Making the grade

Haslam signs bill to assign A-F letter grades to Tennessee schools

Tennessee schools eventually will receive letter grades on their state report cards — similar to what their students receive — instead of the current system of rating them on a scale of one to five.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation into law last week after the proposed change passed the House and Senate with little debate.

The new grading system will be implemented before the start of the 2017-18 academic year and will be developed by the State Department of Education. The grades will be based on a combination of data, including student growth and proficiency rates.

Supporters consider the law a common-sense aid to parents trying to navigate an increasingly complex school choice system.

“This new law represents a great step forward in our state’s ongoing effort to give parents across Tennessee better access to clear and transparent data about their children’s schools,” said Brent Easley, state director for Students First Tennessee, a group advocating to expand school choice options to include private school vouchers. 

But critics charge that letter grades lack nuance, oversimplifying the link between poverty and low test scores, and could stigmatize low-performing schools that receive Fs, as well as students who attend the schools.

“Publicly shaming schools that serve high-poverty students — including those that elicit greater academic growth than schools with affluent populations — is a terrible strategy to improve outcomes for the children who need high-quality schools most,” wrote one Arkansas teacher after similar legislation was enacted there in 2013.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law last December by President Obama, encourages states to consider a wide array of factors in addition to test scores in their accountability systems. Florida was the first state to assign letter grades to schools. Now, almost half of states have similar systems.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.