More backlash

Citing ‘multiple years of failure,’ Knoxville school leaders vote ‘no confidence’ in state

PHOTO: TN.gov
Haslam with his education chief, Candice McQueen

Tennessee’s third-largest district voted Wednesday night to draft a letter of “no confidence” to the Tennessee Department of Education, Gov. Bill Haslam, and Knoxville-area lawmakers.

The letter from Knox County Schools board is the latest in a backlash against the state over how the department evaluates teachers and schools.

Problems with pre-K and kindergarten teacher portfolio evaluations became the issue that pushed board Chairwoman Patti Bounds to say the department “still takes no ownership” of its mistakes. Portfolios are used to evaluate educators who teach pre-K, kindergarten, and subjects not included in TNReady standardized testing. Portfolios can include videos showing student progress during the year.

Earlier this week, the superintendents of the state’s two largest districts, Memphis and Nashville, wrote to Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to pause state testing until after the election because “educator and public trust in TNReady has fallen to irretrievably low levels.”

Tennessee has taken pride in the progress of its students on national tests and has toughened up its requirements for student learning and evaluating teachers. But the foundation for its analysis, the state’s new online test, TNReady, has been fraught with technical setbacks since it was introduced in 2016.

State lawmakers were so concerned about the problems with TNReady that they passed legislation ensuring the scores would not be used to negatively impact teachers, students, or schools. School-level scores could be released as early as late next week.

Some Knoxville board members wanted to echo the sentiment of Memphis and Nashville superintendents about TNReady, but settled on highlighting the more timely portfolio issue, Bounds said.

“The portfolio system is a mess,” she told Chalkbeat. “The Department of Education has had multiple years of failure.”

The board will likely meet Tuesday in a special meeting to approve a letter, she said.

First-year problems for the teacher portfolios have resulted in error messages or questionable low scores for teachers. It is unclear how many teachers across the state are affected, but a spokeswoman for the department said about 7 percent got the lowest overall score. The state department attributed the problems to user error while one of the state’s teacher organizations blamed a system glitch.

“Every time something fails, the Department of Education blames it on the teachers. And some of their reasons are just not valid,” Bounds told Chalkbeat.

But the issue may reach beyond teachers who got an overall low score. One teacher got the second highest possible score on her evaluation, but she could not explain a low score in one section. She presented her issues with the portfolio system to the Knoxville school board Wednesday night, Bounds said.

“The state likes to deal in percentages, but I like to deal in people,” she said. “If there’s one person whose portfolio was done incorrectly, it matters.”

Sara Gast, a state department spokeswoman, said teachers who received low scores because of mistakes made when the portfolios were submitted can ask to have them reviewed again, and receive comments on their work.

McQueen has also invited several superintendents, including Bob Thomas of Knoxville, to give feedback on upcoming changes to the portfolio process.

She also provided an email from a Knox County teacher who reviewed portfolios praising the state for its process and chiding teachers who did not take full advantage of the training.

“I have personally reviewed four different teachers’ collections that they received a ‘1’ on, and within minutes was able to tell the teachers why the collection was scored that way,” said Laurie Smith, a kindergarten teacher at Cedar Bluff Elementary School.

“In each case, it was a mistake that the teacher did not catch because they did not take the time to understand what was being asked on the scoring rubric or they did not check their work before submitting the collection.”

Update, Aug. 9, 2018: This story has been updated to include comments from the Tennessee Department of Education.

state test results

With accelerated growth in literacy and math, Denver students close in on state averages

Angel Trigueros-Martinez pokes his head from the back of the line as students wait to enter the building on the first day of school at McGlone Academy on Wednesday. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Denver elementary and middle school students continued a recent streak of high academic growth this year on state literacy and math tests, results released Thursday show. That growth inched the district’s scores even closer to statewide averages, turning what was once a wide chasm into a narrow gap of 2 percentage points in math and 3 in literacy.

Still, fewer than half of Denver students in grades three through eight met state expectations in literacy, and only about a third met them in math.

Find your school’s test scores
Look up your elementary or middle school’s test scores in Chalkbeat’s database here. Look up your high school’s test results here.

Denver’s high schoolers lagged in academic growth, especially ninth-graders who took the PSAT for the first time. Their test scores were lower than statewide averages.

“We are absolutely concerned about that,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said Thursday of the ninth-grade scores, “and that is data we need to dig in on and understand.”

Students across Colorado took standardized literacy and math tests this past spring. Third- through eighth-graders took the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, tests, which are also known as the PARCC tests. High school students took college entrance exams: Ninth- and 10th-graders took the PSAT, a preparatory test, and 11th-graders took the SAT.

On CMAS, 42 percent of Denver students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state expectations in literacy. Statewide, 45 percent of students did. In math, 32 percent of Denver students met expectations, compared with 34 percent statewide.

While Denver’s overall performance improved in both subjects, third-grade literacy scores were flat. That’s noteworthy because the district has invested heavily in early literacy training for teachers and has seen progress on tests taken by students in kindergarten through third grade. That wasn’t reflected on the third-grade CMAS test, though Boasberg said he’s hopeful it will be as more students meant to benefit from the training take that test.

On the PSAT tests, Denver ninth-graders earned a mean score of 860, which was below the statewide mean score of 902. The mean PSAT score for Denver 10th-graders was 912, compared with the statewide mean score of 944. And on the SAT, Denver 11th-graders had a mean score of 975. Statewide, the mean score for 11th-graders was 1014.

White students in Denver continued to score higher, and make more academic progress year to year, than black and Hispanic students. The same was true for students from high- and middle-income families compared with students from low-income families.

For example, 69 percent of Denver students from high- and middle-income families met expectations on the CMAS literacy tests, compared with just 27 percent of students from low-income families – which equates to a 42 percentage-point gap. That especially matters in Denver because two-thirds of the district’s 92,600 students are from low-income families.

Boasberg acknowledged those gaps, and said it is the district’s core mission to close them. But he also pointed out that Denver’s students of color and those from low-income families show more academic growth than their peers statewide. That means they’re making faster progress and are more likely to reach or surpass grade-level in reading, writing, and math.

Denver Public Schools pays a lot of attention to annual academic growth, as measured by a state calculation known as a “median growth percentile.”

The calculation assigns students a score from 1 to 99 that reflects how much they improved compared with other students with similar score histories. A score of 99 means a student did better on the test than 99 percent of students who scored similarly to him the year before.

Students who score above 50 are considered to have made more than a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time, whereas students who score below 50 are considered to have made less than a year’s worth of progress.

The state also calculates overall growth scores for districts and schools. Denver Public Schools earned a growth score of 55 on the CMAS literacy tests and 54 on the CMAS math tests. Combined, those scores were the highest among Colorado’s 12 largest districts.

Other bright spots in the district’s data: Denver’s students learning English as a second language – who make up more than a third of the population – continued to outpace statewide averages in achievement. For example, 29 percent of Denver’s English language learners met expectations in literacy, while only 22 percent statewide did, according to the district.

Denver eighth-graders also surpassed statewide averages in literacy for the first time this year: 45 percent met or exceeded expectations, as opposed to 44 percent statewide. That increase is reflected in the high growth scores for Denver eighth-graders: 52 in math and 57 in literacy.

Those contrast sharply with the ninth-grade growth scores: 47 in math and an especially low 37 in literacy. That same group of students had higher growth scores last year, Boasberg said; why their progress dropped so precipitously is part of what district officials hope to figure out.

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Most schools in Tennessee’s largest district show growth on state test

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Students at Freedom Preparatory Academy's high school prepare to take their TNReady geometry test.

Most schools in Shelby County Schools showed progress in all subjects except science, but students still outshined their peers across the state in science, earning them the state’s highest rating in growth.

About half of schools in the Memphis district saw a bump in English scores, also earning the district the highest rating of growth under the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson attributed the gains to a renewed focus in preschool education in recent years, adding a reading curriculum more aligned with state standards, and doubling down on literacy training for teachers and students.

“When you think about the investments that we’ve been able to make in schools over the last two years, I think the data is showing that we’re seeing a good return on our investment,” he told reporters Thursday.

But the scores don’t come without tension. Hopson recently teamed up with Shawn Joseph, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, to declare “no confidence” in the state’s test delivery system, which has been plagued with online problems since it began in 2016. Still, Hopson said educators are utilizing the data available to adjust strategies.

“It’s an imperfect measure, but it’s the measure we have right now,” he said. Hopson worries the failures of the state’s online testing system used by high schoolers made “some teachers and students lose focus.”

“There’s impact on those kids that we may never know about,” he said.

Find your school and compare here

The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students performed on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. An asterisk signifies that a school’s score falls in one of those two categories.

District-wide results released in July show that more young students are reading on grade-level, and that math scores went up across the board. But the percentage of high school students who scored proficient in reading dropped by 4 percentage points. Shelby County Schools still lags significantly behind the state average.

Shelby County Schools also improved its overall growth score, which measures how students performed compared to peers across the state who scored similarly to them the year before. It increased from 1 to 2 on a scale of 5. More than half of schools scored 3 or above, meaning those students scored on par or more than their peers.

The district’s nearly 200 schools include about 50 charter schools that are managed by nonprofit organizations but receive public funding. The rest are run by the district.

Below are charts showing the five schools that performed best and worst in the district in each subject, as well as those that grew or declined the most in each subject.

The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students were on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. The charts below only include schools that fall in between that range.

English Language Arts

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Math

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Science

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Graphic by Samuel Park

Social Studies

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park