Are Children Learning

FAQ: Shelby County School’s 2013-2014 TCAP scores

There’s a lot riding on the 2013-14 TCAP scores that were released Wednesday. Schools that end up in the bottom five percent when it comes to passing rates might be taken over and restructured by the state’s Achievement School District. School-level results won’t be released until mid-August, but the district-level results tell us how schools in Shelby County are faring in the midst of still-new standards, increased school choice, and a restructured school system.

Here’s a FAQ to help you understand the results.

Wait. How can we know how much Shelby County Schools improved since last year if the unified school system didn’t exist? It takes a little imagination. State officials took an inventory of all the schools in the Shelby County Schools district for 2013-2014, and grouped them together, as if the 2013-2014 version had existed in 2012-2013. They calculated the passing rates for that grouping of schools in 2012-2013, and then compared them to this year’s to determine student growth. That being said, it’s hard to put too much stock in comparisons, since the 2013-2014 school system was a one-time deal.

Which subject is Shelby County Schools’ students’ best?  It appears to be social studies — or maybe the test wasn’t that hard. Zero percent of Shelby County Schools students scored below basic on U.S. History and social studies tests — in fact, zero percent of students failed those tests statewide. As we reported earlier this month, this could mean that the state has set the failing score so low that guessing on every question still would not cause a student to score below basic. Fewer students take the U.S. History test than any other end of course test in high school.

Which subject did Shelby County Schools’ students struggle most on? The largest share of students performed below basic on the English III exam.  The English III test also had the largest share of students statewide score below basic.

Based on today’s test scores, where does the state want Shelby County to focus its efforts? Shelby County Schools met 10 out of 11 of the state’s goals around achievement and gap closure — kind of. Six of the goals were met through “safe harbor,” which means that the goal wasn’t actually met, but the district improved enough that the state is giving them a pass. Those goals are part of the state’s accountability system, which is a stipulation of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver.  State officials found that Shelby County Schools saw declines in its white, Native American, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders subgroups, and needs to reverse declines for those students. Only three districts in Tennessee met all of the state’s goals.

What was missing from today’s data? This data doesn’t include school performance information, which is expected to be released Aug. 18.  But the state also held back a few other key numbers. We don’t know how many students in each racial subgroup took which test, and we can’t compare a number of subgroups. For example, black, Hispanic, and Native American students are all lumped together, and we didn’t see district averages for white students, even though we know from the state that their scores declined. We also don’t have the average or median raw scores, just the percentage of students’ performance at various levels. That means we can’t get nuances like how many students are close to performing at basic level or barely performing at basic level.


Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 11.24.16 AM
Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 11.24.40 AM

State vs SCS TCAP Scores 2014 | Create Infographics

Legacy vs Merged TCAP Scores | Create Infographics

SCS TCAP Results Grades 3-8 | Create Infographics

Shelby County HS TCAP Results | Create Infographics

SCS TCAP Scores by Subgroup | Create Infographics

Shelby County HS TCAP Results | Create Infographics

SCS TCAP Results Grades 3-8 | Create Infographics

more digging

Kingsbury High added to list of Memphis schools under investigation for grade changing

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Kingsbury High School was added to a list of schools being investigated by an outside firm for improper grade changes. Here, Principal Terry Ross was featured in a Shelby County Schools video about a new school budget tool.

Another Memphis high school has been added to the list of schools being investigated to determine if they made improper changes to student grades.

Adding Kingsbury High School to seven others in Shelby County Schools will further delay the report initially expected to be released in mid-June.

But from what school board Chairwoman Shante Avant has heard so far, “there haven’t been any huge irregularities.”

“Nothing has surfaced that gives me pause at this point,” Avant told Chalkbeat on Thursday.

The accounting firm Dixon Hughes Goodman is conducting the investigation.

This comes about three weeks after a former Kingsbury teacher, Alesia Harris, told school board members that Principal Terry Ross instructed someone to change 17 student exam grades to 100 percent — against her wishes.

Shelby County Schools said the allegations were “inaccurate” and that the grade changes were a mistake that was self-reported by an employee.

“The school administration immediately reported, and the central office team took the necessary actions and promptly corrected the errors,” the district said in a statement.

Chalkbeat requested a copy of the district’s own initial investigation the day after Harris spoke at the board’s June meeting, but district officials said they likely would not have a response for Chalkbeat until July 27.

Harris said that no one from Dixon Hughes Goodman has contacted her regarding the investigation as of Thursday.

The firm’s investigation initially included seven schools. Kingsbury was not among them. Those seven schools are:

  • Kirby High
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Bolton High
  • Westwood High
  • White Station High
  • Trezevant High
  • Memphis Virtual School

The firm’s first report found as many as 2,900 failing grades changed during four years at nine Memphis-area schools. At the request of the board, two schools were eliminated: one a charter managed by a nonprofit, and a school outside the district. The firm said at the time that further investigation was warranted to determine if the grade changes were legitimate.

The $145,000 investigation includes interviews with teachers and administrators, comparing teachers’ paper grade books to electronic versions, accompanying grade change forms, and inspecting policies and procedures for how school employees track and submit grades.

Since the controversy started last year, the district has restricted the number of employees authorized to make changes to a student’s report card or transcript, and also requires a monthly report from principals detailing any grade changes.

Silver Lining Playbook

Memphis’ youngest students show reading gains on 2018 state tests — and that’s a big deal

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A student works on reading comprehension skills at Lucie E Campbell Elementary School in Memphis and Shelby County Schools.

Those working to improve early literacy rates in Shelby County Schools got a small morale boost Thursday as newly released scores show the district’s elementary school students improved their reading on 2018 state tests.

The percentage of Memphis elementary-age students considered proficient in reading rose by 3 points to almost one-fourth of the district’s children in grades 3 through 5. That’s still well below the state average, and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said “we obviously have a long way to go.”

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Tennessee’s largest public school district since 2013.

Strengthening early literacy has been a priority for the Memphis district, which views better reading skills as crucial to predicting high school graduation and career success. To that end, Shelby County Schools has expanded access to pre-K programs, adjusted reading curriculum, and made investments in literacy training for teachers.

Hopson said the payoff on this year’s TNReady scores was a jump of almost 5 percentage points in third-grade reading proficiency.

“It was about five years ago when we really, really, really started pushing pre-K, and those pre-K kids are now in the third grade. I think that’s something that’s really positive,” Hopson said of the gains, adding that third-grade reading levels are an important indicator of future school performance.

TNReady scores for Shelby County Schools, which has a high concentration of low-performing schools and students living in poverty, were a mixed bag, as they were statewide.

Math scores went up in elementary, middle, and high schools in Tennessee’s largest district. But science scores went down across the board, and the percentage of high school students who scored proficient in reading dropped by 4 percentage points.

The three charts below illustrate, by subject, the percentages of students who performed on track or better in elementary, middle, and high schools within Shelby County Schools. The blue bars reflect the district’s most recent scores, the black bars show last year’s scores, and the yellow bars depict this year’s statewide averages.

Hopson said he was unsure how much the scores of older students — all of whom tested online — were affected by technical problems that hampered Tennessee’s return this year to computerized testing.

“From what people tell me, kids either didn’t try as hard in some instances or didn’t take it seriously,” Hopson told reporters. “We’ll never know what the real impact is, but we have to accept the data that came from these tests.”

But students in two of the district’s school improvement initiatives — the Innovation Zone and the Empowerment Zone — showed progress. “We’re going to double down on these strategies,” Hopson said of the extra investments and classroom supports.

In the state-run Achievement School District, or ASD, which oversees 30 low-performing schools in Memphis, grades 3 through 8 saw an uptick in scores in both reading and math. But high schoolers scored more than 3 percentage points lower in reading and also took a step back in science.

The ASD takes over schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent and assigns them to charter operators to improve. But in the five years that the ASD has been in Memphis, its scores have been mostly stagnant.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she and new ASD Superintendent Sharon Griffin are reviewing the new data to determine next steps.

“We are seeing some encouraging momentum shifts,” McQueen said.

Chalkbeat illustrator Sam Park contributed to this story.