More Needed For Gifted Students

According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Tennessee scores low on tracking accountability for gifted students. Tennessee received one out of four stars in the report. Grace Tatter and Nic Garcia at Chalkbeat:

To improve accountability, Tennessee should give additional points to schools that boost student scores to the highest possible level on state tests, the report said. It also should report gifted and talented students’ scores separately, as it does for racial minorities, English language learners, and other subgroups of students.

Fordham’s report asserts that an unintended consequence of previous accountability systems is that high-performing students, especially those at struggling schools, were left without support to push them even further in their academic pursuits.

Specifically, the report says that Tennessee “includes high-achieving students in its growth model but does little else to encourage schools to pay attention to them.”

You can read the full report here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow@TNEdReport.


 

Rocketship Claims MNPS Took Too Long To Act on Appeal and Schools Should Have Been Automatically Approved

Rocketship Tennessee is appealing to the State Board of Education to open a new charter school in Nashville after Metro Nashville Public Schools denied their application on appeal earlier this month in an 8-1 vote.

But in a letter to the State Board of Education, Rocketship Tennessee claims that Metro Nashville Public Schools took longer than the 30 day period to act on the appeal, which would mean the two schools should have been automatically approved. The Tennessee Public Charter School Act of 2002 clearly explains how the appeal works.

The local board of education shall have thirty (30) days either to deny or to approve the amended application. Should the local board of education fail to either approve or deny the amended application within thirty (30) days, the amended application shall be deemed approved.

Rocketship Tennessee claims they submitted their amended application on July 7th. Based on the 30 day rule, Rocketship Tennessee says the Metro Nashville School Board had until August 8th to deny or approve the appeal. The school board did not meet until August 10th, outside of the 30 day time limit, which Rocketship says should mean both of their applications should have been approved.

That is just a small portion of the appeal to the State Board of Education. Rocketship Tennessee currently has over 1,100 students in their two Nashville locations. Unlike most charter schools, Rocketship opened a full K-4 school at once instead of the grade by grade expansion that other charter schools do. Rocketship Tennessee has a waitlist of over 200 students for their Nashville schools.

With the lack of TNReady assessment data, Rocketship is providing their own normative assessment data to show that the school should be approved.


Our confidence in our Rocketeers’ continued growth is grounded in their performance on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, a nationally norm-referenced exam that evaluates both math and reading/language arts proficiency. On MAP last year, 63% of our students moved up one or more quartiles (or remained in the top quartile). Our first-year Rocketeers in Nashville grew 1.5 years in math and 1.4 years in reading.

This is powerful proof that our personalized learning model is meeting the unique needs of each and every student. By meeting students where they are academically, we are putting them on the gap-closing path.

This is the second time that Rocketship Tennessee has appealed to the State Board of Education, with the original appeal being rejected in October 2015.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

The ACT Results Are In. How Did We Do?

Tennessee tracks if students are career and college ready by requiring all students to take the ACT. On the ACT, college and career ready is determined by a score of 21. A score of a 21 allows students to qualify for the HOPE scholarship, and students will be able to skip remedial courses in college.

How did the state do? Chalkbeat has the answer:

Tennessee held steady with an average score of 19.4 out of a possible 36, increasing its standing from eighth to seventh among the 18 states that require students to take the ACT. The national average score was 20.8, down from 21 last year.

Even so, state officials celebrated that nearly 1,300 more Tennessee public school students hit the college-ready mark this year than last.

In 2016, only one-fifth of Tennessee public school students taking the ACT met all four subject benchmarks for being considered college-ready. English drew the best showing, with about 55 percent meeting that benchmark, followed by 34 percent in reading, and 27 percent each in math and science

What about individual districts? In Nashville, only 11% of students are college and career ready. The Tennessean has the Nashville numbers:

Metro Schools tallied an 18.4 composite score, marking a 0.3 point drop over the 2015 year‘s 18.7 composite score across all students tested, according to 2016 ACT numbers released to districts Tuesday. Only 11 percent of all Metro Schools students are ready for college, a three-point dip over last year.

We must do better in preparing our students for college and career state-wide, but especially in Nashville. The average MNPS student will need remedial courses if they go to college. That means MNPS students and their families will be paying more money to take courses that may not even count towards their post secondary degree. That’s a disservice to our students.

How does MNPS with the rest of Middle Tennessee?

  • Cheatham County: 19.6 composite; 17 percent college ready
  • Dickson County: 19.4 composite; 16 percent college ready
  • Metro Nashville: 18.4 composite; 11 percent college ready
  • Robertson County: 19 composite; 14 percent college ready
  • Rutherford County: 20.2 composite; 21 percent college ready
  • Sumner County: 20.8 composite; 23 percent college ready
  • Williamson County: 23.8 composite; 45 percent college ready
  • Wilson County: 20.3 composite;  19 percent college ready

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

 

Assessment Update: Eliminating Part I, Reducing Testing Time, and Online Assessment Rollout

In an email to all Tennessee teachers, Commissioner Candice McQueen had the following updates to give regarding the upcoming year’s assessment, which includes eliminating Part I, reducing testing time, and a rollout of online assessments:

This summer we announced how we’re streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year.:

  • We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year, which will be April 17–May 5, 2017. High school students on block schedule will take fall EOCs November 28–December 16.
  • We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200–210 minutes shorter than last year; in high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes.
  • We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar, our new testing vendor, to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history & geography exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
  • In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place during the operational testing window near the end of the year. Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window.

You can find more detailed information in our original email announcement (here) and in our updated FAQ (here). 

Breaking Down the 2016 Educator Survey Results

The Tennessee Department of Education released the results of their annual educator survey. The 2016 Educator Survey was taken by over 30,000 educators across the state, which is about half of the state’s educators. This large sample of teachers allows us to see what teachers are really feeling out in the trenches, and the vast majority of teachers feel appreciated.

Working Conditions

Throughout the country we hear that many teachers do not feel appreciated as a teacher. But Tennessee’s classroom climate is different. 78% of teachers say: “I feel appreciated for the job that I am doing.”

The graphic below shows that Tennessee’s teachers give high ratings to their working conditions and to their colleagues.

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It should be noted that “we still see about 10 percent of schools across the state where the majority of staff report that they are dissatisfied with their work environment.” I hope that those schools are aware of their teacher’s views on the work environment. In Nashville, the district uses the TELL survey data to get a glimpse of how teachers view their working environment and administration.

My middle school in Nashville reviews the TELL survey results each year, discusses those results with their teachers, and makes necessary adjustments based that feedback. It’s a process that I hope all schools are doing in Nashville.

Student Discipline

The next area of the Educator Survey was about student discipline. This was the area that teachers and administers really disagreed on, as you can see below. Teachers also believe that we need to be spending more professional development on how to address student’s non-academic needs.

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As a teacher, I can really understand the disagreement between administrators and teachers on this issue. Chalkbeat easily breaks down the issue:

Tennessee teachers are more concerned than principals about discipline at their schools, according to a new survey that shows a similar disconnect over the amount of feedback that teachers get from their administrators.

About 69 percent of teachers surveyed say their schools effectively manage student behavioral problems, while 96 percent of administrators say their schools handle discipline just fine.

The gaps in perception suggest that school administrators may not be aware of their teachers’ concerns on discipline.

The findings come as high suspension rates for poor students and students of color are getting more national attention. They also indicate that Tennessee needs to start making discipline policies a bigger priority, says Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

“This points to specific areas where we need to take more concrete actions,” McQueen said during a conference call with reporters. She added that teachers are asking for more support to meet their students’ non-academic needs.

Teacher Evaluation

More teachers than ever before say that the teacher evaluation system is improving teaching and student learning. That’s great to hear.

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The results show that 71% of teachers saw improvement in teaching thanks to the teacher evaluation process. Personally, I had a great evaluator last year and my teaching skills grew because of it. I have really grown as a teacher over the last two years thanks to the teacher evaluation system.

This year’s result is a huge increase from 2012.

Seventy-one percent of teachers report that the teacher evaluation process has led to improvements in their teaching, up from 38 percent in 2012. Similarly, two- thirds of all teachers report that the process has led to improvements in student learning, up from about one quarter in 2012.

What do teachers want more of? Collaboration, of course! I work at a school with a really collaborative nature, and it shows both in the teachers and in the students. 

Change Over Time

I really enjoyed looking at the chart below to see how the teacher’s responses have changed over time on the evaluation process. This chart shows that a over two-thirds of teachers believe that the teacher evaluation improves their teaching and student learning.

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Tennessee is on the right course toward making teachers feel appreciated, and it’s great to see the teacher evaluation process improving teaching performance. Let’s not stop now. I hope the Department of Education will use these results to continue to improve the teaching environment for Tennessee’s teachers.

 

You can read the full report here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Jason Egly’s First Week Reflection

Below is a piece from Jason Egly, a 4th grade teacher at Rocketship United Academy in Nashville. 

Egypt
Kenya
Somalia
Mexico
Honduras
El Salvador
Venezuela
Puerto Rico
USA

Is this about the Olympics?

No. It’s a list of the homelands proudly represented by the students in my two fourth grade Humanities classes at Rocketship United Academy (RUA) in Nashville.

As I sat with my students on the carpet for our daily Community Circle last Friday, the last day of the first week of school, I was stunned. Speechless, actually. (And as my students and co-teachers can already tell you after one week, that’s not something that happens very often.)

As the dad of three girls born on two continents, diversity is one of my family’s core values. Before my first day at RUA, I had seen the school’s diversity numbers on paper: 34% Hispanic, 42% African American, 42% English Learners. But sitting with them on the carpet that day and hearing their stories in the flesh awakened something deep within my teacher soul. And I wasn’t sure at first exactly what it was.

“I was born in Nairobi. We still have family there. We miss them, but my mother tells me we can get a better education here.”

“My parents moved here from Egypt before I was born. I’ve never visited, but I want to. My parents say it might be a long time before we can, but they promise they’ll take me.”

“I was born right here in Nashville, Mr. Egly,” one student said, dropping her head. “I don’t have a cool story like that.”

“Oh, yes you do!” I said. “Your story is like my story! You and I have the honor and the gift of learning from so many new friends from places we have never been!”

And then it hit me. The reason for my stunned silence. The cause of the soul-stirring moment I had just experienced. You see, I thought I was coming to Rocketship United Academy to teach these students. And I wasn’t wrong, I will teach them.

Together this year, with the most talented team of educators and administrators I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of, we will participate in our own Olympics of sorts. We will clear hurdles, climb STEPs, and close gaps. But it’s not just that. I realized in that moment that there was so much more.

I was not the only teacher in the room. I was one of twenty-seven. Twenty-six amazing fourth graders and one lucky 30-something with a fourth grader’s curiosity who will share our lives and space for the next ten months, opening each other’s hearts and minds to new horizons of understanding, acceptance, and achievement. Creating a culture that values each individual, and listens to every voice, whether they are from Nashville or Nairobi.

I am so proud to be part of this diverse family of Rocketeers!

TNDP’s Mary Mancini Calls Pinkston’s Comments Unacceptable

After Holly McCall’s allegations of threats from Will Pinkston and the response by Will Pinkston calling her a “sleeze” and unfit for public office, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini called his comments unacceptable:

“Bullying behavior from anyone is unacceptable anytime and anywhere and it is especially unacceptable from elected officials and leaders in our community.

Will Pinkston has brought a notable level of intelligence and hard work to the Metro Nashville Board of Education and it’s clear that he cares tremendously about the quality of the city’s public education. That said, disrespectful language and behavior from elected officials and leaders in our community is always unacceptable.

It’s unfortunate for all involved that Will did not use better judgement in both his public and private interactions.”

Holly McCall: Pinkston Told Me He Has a Kill List of MNPS Staff

Update: Will Pinkston has responded to Holly McCall’s accusations by tweeting that McCall “is a known sleeze and unfit to serve in public office.”

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Many Tennesseans do not believe that, though. In her legislative race, McCall recently raised $54,000 in one of the most conservative districts in the state.

Who is funding her campaign? The top democratic leaders in the state:

Franklin Mayor Lillian Stewart ($200) and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean ($500); state Rep. John Ray Clemmons ($250) and state Sens. Lee Harris ($150) and Sara Kyle ($150); Nashville Metro Council members Bob Mendes ($350) and John Cooper, and his wife Laura ($1,500 each, for both the primary and general, for a total of $6,000); attorneys Charles Bone ($1,000), James Yokley ($1,500), Bob Tuke ($250), Leigh Walton ($250), Aubrey Harwell ($250), David Garrison ($250) and Chase Cole ($250).

Others backing McCall include Planned Parenthood’s Jeff Teague ($250), and local business leaders Wayne Smith of Community Health Systems ($1,000; CHS also donated $1,000), developer Bert Mathews ($250), former AT&T president Marty Dickens ($1,000), Christopher Hopkins of the developer-friendly Saint Consulting ($1,250) for which McCall has worked, Medalogix CEO Dan Hogan ($700) and Elizabeth Schatzlein, the wife of the former CEO of Saint Thomas Health ($1,500).

Looks like they don’t believe she is unfit for public office.

Original story below:

Holly McCall, who is currently a Democratic candidate for TN House District 65, has responded to the Tennessean story on Will Pinkston by saying that Will Pinkston allegedly told her that he had a kill list of MNPS employees while pointing at his forehead.

 

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Below are other tweets Holly McCall has sent out today about being threatened, scared, and how she feels like she is hurting her chances for office by taking on a candidate backed by the Democratic Party. As you will see below, she doesn’t live in Nashville or support charter schools.

 

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Holly McCall has uploaded a screen shot from the latest texts from Pinkston. She also says that Pinkston has been threatening her for six months.

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Will Pinkston Creates A Hostile Workplace

The Tennessean is out today with an article about Will Pinkston’s abusive behavior to workers of MNPS. Here’s just a taste of what the article has laid out:

  • Alan Coverstone, former Director of Charter Schools said that Pinkston “threatened me saying I had better watch myself, and eventually saying that I had better barricade myself in the office because he would come up there and get me.”
  • Former Director of Schools Jesse Register received complaints from staff about calls, emails, and in person confrontations with Will Pinkston.
  • A handful of current or former employees of MNPS were too scared to go on the record for risk of retribution from Will Pinkston. One staff member said that Will Pinkston would throw you under the bus if he didn’t get his way.
  • After Jason Egly, a MNPS teacher at the time, got into an discussion on twitter, Egly’s principal and district officials approach him to talk about it after Pinkston reported him to the central office. Egly was afraid for his job.
  • Vesia Hawkins, the former board administrator for over six years, requested another assignment because of Will Pinkston. Pinkston continued to contact Hawkins through direct messages on Twitter after she left her board administrator role. Board Chair Sharon Gentry had to tell Pinkston:“Unless you have a business reason to contact her or any MNPS employee, your contact should be with the Director of Schools.” The night after that email from Gentry, Pinkston continued to contact Hawkins.

These are just the few brave people who spoke on the record about their experiences with Will Pinkston. I have heard from other teachers and staffers who are too afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing their jobs. This isn’t bullying, this is abusive.

It’s not just bullying when Will Pinkston tells a staff member to barricade himself in an office because he is coming for him. That’s abusive.

It’s not just bullying when teachers are afraid of losing their job. That’s abusive.

It’s not just bullying when a staff member has to change jobs because of Will Pinkston. That’s abusive.

When elected officials in Nashville stand by Will Pinkston, they are enabling this abusive behavior. No one deserves this abuse.

MNPS Diversity Report: Rebuild Hillwood High School on Current Site

A new diversity report on the rebuilding of Hillwood High School has been released. Dr. Leonard B Stevens, an expert in school desegregation, reviewed the proposals for the school district and concluded that Hillwood High School should be rebuilt at its current location.

The report describes in detail different information about the proposal followed by a conclusion statement. Below, I will summarize the information in the report and copy and past the conclusion for each section.  

The report says the current site of Hillwood High School has equal driving time for those who live both north and south of the school.

Conclusion: In assessing the current location of Hillwood High School and the alternative sites, the district should seek to locate the school where it is reasonably central to the students it serves so that travel time and travel distance to the school for students and families have both the reality and the appearance of fairness.

When looking at the diversity of the Hillwood, the school is currently a plurality school because of the presence of zone option students, including students from “Black zoned options.” Movement of the school could risk removing these students from the school and would create a smaller and whiter population at the school.

Conclusion: since the Pearl-Cohn students are indispensable to the diversity of Hillwood High School and in light of the district’s commitment to diversity, the district should place significant weight on this factor and avoid a location decision that places the school’s diversity at risk and, in particular, its plurality school status.

The Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education is currently monitoring student assignment matters in the district.

Conclusion: In light of this ongoing review, the district should ensure that its decision on the Hillwood location matter is consistent in all respects with its Diversity Management Plan.

The report goes on to look at the schools in the cluster that meet the district’s diversity plan.

Hillwood High School, H.G. Hill Middle School, and Charlotte Park Elementary School are plurality schools that meet the district’s diversity plan.

Bellevue Middle, Westmeade, Harpeth Valley, and Gower do not meet the district’s diversity plan. Harpeth Valley is the school with the highest population of White students in the cluster, with 76% of student labeled as White.

If the new Hillwood High School is located south of the current location, it would mean moving the school towards a larger White population and away from the Black population in the north.

“The district should be sensitive to the potential for generating perceptions that this school location decision, however unintentionally, would disfavor Black students or students of color who live north of Hillwood High School and thereby could become a basis for racial distrust of the district.”

Conclusion: The district should seek to make a decision that affirmatively contributes to public confidence in the district’s expressed commitment to “preserve, support and further” diversity.

Fewer than half of the high school students zoned for Hillwood attend the school. Almost 450 high school students attend high school outside of the cluster. Why is that?

Conclusion: This is an opportune occasion for the district to review the Hillwood cluster at all grade levels with a view toward the potential to strengthen the attractiveness of the cluster’s schools to families living in the Hillwood cluster-as-extended. The study should explore program offerings, grade organization, and possible development of a Pre-Kindergarten center as strategies to attract cluster students to cluster elementary and middle schools and ultimately to Hillwood High School.

The report ends with the overall recommendation:

Overall Recommendation. The best next step for the district is to rebuild Hillwood High School at its present site.

Here are the four reasons the report lists as why the district should rebuild Hillwood High School on the location:

 

  • First, a premise that locating the school in the Bellevue area would place it closer to a larger share of its students is not supported by the data, which show that the current location serves about equal proportions of students who live north and south of the school.
  • Second, a premise that relocating the school to Bellevue would accommodate population growth in the area is not supported by enrollment projections which foresee modest growth of fewer than 70 students by 2020 at Hillwood High School, leaving the school well within its capacity.
  • Third, an assumption that relocation of the school to the Bellevue area would cause more students in this area to use Hillwood High School is speculative—this issue has not been studied— and, in addition, is undermined by the fact that 447 potential Hillwood High School students are choosing to attend MNPS magnet high schools instead. It seems unlikely that such students in substantial numbers would change their high school plans based on relocation of the cluster comprehensive high school. It is more likely that capturing more cluster students in cluster schools will require changes in the schools that students and families find sufficiently attractive.
  • Fourth, a premise that relocating the school to Bellevue would do no harm to the school’s current diversity status as a plurality school is a high risk assumption that does not place sufficient weight on the significance of the Pearl-Cohn students who attend the school through Zoned Options or open enrollment. Among the factors described in this report leading to the recommendation to rebuild on the current Hillwood High School site, the diversity factor is the most significant.

 

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.