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VOL. 131 | NO. 249 | Thursday, December 15, 2016

TNReady Report Cards Dip With New Test

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Schools leaders have a math literacy program that will rollout in phases starting next year. The plan was already in the works before new state test results were released Tuesday, Dec. 13, for school districts across the state.

New TNReady test results for high school students across the state show challenges ahead in meeting new more rigorous standards,  with students particularly scoring lower in math subjects. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The TNReady results reflect high school end-of-course exam results under new standards with a new test that sets a new baseline for measuring student, school-by-school, and school district growth in academic achievement.

And the new scores took a dip statewide as well as locally, particularly in math, with the change.

Under the old standards, students were measured as “not proficient,” “proficient” and “advanced.” The new measurements are “mastered,” “on track,” “approaching” and “below.”

“These results were expected, but they do not mean that our students are learning any less,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “This is a better test than we’ve ever had before and it is ultimately giving us better feedback. It honors the importance of writing, problem solving and critical thinking skills.”

The high school results for SCS showed 75.3 percent were below in Algebra I, 74.1 percent below in Geometry, and 64.8 percent below in Algebra II. The English I, II and III results were somewhat better with 52.1 percent approaching mastery in English I, 38.8 percent in English II and 41.6 percent in English III.

“This tells us we’ve got a lot of serious work to do in order to help our students be on track and ultimately be ready and successful for college,” said Bill White, planning and accountability chief for SCS.

At the Dec. 6 SCS board meeting, superintendent Dorsey Hopson said his advance look at the report cards was “disheartening.”

“I don’t say that with a frown,” he added. “I think it just means there’s a lot of hard work that has to go on. … We have to be mindful of the fact that we have so many underutilized, poor performing schools that have dire capital needs.”

None of the school systems in Shelby County had a majority of high school students master any of the 12 subjects in the TNReady standards. The highest percentage in that category was the 35.2 percent of Collierville high schoolers in Biology I.

But each of the five suburban school systems with high schools (the Lakeland system currently has only an elementary school) had a majority of their students either on track or mastering Biology I.

And four of the five had the same majorities for high school science, excluding Millington.

Collierville had majorities on track or mastering 7 of the 12 subjects. Germantown had majorities in 5 of the 12 subjects.

The Achievement School District posted the highest percentages of students below expectations, with 94.7 percent below in Algebra I, 90.2 percent in Geometry and 89.9 percent in Algebra II.

Bartlett and Collierville school systems posted Level 5 status, the highest level for the growth students have shown. Germantown, Arlington and the ASD were Level 1, the lowest, and Millington was Level 4.

SCS had 11 high schools earn a Level 5 rating with the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System results. For all high schools, SCS earned a Level 3 rating based on high school end-of-course exams.

But its overall growth rating when the testing of second graders was added to the high school results was Level 1. For second graders only, the school system was a Level 1.

Math was a trouble spot. SCS fell to a Level 1 status for growth in both Algebra I and Algebra II. The school system have been Level 5 in Algebra I the previous school year and Level 3 in Algebra II the previous school year.

The school system opted to test second graders and include their results with the high school results to set a baseline in an area where the school system has previously shown significant growth – the move from second grade to third grade.

SCS has mounted in recent years a focused drive to improve literacy levels, with a goal of having all third graders reading at grade level.

White said the results showed that is working.

“We saw some strength in literacy with a Level 1 there, but in mathematics we lost some ground,” he said.

SCS chief academic officer Heidi Ramirez said the school system saw some of the largest achievement gap reductions in Language Arts, including some Level 5 rankings in Language Arts at the high-school level.

“I think it’s telling us we are working on the right stuff focused on language arts,” Ramirez said. “We also saw, even in social studies, which relies quite a bit on literacy skills, a good level there on TVAAS.

“It sounds like we need to continue the efforts on literacy and now also be gearing up for more intensive work in mathematics, which we had already on the agenda to do.”

The school system has been using classroom materials toward that end on a trial basis as well as math coaches it hopes to grow to build “teacher and leader capacity around this work,” Ramirez said.

SCS leaders and state education commissioner McQueen emphasized in separate press conferences that the results are more than an adjustment to new tests. They said the standards are higher, and in particular the mathematics tests have new sections in which students were not allowed to use calculators.

Nakia Townes, assistant state commissioner of data and research, said two-thirds of students surveyed after the test on its difficulty judged it “more difficult” than the previous test.

“We’re really moving away from just a procedural understanding … to a conceptual understanding,” Townes said of the changes in the math test. “That is a big change. We fully expect that students are going to adjust to these expectations.”

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