Results are in

Tennessee’s largest district sees 1 in 5 young students meeting expectations on new TNReady test

About a fifth of students are meeting expectations in math and English in grades 3 to 8 in Shelby County Schools, according to state data released Thursday.

That’s the lowest of the state’s four urban districts, though not far behind Nashville schools at about 26 and 28 percent in English and math respectively.

The test results are significant because they will serve as a baseline for the state’s new TNReady test meant to be more rigorous and better align with national standards like the ACT and the nation’s report card. But the switch to the new test was especially disruptive for the district’s turnaround program for its lowest achieving students, which until now showed significant progress compared to other low-performing schools in the district.

The Memphis district fared better in science with 40 percent of students meeting state expectations, though guidelines on what students should know in science remained unchanged under the new test. State and local leaders had been bracing for lower scores as educators adjust curriculum to fit the new standards.

Specifically, here’s how many Shelby County Schools students in grades 3 to 8 met state expectations:

  • 20.4 percent in English
  • 21.7 percent in math
  • 40.8 percent in science

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the results will be helpful as the district strategizes on ways to improve student achievement.

“As educators, our focus is always on helping our students grow academically,” he said in a statement. “This baseline year of TNReady results shows us where we have opportunities to provide additional support.”

Elementary and middle school students in the district’s turnaround initiative, the Innovation Zone, scored the same in math and English compared to other low-performing district-run schools identified by the state that aren’t in the program. The results suggest iZone leaders have as much to adjust as other schools in the district, despite the extra flow of resources per school.

Percentage of iZone elementary and middle school students in 15 schools who scored “on track or mastered,” meaning they met the state’s standards:

  • 11.3 percent in English
  • 14.4 percent in math
  • 38 percent in science

Elementary and middle school students in 33 historically low-performing schools run by the district who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 11.1 percent in English
  • 14.2 percent in math
  • 29.2 percent in science

The district’s charter schools for grades 3 to 8 fared worse in English and math than district-run schools and slightly better in science. Last year, eight of the district’s 45 charter schools who took the test earlier this year were on the state’s list of bottom 10 percent scoring schools under the previous exam.

Charter elementary and middle school students who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 14.9 percent in English
  • 15.2 percent in math
  • 43.1 percent in science

Scores for 15 schools for various subjects were not publicly released because each achievement category had less than 5 percent or greater than 95 percent of students at the school, according to state spokeswoman Sara Gast.

The scores released Thursday reflect corrected scores for 9,400 students statewide and just over 1,000 in Shelby County Schools after the state’s testing vendor Questar ran an incorrect scan for some high school subjects.


‘Genius grant’ writer to Memphis: ‘We’re losing the only gains we’ve made’ against segregation

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Nikole Hannah-Jones, an award-winning New York Times Magazine writer, speaks on school segregation during her first public appearance in Memphis.

Memphis is a “perfectly sad place” to talk about school segregation, a nationally renowned journalist said while visiting the city this week.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who writes about race and school segregation for the New York Times Magazine, was in Memphis as part of a speaker series sponsored by Center for Southern Literary Arts, Chalkbeat Tennessee and MLK50: Justice in Journalism.

She was among the 24 recent winners of a no-strings-attached prize known as the MacArthur “Genius Award.” (Read more about her work here.)

Her award-winning piece, the “The Resegregation of Jefferson County” was a deeply reported  article on how racially motivated school district secessions are contributing to school segregation in Alabama.

In her talk, Hannah-Jones compared what happened in her article with what happened in Memphis in 2014, when six mostly white municipal districts broke away from the large, predominantly black Shelby County Schools.

Listen to part of Hannah-Jones’s story:

“The resegregation in Jefferson County is exactly what’s happened here,” Hannah-Jones said.

“It’s white communities breaking off from school districts,” she said. “They can wipe their hands of it and say it’s not about race, we just want districts to represent my community. It is about race.”

Hannah-Jones said resegregation is a trend recently documented by national researchers — both in the relatively new trend of district sessessions and in white Americans moving into communities of color but refusing to send their children to neighborhood schools.

Schools were segregated in Tennessee during the first part of the 20th Century. After the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, school districts in Tennessee slowly began to integrate and then stalled. Now, researchers and journalists say segregation is getting worse.

“As the south resegregates, we’re losing the only gains we’ve made,” Hannah-Jones said. “We want to pretend that our decisions aren’t impacting other kids, but they are.… You cannot say you believe in equality and seek to advantage your child every step of the way. ”

Hannah-Jones wrote in 2016 about choosing a school in New York City for her own daughter. She eventually settled on a neighborhood school — one that is majority black and poor. She challenged Memphians, in particular white, middle-class Memphians, to think more equitably about where they send their own children to school.

“White children aren’t hurt at all by going to these schools — their test scores don’t go down,” she said, a statement backed by research. “But look in Detroit, inner-city Memphis, Chicago. No one is coming.”

“The piece I did about my daughter, the reason it had such an impact is that I was honest. It wasn’t an easy choice when I had my own child. Morals and values in abstract are great, but reality is more difficult.”

She began the Tuesday night event with a story about a student she grew close to — and whose story embodies some of the issues of segregation —  before participating in a panel with MLK50 founder Wendi Thomas and Tami Sawyer, a Teach for America director and local activist.

Hannah-Jones said she’s now working on a book about Detroit — specifically looking at how poverty makes educating children “impossible.” (To learn more about schools in Detroit, go here).

In talks

Hopson asks state to let struggling Memphis school remain with local district

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is in talks with state officials about the future of American Way Middle, a struggling Memphis school that the state has identified for conversion to a charter school under Shelby County Schools or takeover by Tennessee's Achievement School District.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is asking Tennessee’s education chief to let Shelby County Schools keep control of American Way Middle School and place the struggling school in its own turnaround program, the Innovation Zone.

And Commissioner Candice McQueen is hinting that she’s willing to talk.

Hopson’s official request came this week despite McQueen’s plan for the Memphis district to convert American Way Middle to a charter school or risk having it placed in the state’s Achievement School District.

“Our Board voted to place American Way in the iZone next year,” Hopson wrote McQueen on Tuesday. “The Board was uncomfortable waiting for an additional year before taking action.”

McQueen wants the school to become a charter school in the fall of 2019 under the state’s new accountability plan. The board voted to place it in the iZone a year earlier than that.

But Hopson said the district’s concerns extend beyond timing.

“During its robust discussion regarding a district-led charter conversion, the Board was particularly concerned because we are unaware of any middle school charter operators who have strong track records of success in the turnaround space,” Hopson wrote. “For these reasons, the Board indicated that it will not approve a district-led charter conversation.

He added: “Given the I-Zone’s progress, we respectfully request that the State allow American Way to remain in the I-Zone for at least 3 years. Notably, one of American Way’s feeder schools is also in the I-Zone.”

McQueen said Friday that her office needs more information about the district’s proposal for American Way Middle before she makes a decision.

“We had a conversation with the district this week to make it clear that simply saying the school will be in the iZone next year does not tell us what the plan for that school is, and we still need more details on what it would look like for the school to be served by the iZone,” McQueen told Chalkbeat through a spokeswoman. “It is also not clear what charter options the district explored.”