The superintendents of at least two of Shelby County’s suburban school systems say the state should use the ACT college entrance exam to gauge the achievement levels of high school students.

JASON MANUEL

“We have universities who are giving full-ride scholarships based on their ACT scores,” said Germantown Municipal School District superintendent Jason Manuel on the WKNO/Channel 10 program Behind The Headlines. “Let’s use that test. It has a math component. It has a science, a reading and social studies component. Let’s use that as a measure.”

Bartlett Schools superintendent David Stephens agreed.

“ACT is kind of the gold standard,” he said. “The issue that we’re finding is the new standards we have developed are not totally aligned with ACT. I think that’s what’s causing the state’s quandary … There probably has to be some work there.”

The Tennessee Department of Education hired Questar, a new state achievement test vendor, last month after canceling the state’s contract with Measurement Inc. following a disastrous debut of the new TnReady online tests in the 2015-2016 school year.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen also announced a review of the state’s philosophy on testing. That has already resulted in giving the state achievement tests in one window at the end of the school year, dropping an earlier window in February. And McQueen also shortened the subpart tests for four subjects.

“I think they removed testing in the wrong area,” Manuel said of the state’s decision before the TnReady problem to remove so-called “pre-ACT” tests by students in lower grades.

“For me, that was a very valuable test to see how prepared students were,” he said.

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

Manuel and Stephens met with McQueen recently in Jackson, Tenn., along with other West Tennessee educators.

DAVID STEPHENS

“High-stakes testing is like so many things we’ve done in education,” Stephens said. “At one point, we didn’t know how our kids compared to other kids across the country. So we swing it way back, so we are constantly testing. We feel good that they are backing that up. We feel like they’ve been thoughtful.”

Teachers in Bartlett and Germantown as well as the other five public school systems in Shelby County reported for the new school year this week, with the first day of classes to start Aug. 8.

Bartlett’s 9th Grade Academy will start the year with more than 700 students and estimates of 3,000 students in grades 9-12 in Bartlett over the next two school years.

With that in mind, Stephens proposed, and last week the Bartlett School Board approved, a contract with Fleming Architects to develop a master plan for the current Bartlett High School campus over the next 15 years.

“They really want to go in look at those facilities and say what building needs to be renovated,” Stephens said, “what building may need to come down and new buildings be built. I think we are going to be in a great situation where we can phase this – do this over time with those dollars from the half-cent sales tax the city has been banking.”

A phased-in construction process would allow the city of Bartlett to pay-as-you-go on whatever master plan is developed as opposed to issuing bonds and taking on debt for new construction.

In Germantown, construction is underway on the addition to Riverdale Elementary School.

“It’s going to be a difficult year because we are building essentially a school out in front of another school,” Manuel said.

The expansion will eliminate the 22 portable classrooms in place at Riverdale for more than two decades. But growth in elementary school students for Germantown, at Dogwood and Farmington elementary schools in particular, mean that each of those schools will get six portable classrooms with the new school year.

Manuel and his staff are talking with Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson and his staff about the city of Germantown’s offer of $5 million for Germantown elementary and middle schools.

Those two and Germantown High School are within the city of Germantown, but remain part of SCS.

Manuel says if the Germantown school district can get both schools, it would go a long way to easing elementary and middle school overcrowding.

But Hopson has said SCS kept the “three Gs” – as the three schools are known – because of student growth in that part of Memphis at the border with Germantown.

“We’ve identified schools that are around that area,” Manuel said. “Oak Forest is one that’s a mile and a half away from Germantown Elementary that has about 450 students in an 850-student school. It’s not a matter of them having to build another school to serve their students. They can re-route those students.”

But without an agreement, Manuel said Germantown’s school district continues to plan for building a new elementary school south of Poplar Avenue.

“We know that we have to essentially travel two paths – trying to get Germantown Elementary and Germantown Middle School from Shelby County Schools,” he said. “But then also at the same time looking at building our own elementary school. There’s a short period of time that we can actually house our students in portables before we need a new elementary school.”