Are Children Learning

With a five-day sprint, state panel begins reviewing thousands of Common Core public comments

PHOTO: G. Tatter
English teachers on the State Standards Review Committee studied public feedback last summer as part of Tennessee's 15-month review of the Common Core State Standards. Their work is incorporated into final recommendations being considered Friday by the State Board of Education.

After more than a year of debate and a six-month public review of the Common Core State Standards, a 42-member committee of educators from across the state set to work Wednesday, tasked with weeding through 4,000 pages of feedback and drafting a new set of academic standards that are more Tennessee-specific.

“Let the fun begin!” said State Board of Education Director Sara Heyburn in opening remarks to the State Standards Review Committee, which convened in Nashville.

The panel, which includes teachers and administrators appointed last October by the State Board of Education, will recommend revisions to the state’s math and English language arts standards. The revised standards will be reviewed by a separate committee appointed by state legislative leaders and, eventually, members of the Standards Review Committee will incorporate their feedback and another public review into final standards sent to the State Board of Education, which is expected to adopt them for the 2017-18 school year.

The kickoff session, complete with introductions and ice-breaking exercises, launched a five-day marathon of opening meetings. Nervous energy filled the air. No one expected to get much sleep.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m a little nervous,” said Joseph Jones, district math coordinator for Cheatham County Schools, to fellow members. “I understand it’s somewhat controversial, what we’re working on, so you know, it makes me a little nervous. But, that being said, I’m confident we have good people.”

Other meetings will be held throughout the year — in person and by video and phone conferencing — until the committee’s work is complete.

Common Core is a set of academic benchmarks for math and language arts that were adopted in 2010 by the Tennessee Board of Education and fully implemented in Tennessee classrooms by the 2013-14 school year.

Gov. Bill Haslam, who made the rollout of the Common Core a lynchpin of his first-term education agenda, ordered a review of the standards last October amid rumblings from lawmakers of repealing them, less than two years after they were fully implemented and one year shy of rolling out a new standards-aligned assessment.

Although Tennessee has typically reviewed standards about every six years, the rigor of this year’s process is unprecedented.

Members of the standards review committee receive thousands of pages of feedback gathered during a public review.
PHOTO: G. Tatter
Large notebooks filled with public review data and feedback awaited each member of the standards review committee.

Leaders overseeing the opening session emphasized the importance of respecting and incorporating public feedback into the revisions.

“People are really interested in this work, and we want to make sure we give it the attention and weight that deserves,” said Laura Encalade, director of policy and research for the State Board of Education.

“We want to be sure that . . . when we leave (Sunday), we will have wrapped our heads around the data so we can move forward and make decisions that respect the people who took time time to participate in this really intensive review,” said Susan Dold, a literacy adviser with Shelby County Schools.

Most participants in the online review, which was open to any resident of Tennessee, were teachers. Despite sometimes contentious debate of the standards in the legislature, the state’s preliminary report showed that most participants want to keep most of the standards in place.

Committee members discussed what makes a good standard and did activities to prepare them for the difficult task ahead. Cathey Dickey, a first-grade teacher with Greeneville City Schools, described the ideal standard as something that’s “attainable for students, useable for teachers and understandable for parents.”

Committee members were selected by the State Board of Education based on recommendations from their superintendents and participation in TNCORE professional development trainings. Each will receive $3,700 for their service.

The 12-member legislative review panel will be appointed during the summer by the governor, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

But Heyburn said work by the committee of educators “is really the heart of the process.”

The system of review was put into law in April, and also will be used for social studies and science teachers.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.