Here we go again

TCAP results prompt State Board to take familiar ideological sides

The State Board of Education's smiling official photo

Today’s release of the 2014 TCAP scores sent members of the State Board of Education into a philosophical discussion that highlighted the group’s longstanding ideological divisions about education reform.

Member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver kicked off the discussion, calling the results “very, very troubling” and saying the history of relatively flat CSAP and TCAP results “is even more troubling that I imagined previously.” Berman is a Democrat and a former DPS board member who’s on the advisory committee of committee of Democrats for Education Reform – Colorado.

“If we really want to see some significant improvement, what’s it going to take?” she asked education Commissioner Robert Hammond. (See this story for more details on what Hammond and other Department of Education leaders thought about the test results.)

After Hammond and other CDE brass talked about department efforts, board member Marcia Neal of Grand Junction came in with another thought.

“There’s one element nobody’s talking about,” she said. “Students not taking responsibility for their own actions. … We teach them very early on that minimum work is OK in many cases. To me that is one of the really big missing pieces.” Republican Neal is a retired schoolteacher and former local board member who often is a swing vote on the board.

Member Deb Scheffel of Parker responded to Berman in a different way. “We’re going to continue to get these kind of results if we continue a regulatory approach to reform,” she said. “Students and parents need more choice. … We really need a different model, a different funding model so that money follows kids.” Scheffel is dean of the School of Education at Colorado Christian University.

“I second that,” murmured member Pam Mazanec of Larkspur, a Republican who’s been active in the Dougco school district.

Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder suggested the board should perhaps take a closer look at the performance of choice schools, and Democrat Jane Goff of Arvada commented, “I can’t say that I have seen eye-popping examples of innovation” at non-traditional schools. Schroeder is a former college accounting professor, and Goff is retired Jeffco teacher and administrator.

“We’ve had decades to do it this way,” Mazanec said. “We’ve never tried the choice model. … I’d really like to give that one a try. I don’t know for sure if we’d get better results, but we’d have happier parents.”

Berman defended her own choice credentials, noting the extensive choices available in DPS but wondered about the diversity of many charter schools. “Deb, how many low-income kids of color go to those schools?” (Berman was referring to four charter schools whose students posted high ACT scores.)

“We need more schools like that so [those students] can go to them,” Scheffel responded.

Berman rocked her fellow board members a bit when she replied, “White parents will take their kids out [of choice schools] because they don’t want their kids to be with kids of color.”

Republican chair Paul Lundeen of Monument generally sides with Scheffel and Mazanec, and he did say, “I think we’re a regulatory track, and we’re trying to regulate our way out of this situation.” He said good schools aren’t rewarded and failing ones aren’t punished “like in the marketplace.”

But he tried to calm the situation, saying, “Let’s do this at another time” and praising Berman’s “eloquent and wonderful” remarks. “I respect very deeply your feedback.”

He and Berman went back and forth a bit more about choice until Lundeen said, “I don’t know exactly where the board would like to go with this conversation,” adding that the group wasn’t “in a position to give specific direction” to CDE right now.

Another ideological discussion avoided – or delayed

Another item on the board’s Thursday agenda was a Lundeen-proposed resolution strongly criticizing the planned new framework for the Advanced Placement U.S. History class and test. The resolution criticized the framework because it allegedly “emphasizing negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects,” among other alleged lapses. (Get more details in this Chalkbeat story.)

But Lundeen pulled the resolution off the agenda, saying other members had asked him for more time to think about it and that it might come up again at SBE’s September meeting.

The resolution was criticized by academics and school district officials. See this letter from University of Colorado history professor Fred Anderson for an example of that reaction. Fritz Fischer, director of history education at the University of Northern Colorado, sent this letter.

good news bad news

Most Tennessee districts are showing academic growth, but districts with the farthest to go improved the least

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

It’s not just Memphis: Across Tennessee, districts with many struggling schools posted lower-than-expected growth scores on this year’s state exams, according to data released Tuesday.

The majority of Tennessee’s 147 districts did post scores that suggest students are making or exceeding expected progress, with over a third earning the top growth score.

But most students in three of the state’s four largest districts — in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga — aren’t growing academically as they should, and neither are those in most of their “priority schools” in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

The divide prompted Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to send a “good news, bad news” email to superintendents.

“These results point to the ability for all students to grow,” she wrote of the top-performing districts, many of which have a wide range of academic achievement and student demographics.

Of those in the bottom, she said the state would analyze the latest data to determine “critical next steps,” especially for priority schools, which also are located in high-poverty communities.

“My message to the leaders of Priority schools … is that this level of growth will never get kids back on track, so we have to double-down on what works – strong instruction and engagement, every day, with no excuses,” McQueen said.

Growth scores are supposed to take poverty into account, so the divide suggests that either the algorithm didn’t work as it’s supposed to or, in fact, little has happened to change conditions at the state’s lowest-performing schools, despite years of aggressive efforts in many places.

The results are bittersweet for Tennessee, which has pioneered growth measures for student learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools under its Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

On the one hand, the latest TVAAS data shows mostly stable growth through the transition to TNReady, the state’s new test aligned to new academic standards, in the first year of full testing for grades 3-11. On the other hand, Tennessee has invested tens of millions of dollars and years of reforms toward improving struggling schools — all part of its massive overhaul of K-12 education fueled by its 2009 federal Race to the Top award.

The state-run Achievement School District, which launched in the Race to the Top era to turn around the lowest-performing schools, saw a few bright spots, but almost two-thirds of schools in its charter-reliant portfolio scored in the bottom levels of student growth.

Shelby County’s own turnaround program, the Innovation Zone, fared poorly too, with a large percentage of its Memphis schools scoring 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, after years of scoring 4s and 5s.


District profile: Most Memphis schools score low on student growth


Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the results a “wakeup call” for the state’s biggest district in Memphis.

“When you have a population of kids in high poverty that were already lagging behind on the old, much easier test, it’s not surprising that we’ve got a lot of work to do here,” he said, citing the need to support teachers in mastering the state’s new standards.

“The good part is that we’ve seen the test now and we know what’s expected. The bad part is we’ve seen the test … and it’s a different monster,” he told Chalkbeat.

You can find district composite scores below. (A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year.) For a school-by-school list, visit the state’s website.

exclusive

Most Memphis schools score low on student growth under new state test

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

More than half of Memphis schools received the lowest possible score for student growth on Tennessee’s new test last school year, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat for Shelby County Schools.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest measure, about 54 percent of the district’s 187 schools scored in the bottom rung of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

That includes most schools in the Innovation Zone, a reversal after years of showing high growth in the district’s prized turnaround program.

Charter schools fared poorly as well, as did schools that were deemed among the state’s fastest-improving in 2015.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the scores a “huge wakeup call.”

“It shows that we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Monday. “It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be frustrating. … It starts with making sure we’re supporting teachers around mastering the new standards.”

District leaders across Tennessee have been trying to wrap their heads around the latest growth scores since receiving the data in late August from the State Department of Education. Only two years earlier, the Memphis district garnered the highest possible overall growth score. But since then, the state has switched to a harder test called TNReady that is aligned for the first time to more rigorous academic standards.

TVAAS results are scheduled to be released publicly this week, but Chalkbeat obtained a copy being circulated within Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district.

The data is prompting questions from some Memphis educators — and assurances from state officials — over the validity of TVAAS, the state’s system for measuring learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools.

This is the first year of issuing district-wide TVAAS scores since 2015. That’s because of the state’s cancellation of 2016 testing for grades 3-8 due mostly to failures in the switch to online testing.

Some educators wonder whether the bumpy switch to TNReady is a factor in this year’s nosedive, along with changes in how the scores are calculated.

For example, data for fourth-graders is missing since there is no prior state testing in third grade for comparison. Elementary and middle schools also don’t have growth scores for social studies, since the 2017 questions were a trial run and the results don’t count toward a school’s score.

Hopson acknowledged concerns over how the state compares results from “two very different tests which clearly are apples and oranges,” but he added that the district won’t use that as an excuse.

“Notwithstanding those questions, it’s the system upon which we’re evaluated on and judged,” he said.

State officials stand by TVAAS. They say drops in proficiency rates resulting from a harder test have no impact on the ability of teachers, schools and districts to earn strong TVAAS scores, since all students are experiencing the same change.

“Because TVAAS always looks at relative growth from year to year, not absolute test scores, it can be stable through transitions,” said Sara Gast, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education.

Shelby County Schools is not the only district with disappointing TVAAS results. In Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools logged low growth scores. But Gast said that more districts earned average or high growth scores of 3, 4 or 5 last school year than happened in 2015.

Want to help us understand this issue? Send your observations to [email protected]

Below is a breakdown of Shelby County’s TVAAS scores. A link to a school-by-school list of scores is at the bottom of this story.

Districtwide

School-wide scores are a combination of growth in each tested subject: literacy, math, science and social studies.

Fifty three schools saw high growth in literacy, an area where Shelby County Schools has doubled down, especially in early grades. And 51 schools saw high growth in math.

Note: A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year. A score of 1 represents significantly lower academic growth compared to peers across the state.

2017

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 101 54%
2 19 10%
3 20 11%
4 10 5%
5 37 20%

2015

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 58 28%
2 16 8%
3 38 19%
4 18 9%
5 75 37%

Innovation Zone

Out of the 23 schools in the district’s program to turn around low-performing schools, most received a growth score of 1 in 2017. That stands in stark contrast to prior years since the program opened in 2012, when most schools were on a fast growth track.

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 14
2 2
3 2
4 0
5 5

Reward schools

Nearly half of 32 schools deemed 2015 Tennessee reward schools for high growth saw a major drop in TVAAS scores in 2017:

  • Central High
  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Germanshire Elementary
  • KIPP Memphis Middle Academy
  • Kirby High
  • Memphis Business Academy Elementary
  • Power Center Academy High
  • Power Center Academy Middle
  • Ross Elementary
  • Sheffield High
  • South Park Elementary
  • Southwind High
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Westside Elementary

Charter schools

Charter schools authorized by Shelby County Schools fared similarly to district-run schools in growth scores, with nearly half receiving a TVAAS of 1 compared to 26 percent of charter schools receiving the same score in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 18
2 6
3 7
4 2
5 7

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 10
2 2
3 7
4 3
5 16

Optional schools

Half of the the district’s optional schools, which are special studies schools that require students to test into its programs, received a 1 on TVAAS. That’s compared to just 19 percent in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 23
2 6
3 5
4 2
5 10

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
2 5
3 6
4 5
5 14

You can sort through a full list of TVAAS scores for Shelby County Schools here.