Charter Growth Should Be Looking Down (Not Up)

Charter schools are formed on the idea that the traditional public schools are not doing what they need to do to help kids succeed. Charter schools are there for a choice for the parents. Charter leaders will tell you that they have to catch the kids up when they get them in middle school. The students have fallen so far behind that it will take years to get the students back on track. Their goal is get them on track when they leave for high school. Charters are opening high schools so their middle school students can continue on until the student graduates.

For a system that decries that students are behind out of elementary school are not doing much to fix that. If the students are failing in elementary school, go and open elementary charter schools to fix that problem. If charters are truly helping students, they should start at kindergarten (or even pre-k!). At risk students are already coming in behind when they start kindergarten. If charters can get them in kindergarten, they won’t be behind when they head to fifth grade. This is a method that can really work to improve the outcomes of at risk children. It will also show if charters are really successful in helping students more than traditional zoned schools.

This is what baffles me about the charter growth in Nashville. Currently, there are five charter elementary schools, thirteen middle schools, and two high schools. Two of the charter elementary schools were recently opened and only have kindergarteners. If more charter schools opened up in elementary schools, there wouldn’t be so many students falling behind at the middle school years. The question is why aren’t there more charter elementary schools?

Elementary schools are the time when you can really find the struggling students. There are many tests and assessments to know if a student is on track or needs extra help. You won’t have to wait around to 5th grade to help a struggling reader or find out that a student has a learning disability if you have a great school. You can start the intervention there. You can help catch the student up before they head into 5th grade.

So I asked Greg Thompson, CEO of the Tennessee Charter Center, why there aren’t more elementary charter schools.

Charter growth has been driven by education entrepreneurs proposing promising new education models to help students achieve at a higher academic level.  Many charter founders in Tennessee have gravitated toward middle/high school models (typically because those grade levels fit with their experience and skill set as educators).  Why middle/high school education leaders make up a larger percentage of charter applicants and leaders is up for debate.  But, there is a trend developing in which charter operators are creating K-12 feeder patterns within their network of schools (recognizing that it is essential to have a strong academic program from Kindergarten through high school to prevent students from falling behind).  KIPP and LEAD are good examples of that in Nashville (when one looks at their growth plans).

The Center has focused its efforts on finding talented leaders who can create great schools, and we have been mostly agnostic on the type of school created (elementary, middle, or high).  The need is so great in Nashville in terms of the number of students who need better academic options, that we have been supportive of all models.”

I understand that many of the school leaders have experience in the upper grades, but let’s not forget the students in the lower grades. They need strong leadership with teachers who can use evidence-based methods to help kids succeed. If we can catch failing students earlier, the rest of their lives will be much better. I think this could be an avenue to see a charter take over a failing elementary school. We know that Metro Nashville Public Schools are trying to pinpoint certain locations for charter growth. Maybe it is time to give up another schools to a charter, like they did with Cameron. But with an elementary school, you need experienced and high quality teachers and administrators to lead the way. It will be interesting to see how the charter growth continues in Nashville.

 

TEA Elects New Leadership

From a TEA press release:

Nearly 800 educators from across the state gathered at the Nashville Convention Center this weekend to elect a new president and vice president of the Tennessee Education Association. This year marked the 81st annual Representative Assembly for the state’s largest professional association for educators.

Barbara Gray, a Memphis-Shelby County Schools administrator, was elected TEA president. Gray has served as the association’s vice president for the past four years. She has been in the education profession serving Shelby County Schools since 1972, where she currently works as an assistant principal at Northaven Elementary School. Gray has been an active member of the Shelby County, Tennessee and National Education Associations for many years.

Beth Brown, an English teacher at Grundy County High School, was elected TEA vice president. Brown has been an active member of the Tennessee Education Association since she began her career. She has served in numerous leadership roles at the state and local levels of the association.

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

Jamie Woodson: Higher Standards, Better Assessments, and Why They Matter

This article is written by Jamie Woodson, President and CEO of SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education). Prior to leading SCORE, she served for more than 12 years in the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House and Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and later as Senate Speaker Pro Tempore.

When I came to the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) in 2011, Tennessee had just put into policy a set of bold education reforms. Policymakers were appropriately excited about their work. Yet we all know that education policy changes are only words on paper until these policies are brought to life by leaders in schools and teachers in classrooms. That same year I left my role as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly with the goal of contributing to helping Tennessee turn these important policies into practices that boost student achievement.

Over the last year, some have been questioning – and at times attacking – Tennessee’s decision to raise academic expectations for students by raising academic standards, one of several foundational policies that have helped launch our students to historic and unprecedented gains in English and math. Others have tried to put the brakes on new assessments which seek to more authentically and accurately measure how our students are doing. While the debate has been lively and sometimes loud, it hasn’t always been enlightening. Quite simply, misinformation about how Tennessee chose this path has been widespread.

To put it bluntly, Tennessee decided in 2007 to start being honest with parents, policy makers, and students. We had been measuring our students by our homegrown academic standards and assessments, which were low in rigor compared to other states. While our state test results said nearly nine out of ten Tennessee eighth-graders were proficient in math, the national measuring stick said it was barely two out of ten. This disconnect earned us an F in truth and advertising and an F for postsecondary and workforce readiness in the 2007 Leaders and Laggards report card on education effectiveness.

Those failing grades, plus sound research showing how higher standards help lead to higher proficiency rates, spurred our leaders to raise Tennessee’s rock-bottom academic expectations. The first step came in 2008, when the Tennessee State Board of Education approved the Tennessee Diploma Project, a multi-state effort to improve college and career readiness. Schools began implementing the Diploma Project standards in August 2009, when students who would participate in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were in the first or fifth grade.

Just as Tennessee began moving forward, new opportunities emerged to accelerate our momentum. One of them was the Common Core State Standards, which like the Diploma Project grew from state policymakers looking to work together to address the fact that schools in the U.S. were falling behind other nations. Already committed to helping our students advance, Tennessee took the logical next step by joining the Common Core effort in 2009 and adopting these new standards in 2010.

Tennessee began using the new standards in grades K-2 in August 2011. After summer training for 13,000 math teachers, schools began using the higher math standards in grades 3-8 and a pilot of the English language arts standards in August 2012. The NAEP assessments were administered in early 2013 to a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders, and in November we learned that the gains they showed made Tennessee the fastest-improving state for academic achievement.

This history shows the flaw in the claim that Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards are moving us forward too fast. We have been incrementally raising standards since 2007, longer than most of us have had our smartphones. This timeline also shows why it is not practical or wise to pause or roll back our progress in raising standards. We have trained more than 43,000 educators; we have fully implemented Common Core; and our students are seeing early signs of progress.

With the standards in use in all grades and schools, educators and parents need assessments that accurately measure student learning, and our schools will be ready to take that step this fall. The Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) assessment will replace the current TCAP test for math and English in grades 3-11. PARCC goes far beyond the usual multiple choice test to measure student comprehension in multiple ways. It will includes questions that require students to provide an answer by writing an essay or graphing a problem, rather than simply picking an answer. To try a sample set of PARCC questions in both math and English, click here and then go to Sample Items at the top of the page.

PARCC is also a unique test in that Tennessee has helped build the assessment and representatives of our state have had a seat at the table for every important decision. Postsecondary and K-12 educators from Tennessee have had unprecedented input in helping to write the assessments, and Tennessee public colleges and universities have agreed to accept the PARCC assessment results as indicators of college readiness.

Most Tennesseans are not as engaged in the discussion about Common Core and PARCC as the readers of this blog. Parents, in particular, deserve to know the real history and to understand how these higher standards and new assessments are designed to help their students.

The bottom line is that Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards are designed to prepare students for success after high school by teaching them to be lifelong learners: how to read and comprehend complex material, how to think through problems and show the evidence that led to their conclusions, and how to write clearly and persuasively. I believe our state’s new assessments will provide a better, fairer, and more authentic measure of whether students are meeting the standards. Altogether it means that for the first time, parents can rest assured that when Tennessee tells them their students are proficient, it’s the truth.


 

Our Interview With Rep. Craig Fitzhugh

Here is our interview with State Representative Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), the Democratic Leader in the House.

What are the top education priorities for Democrats in the 2014 legislative session?

House Democrats are focused on creating quality public schools for every child. Education reform has been the buzzword at legislative plaza for a number of years, but we remain concerned that these changes have been more about style than substance.

We remain concerned about teacher evaluations and the negative impact they have on teacher moral and retention.

We have concerns about common core, not so much the standards, as the speed with which they have been implemented. We want to make sure that our schools are technologically ready for Common Core testing, especially where our rural schools are concerned with bandwidth and our urban schools with computer availability.

Democrats also strongly support a universal pre-k program. Currently, there is $64,000,000 in federal funding available to Tennessee for this purpose. We have legislation, HB 291, that would allow us to take advantage of this program and extend pre-k to thousands of Tennessee children.

What’s the Democratic view on the role of the State in public education?

Tennessee has two constitutional responsibilities: a balanced budget and a free system of public education. On the latter, we believe Tennessee must do better.

Depending upon which study you read, Tennessee ranks near the bottom in funding for public education. While we are proud of what our teachers and parents have done with little funding (in particular the spectacular improvement in graduation rates we’ve seen over the last number of years), we believe that we have to be careful in preserving these precious public dollars. Now is not the time to take public money and send it to untested charters or private institutions. This will only serve to take more money from the already small pot of funding we have for our public schools.

Will there be a move to address and improve BEP funding along the lines of BEP 2.0?

There are a few proposals before the General Assembly that deal with BEP, primarily with the state’s portion of funding. At this time, I’m not aware of any other Democratic proposals that will change the BEP, especially in light of a tight budget cycle.

Will Democrats support efforts to limit or remove TVAAS scores from teacher evaluation?

Democrats remain concerned about the teacher evaluations and their deleterious effect on teacher moral and retention. At a minimum, we believe there needs to be a moratorium on teacher evaluations as they currently stand, while a review is undertaken by the Department of Education, in consultation with educators.

Will Democrats attempt to address the state board’s action on teacher pay?

Democrats opposed the unusual decision of the State Board of Education to do away with the state minimum salary schedule. We are particularly concerned that this decision was made without any input from legislators and at a time when the General Assembly was not in session.

The State Board of Education is a group of unelected individuals who have had an outsized impact on education policy over the last year. While we don’t have a caucus position yet, I anticipate a lively discussion concerning their role.

The Democrats will be introducing legislation to require the Commissioner of Education to have teaching experience. Can you describe that bill? Is it a shot a Commissioner Huffman, who only has a few years of teaching experience?

In order to be a judge, an individual must have been a practicing lawyer for five years. We think that those who are charged with the education of our children should be held to an even higher standard.

This bill is not about any individual person, it is about a fundamental lack of respect we’ve seen for those who teach during this administration. Part of the problem is that senior officials at the Department of Education lack the in-classroom experience necessary to understand the ramifications of their policies. This legislation hopes to address the growing gap we see between public policy and practical application.

We saw last session that some rural Republicans were not happy with some of the education bills coming from the administration. Do you think the Democrats can pair up with certain Republicans to oppose vouchers and state-authorizer?

As I’ve said before, if there is one issue that unites Democrats it’s a commitment to public education. With that in mind, I would tell you that we are happy to partner with whomever we need to in order to achieve the best outcomes possible for our students, our teachers and our communities.

What is the counter argument on vouchers? If students are stuck in failing schools, and those schools aren’t going to turn around immediately, why make them stay there? Isn’t even a small lifeline for some kids better than nothing?

Vouchers are not a lifeline, they are at best a band-aid: they are only available to a limited number of students and studies have shown that those students do no better than the counterparts they leave behind in public schools. Meanwhile, what they will accomplish is a wholesale defunding of public schools. As I said earlier, we have a very limited pot of money for public education. When you start pulling funds out for virtual schools, charter schools and now vouchers, you take that limited pot of funds and make it even smaller. If we were like Ohio and were in the mid-thirties or lower on per pupil funding, I’d be in favor of this program. As it stands now, however, we can’t justify taking money from our already cash-strapped public education system.


 

The Need For Nonsense

Recently, the Metro Nashville School Board had a discussion about nonsense word assessments. Since I had recently learned the evidence around these assessments, I listened closely. I didn’t like what I heard. Many people believe these types of assessment are harmful to children. I don’t think so. A nonsense word assessment is a way to remove the effects of word exposure from the child. It also lets us see how the child will decode new words. It’s important to use these measures in early literacy. These measures can predict the reading proficiency of children.

While I wish the Tennessean asked someone outside of Pearson to comment on nonsense words, I totally agree with the Pearson scientist:

Mark Daniel, senior scientist for research innovation at Pearson, said AIMSweb draws on more than 30 years of research to accurately predict achievement and growth. The company defends the use of “nonsense words.”

“Nonsense-word fluency uses pseudo-words instead of real words to require the student to engage in decoding rather than relying on sight-word recognition,” Daniel said.

 

Let’s look at some research. A 2008 study by researchers at the University of Oregon and the Oregon Research Institute looked to see if Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF) was a predictor of future reading. In their introduction to the study, the researchers explained the importance of NWF. (Fien et al., 2008)

Measures such as NWF and other pseudoword reading measures (e.g., Woodcock Reading Mastery Test—Revised Word Attack subtest; Woodcock, 1987) specifically isolate how well students apply their understanding of phonics rules in learning to decode. That is, NWF is designed to measure how well a student has learned the underlying letter–sound correspondences and phonological recoding skills of the alphabetic principle. The measure expressly avoids tap- ping student skills in reading real words be- cause it may not be clear what strategies the student is using to accurately read real words (e.g., actually reading a word by deciphering the constituent letter–sound correspondences instead of recalling the whole word from memorization without knowledge of the constituent letter sounds).

And the researchers found that NWF was correlated with other reading measures.

Concurrent correlations between NWF administered in kindergarten, first, and second grade were consistent and moderately to strongly related to performance on ORF (Oral Reading Fluency) and the SAT-10. Also, the relations between NWF and criterion measures of reading were typically as strong for ELs as ESs.

And since Metro Nashville got rid of DIBELS, let me show you this quote from the research article:

Regarding DIBELS generally, it has been suggested that DIBELS measures reflect superficial indicators of reading, little more than students “barking at print” (Samuels, 2007, p. 563). Decades of research on ORF has established the consistent association between reading fluency and comprehension. In the vast majority of these studies, fluency is defined as a combination of speed and accuracy of reading connected text, which is precisely the definition of ORF that the developers of DIBELS used when they constructed their measures. ORF is also highly correlated with prosody (Miller & Schwanenflugel, 2006). Indeed, the relationship between ORF and comprehension appears stronger than the association between prosody and comprehension, and there is only minimal evidence that reading with prosody mediates comprehension (Schwanenflugel, Hamilton, Kuhn, Wisen- baker, & Stahl, 2004). There are fewer studies on NWF than there are on ORF, and empirical investigations of these measures adjudicated through a peer-reviewed process should drive serious considerations of their quality. In this regard, we would like to further encourage the examination of DIBELS in the context of intended and actual use in education settings.

After collecting reading data from schools in Oregon:

Evidence from this study supports the use of NWF in the early grades to screen students for reading problems. Using data to intervene early and strategically is a major assessment activity expected by schools in Reading First as well as schools using RTI to assist in making decisions about instructional effectiveness and special education.

Additionally, here are some quotes from research abstracts on the topic.

“Slope of progress through the first semester of first grade on NWF was a strong predictor of first-grade reading outcomes, especially for students at risk of reading difficulty.” – Good, Baker, & Peyton (2009)

“Strong, positive relations were found between NWF gains and ORF and RC (reading comprehension) scores for students who began the year with low to moderate and relatively high decoding skills. For students at the highest end of the distribution (5% of the sample), NWF gains were not associated with ORF or RC scores. In addition, early gains on NWF more strongly predicted reading outcomes than later gains for students at the low end of the initial NWF distribution.” – Fien et al., (2010)

I completely agree that fluency does not equal comprehension. Reading something quickly does not mean that child understands what they read. But knowing if they can take a brand new word and sound it out correctly by blending the sounds together can really help the teachers know the reading proficiency level of their students. We need to find the students who need extra help and give it to them as quickly as we can. I spent over a week giving nonsense word assessments to fifth graders. After explaining the directions, the student gets 45 seconds to read a list of words. You can see a difference for those who struggle to read and those who don’t. Some of those who struggle with nonsense words also struggled with reading real words. Some did not struggle with real words but did with nonsense words.

For younger students, where this is really used, you can see if the child has trouble blending sounds. As I walk the hallways of the school where I have been working, I see the younger students receiving help with blending their sounds together and reading aloud. I think nonsense word assessments are one way to help students.

References

Fien, H., Baker, S. K., Smolkowski, K., Smith, J., Kame’enui, E. J., & Beck, C. (2008). Using nonsense word fluency to predict reading proficiency in kindergarten through Second grade for English learners and native English speakers. School Psychology Review, 37(3), 391-408.

Fien, H., Park, Y., Baker, S. K., Smith, J., Stoolmiller, M., & Kame’enui, E. J. (2010). An examination of the relation of nonsense word fluency initial status and gains to reading outcomes for beginning readers. School Psychology Review, 39(4), 631-653.

Good, R., Baker, S. K., & Peyton, J. A. (2009). Making sense of nonsense word fluency: Determining adequate progress in early first-grade reading. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 25(1), 33-56.

Dr. Register, Tear Down Those Data Walls

Or, what a progressive Karl Dean might have said at yesterday’s Nashville Chamber education report card “party.” If you’d like to read his defense of charter schools and warning to MNPS, read this.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean yesterday took on the education establishment and challenged the city to do more for its children and families. The remarks came as stunned members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce looked on in disbelief.

Dean first suggested that Metro Nashville Schools stop its over-reliance on testing in spite of state mandates.  He noted the practice of data walls as emblematic of the current emphasis on test-based measures of student success and suggested that the schools might try focusing on the whole child.

With his voice raised and fist clenched, Dean said, “Dr. Register, tear down those data walls.”

Dean seemed to be suggesting that School Board member Amy Frogge has a point when she continues to ask about how much all the spending and preparation for tests costs Metro Schools.

He further added that a teacher’s value is about more than the points she might add to her students’ test scores.

Dean proceeded to challenge the popular and oft-repeated notion that Nashville is home to failing schools.

“It’s not the schools that are failing,” Dean said. “MNPS teachers work hard every single day to reach the children in their care.  But too many of those students arrive hungry and without access to health care or basic shelter.  It’s our community that has failed the families of these children.”

Dean noted that nearly 3 of every 4 MNPS students qualifies for free or reduced price lunch.  He went further to note that 7500 Davidson County families with school age children earn incomes below the federal poverty line (Source: American Community Survey of the U.S. Census).

“We’re simply not supporting the ENTIRE community,” Dean said. “When so many families are working hard and can’t make ends meet, there’s a fundamental problem in the local economy.  Rising income inequality is bad for Nashville.  We must work to address it together now.”

Dean pledged to push for changes in state law to allow Nashville to adopt a living wage and also pledged to use his considerable clout with the General Assembly to advocate for a $10 an hour state minimum wage.

“When Nashville families are struggling, their children struggle,” Dean said.  “It’s hard to focus on school when you don’t know where your next meal will come from or what to do when you can’t see to read and can’t afford glasses.

“Quite simply, Nashville must do a better job of reaching out and lifting up all our citizens.”

Dean said he would work with the staff at Music City Center to turn the nearly $600 million facility into a community center and transitional housing for the working poor.  He noted that it would include free dental and vision clinics for children and an urgent care center for basic medical needs.

“This facility will set Nashville apart as a city that puts people first and will no longer fail its children and families.”

Dean also said he will be asking Metro Council to expand the hours at all the city’s libraries so students can have access to its materials and computers.

“Our children need consistent, reliable access to our magnificent library facilities.  They should be centers of learning and excitement and they will be open to serve that need.”

Following Dean’s speech, he walked to the park across from the downtown library to meet the homeless men and women he’d be spending his nights with until January, when he’ll take them to their new rooms at MCC.

Alas, Dean’s actual remarks are chronicled here.

 

Want to know who is “responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement” in TN?

Today is the first day of the Tennessee Principals Association annual conference. The topic of this year’s conference is Leading in the Common Core Era. The conference will have three keynote speakers to discuss Common Core. Emily Barton, Assistant Commissioner for Curriculum and Instruction, is one of those keynote speakers. The first line of her biography tells a lot (see picture below).

“Emily Barton is responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement through many strategies including implementation and success of Tennessee’s evaluation system and the adoption of Common Core State Standards.”

Looks like Emily Barton is solely responsible for the gains in achievement. That’s a huge claim to make at a conference filled with educators.

 

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.42.22 PM

 

NAEP in TN: The Rest of the Story

Today, leaders across Tennessee lauded the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results.  And they should. Tennessee is first in an education statistic and it’s a good one.  The fastest growing state in the last 2 years in terms of growth in math and reading scores as measured by NAEP.

That’s good news. It’s very good news.  Despite some claims, though, it’s very difficult to say results on the 2013 NAEP are a direct result of reforms that took place in 2011 and 2012. States with more rigid teacher tenure and with collective bargaining for teachers scored higher overall than Tennessee (nevermind Ron Ramsey’s rant against both — they just don’t test out as significant indicators of student achievement in either a positive or negative way). And of course, it’s easier to grow when you have a long way to go — Tennessee has historically been among the lowest performing states on the NAEP.

Let’s take a look at the data on a deeper level, though, and see what’s been happening. For the sake of this comparison, I’m going to look at Tennessee and Kentucky — a similarly situated Southeastern state with a nearly identical level of students in poverty and/or on free/reduced lunch.  I’m going to look at 20 year trends to see what we can learn from the overall education work in both states. So, here goes:

4th Grade Math

1992      KY   215                        TN  211

2013     KY  241                          TN 240

Over the 20 year period, Kentucky increased by 16 points, Tennessee by 19 — and Kentucky still leads by 1 point.  To Tennessee’s credit, the gap in scores was narrowed by 3 points.

Let’s look at the percentage of students in each state who test at or above basic — this is short of the mastery demonstrated by the score of proficient, but still indicates a basic understanding of the concept — below basic is the lowest score and is frankly, unacceptable.

In 1992, 51% of Kentucky kids tested at or above basic and in Tennessee, it was 47%.  Now, 84% of Kentucky kids are at or above basic in 4th grade math while only 80% can say the same in Tennessee.  Both states posted 33 point gains in this important number over the last 20 years and Kentucky remains 4 points ahead of Tennessee.

Now, let’s look at the two states and how they are doing with their poorest students, those on free and reduced lunch.  One of the key goals of many involved in education is closing achievement gaps and moving the lowest performing kids forward quickly.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY  232  TN 228

Achievement gap

KY 19 points  TN 26 points

Not only do Tennessee’s students on free and reduced lunch score lower than Kentucky’s, Tennessee’s gap is wider — by a 7-point margin in the case of 4th grade math.  This begins a troubling pattern.

Before I go further with this analysis, I want to point out that Kentucky doesn’t use value-added data for teacher evaluations, has no charter schools, its teachers are awarded tenure after 4 years, and it hasn’t adopted any of the reforms Tennessee’s current leaders tell us are essential to improving scores.  In fact, their Commissioner has openly expressed skepticism of any evaluation system that bases any part of a teacher’s score on value-added data.  As the rest of the data will demonstrate, both Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Ok, back to the data.

8th Grade Math

1992  KY 262   TN 259

2013  KY 281  TN 278

Over 20 years, both states made a 19-point gain in 8th grade math and Kentucky maintains a 3-point lead.  Looking at students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 51% in 1992 and is at 71% today while Tennessee was at 47% in 1992 and at 69% today.  Kentucky gained 20 points and Tennessee, 22.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY 268  TN 265

Achievement Gap

KY 25 points TN 27 points

 

4th Grade Reading

1992 KY 213   TN 212

2013 KY 224   TN 220

Here, Kentucky makes an 11-point gain and Tennessee makes an 8-point gain over the same time period.  Now, Kentucky has a solid 4-point lead in reading — while in 1992, it was just 1-point.  In terms of students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 58% in 1992 and stands at 71% today while Tennessee was at 57% in 1992 and is now at 67% — Kentucky gained 13 points over this time, while Tennessee gained 10.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 213  TN 205

Achievement Gap

KY 24 points TN 32 points

 

8th Grade Reading

1998  KY 262   TN 259

2013 KY 270  TN 265

Here, Kentucky gained 8 points and Tennessee only 6 — giving Kentucky students a 5-point edge over Tennessee’s in 8th grade reading. Both states posted 6-point gains in percentage of students at or above “basic,” with Kentucky maintaining a 3-point edge in that category.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 258  TN 256

Achievement Gap

KY 23  TN 20

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.  In all categories, Kentucky’s students still outperform Tennessee, though in some cases that gap is narrowing.  Also, in all subjects, Kentucky’s students on free/reduced lunch outperform Tennessee’s students on free/reduced lunch.

ABOUT THAT FREE LUNCH

Possibly the most interesting (and troubling) finding in this data is the widening of the gap between free/reduced lunch students and those not eligible.  Tennessee has a significant population of students who qualify (as does Kentucky) and one of the key aims of reform is to ensure that gaps are closed and that those with the most challenges get more opportunity.  Here’s some data demonstrating that Tennessee’s achievement gap is widening when it comes to its poorest students.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH ACHIEVEMENT GAPS

4th Grade Math 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 26 points

8th Grade Math 2011 — 25 points  2013 – 27 points

4th Grade Reading 2011 — 26 points  2013 – 32 points

8th Grade Reading 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 20 points

The 4th grade scores in particular present rapidly widening gaps.  That’s absolutely the wrong direction.  Moreover, students on free/reduced lunch saw their scores improve less than those not on free/reduced lunch 3 points vs. 9 points in 4th grade math, 3 points vs. 5 points in 8th grade math, 1 point vs. 7 points in 4th grade reading, and both groups saw a +6 in 8th grade reading.

While we’re told that “poverty is not an excuse” it certainly appears to be a factor (and one growing in importance) in terms of student achievement growth in Tennessee. While we have had significant reforms in some of our poorest urban communities (and even have an Achievement School District to address the most challenged schools), the gap between poor and better off students widened in the last two years.

Yes, Tennessee should celebrate its growth.  But policymakers should use caution when seeing the results from the last 2 years as a validation of any particular policy.  Long-term trends indicate that big gains are usually followed by steady maintenance. And, even with the improvement, Tennessee has a long way to go to be competitive with our peers. Additionally, education leaders should be concerned about the troubling widening of the rich/poor achievement gap  – an outcome at odds with stated policy goals and the fundamental principle of equal opportunity.

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

 

 

 

A Tennessee Teacher Speaks Out

A Knox County teacher addresses her School Board and expresses the frustrations of many teachers in Tennessee.

 

The question: Is anyone listening? And, if so, will anything be done to bring about collaboration with and input from educators?

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