As Memphis education leaders consider how to create more high-quality school options for students, they’re introducing a new way to measure them.

Instead of relying on the state’s annual report card, Shelby County Schools is developing its own measurement tool based on what Memphians say are the most important qualities in a school.

The proposed “school performance framework,” introduced this month during community meetings across Shelby County, would act as a report card for the district’s traditional schools.

A teacher speaks at the Whitehaven community meeting.
A teacher speaks at the Whitehaven community meeting.

“It will be created and driven by feedback on what the community sees as valuable,” said spokeswoman Natalia Powers.

It also would provide a platform to advertise its best schools as the district fights to retain and gain students to offset enrollment declines from a decade of charter school expansion in Memphis.

“There are other people out there fighting for your business and we want it,” said Catherine Battle, director of instructional leadership, who facilitated discussion at Monday night’s community at Oakhaven High School.

Charter leaders have been crafting a similar measure for their schools, which would help determine whether operators should be allowed to expand or lose existing charters, according to Brad Leon, the district’s chief of strategy and innovation.

Whether or not the district’s new measurement tool would factor into decisions about closing traditional schools would be determined by the school board. “Our primary purpose is to ensure parents and students have clear information,” according to a statement from the district.

The tool for traditional schools would assess them based on:

  • Academic performance: Percentage of students who are proficient or advanced in math, English, science and social studies based on state tests;
  • Academic growth: How much students improve in academic performance during the year based on the school’s TVAAS growth score.
  • School climate: Student attendance, truancy, teacher retention and suspensions; and
  • College and career readiness: graduation and dropout rates, ACT scores

During community meetings, district officials asked stakeholders which factors should carry the most weight in the overall score. School climate was often cited as the No. 1 priority by parents and educators in attendance, but others emphasized growth.

The feedback will inform the final report card framework that, if approved, would go into effect next school year.

Still, some questioned whether the framework would highlight inequities among schools instead of provide a true comparison.

“It’s going to show inequity because we’re all measured by the same instrument but we don’t all have the same resources or the same type of students,” said Melanie Black, Oakhaven’s principal. She cited her high school’s limited funds to host ACT prep courses for students who need it the most.