Rethinking school

How Tennessee might drastically change testing, and other potential changes to the state’s schools

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier

The Tennessee Department of Education might blow up how some schools think of standardized tests.

That’s just one point in an update on Tennessee’s evolving plan for running the state’s schools. This week, state officials shared their takeaways from nearly six months of discussions with educators, parents and other community members about how Tennessee should measure student and school success.

The feedback was collected to help formulate a plan for the new federal education law that replaces No Child Left Behind. The new law, called the Every Student Succeeds Acts, or ESSA, has the potential to change everything from how students are assessed to how individual schools are funded. If the plan is approved by the U.S. Department of Education, state officials, not federal officials, would call the shots.

At first glance, it doesn’t appear that Tennessee is in for a dramatic overhaul based on the feedback of more than 2,000 Tennesseans representing 132 of the state’s 146 school districts. The general consensus is that the current education system, including testing, school turnaround, and teacher evaluation, should remain the framework for the new plan, according to the state’s report.

Still, the state is considering using the new federal law as an opportunity to make some big changes, especially when it comes to testing. One possibility is letting some districts pilot a new kind of test, called a “competency-based assessment,” where students can show what they know throughout the year in a way that might not even look like a traditional test — for instance, a classroom presentation. It would be a big shift from standardized testing in its current form, where all students answer the same questions on a topic at the same time of the year.

Another potential change would significantly change testing for the state’s high school juniors, who now take state end-of-course tests, in addition to the ACT and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests. The state is considering a pilot in which some districts would substitute the ACT test for math and English end-of-course tests.

Plenty of time remains for the state to scrap these ideas, as well as float new ones before Tennessee submits its final plan to the U.S. Department of Education in March. State officials are writing the plan during the next few months, and the official first draft will be released by the end of 2016.

To see updates on the plan, visit here.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.