Metro Schools’ Statement to Phil Williams on End-of-Course Exams – Nov. 2, 2015

Tonight, November 2, 2015, investigative reporter Phil Williams of News Channel 5 plans to air a story containing accusations about end-of-course exams in Metro Schools. Below is our full and detailed response to Phil, as well as a record of our communication with him during his reporting.

DOWNLOAD a PDF copy of this statement.

Beginning late in the week of October 19 and continuing throughout the week of October 26, there have been regular email and telephone conversations – often daily – to address your questions related to accusations that some Metro high schools are using various methods to avoid administering state-mandated End-of-Course (EOC) exams to certain students in order to inflate their performance data. As stated numerous times throughout these conversations, we take these accusations extremely seriously. We asked for evidence of specific wrong-doing in your possession so that the instances in question can be thoroughly investigated and to allow us to fully respond to your story.

Below is a comprehensive response to the questions you have posed thus far related to the “general EOC concerns” story you say is scheduled to air this evening, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. This response includes questions and requests of us, along with a summary of how we have fulfilled them. Further responses may follow related to other specific concerns you plan to address in future stories.

General Statement on EOC Exams

Students are required to take all state-mandated EOC exams at the end of the second semester of a course regardless of when or how they complete the course. To determine if there is evidence of a wide-spread trend with students not completing the required EOCs, over the last week our Research and Evaluation department has been carefully reviewing transcript and EOC exam files for the most recent cohort of MNPS graduates.

Records reviewed to date indicate that there is no evidence of systematic avoidance of EOC exams. We have found a relatively small number of students who received a regular high school diploma in the spring of 2015 and who took EOC courses in our schools but do not appear to have ever attempted the EOC exam. The department went through several years of files in order to track students’ course and test history. Our investigation is focused on the courses for which the Tennessee Department of Education establishes accountability targets, called Annual Measureable Objectives (AMOs), which requires each high school to have a 95% participation rate on EOC exams.

With a 2015 graduating class of 4,221 students, they should have collectively taken 16,884 exams with AMOs over the course of their high school careers. Of those 16,884 exams, the district lacks a test record for only 231 or 1.37%. These cases appear to be spread out and not unusually high for any particular school. All high schools fall within the 1-2% range. Given an average daily attendance rate of 93%, there will be students that never make up an EOC. There may also be some who took the EOC at another time outside of MNPS or whose student ID was incorrectly coded on an EOC answer sheet and who do not match our course enrollment files.

The 231 missed EOC exams are broken down as follows: There were 44 students missing an Algebra I EOC test record and 10 students marked absent. An answer sheet is supposed to be turned in for every student enrolled in the course, and those that do not test or make up the test should be coded as absent. It is likely that many, if not most, of those students missing an EOC document were absent during testing and an answer sheet marked “absent” was not submitted. There were 32 missing an Algebra II EOC and 32 more marked absent. For English II, 26 had no test record and 16 were shown as absent. There were 35 missing for English III and 36 absent.

If NewsChannel 5 is in possession of documentation that contradicts the district’s findings of its own internal review described above, Metro Schools requests to be given access to the documentation immediately to allow us to thoroughly investigate the claims. Likewise, if former or current MNPS employees are in possession of documentation that indicates a systematic attempt to inflate performance data for individual schools, those individuals are urged to bring their concerns forward to district leadership so that they can be properly investigated. We have no record of an open complaint of this nature.

Use of Credit Recovery in High Schools

Metro Nashville Public Schools has made personalized learning the focus of our instructional practice. Our goal is to prepare every student for success in college and career, which personalized learning allows us to do. Personalized learning involves teachers meeting students where they are, regularly monitoring their progress, and moving students forward only when they’re able to demonstrate mastery of the content. This includes intervening as early as possible when a student’s performance indicates he or she is failing to master the content of a course.

As part of this approach, credit recovery is offered to high school students who fail a semester of a course. If a student fails a course in the fall to the degree that grade-averaging the two semesters is unlikely to result in the student passing the course as a whole, the student is given the option to take the fall course through credit recovery before proceeding to the spring course. For example, a student who fails “Algebra I Fall” will be given the option to retake the fall course of Algebra I during the spring semester. The student will then take “Algebra I Spring” during the summer semester or subsequent fall semester. All attempts are made to place the student in “Algebra 1 Spring” during the following summer or fall. If there is a scheduling conflict, the student may have to wait to the following spring to take the spring course.

It is in the best interest of the student to take this approach because if he or she has not mastered the content of a fall course, he or she will be ill-prepared to succeed in the spring course, which builds on the content knowledge from the fall. The decision to enter into credit recovery is made by the student and his or her parent/guardian in consultation with the teacher and the student’s counselor.

If a student takes a spring course during the summer or fall semester, he or she will take the EOC at that time. Meaning a student who fails Algebra I this fall may take the Algebra I EOC in July or December of 2016, depending on when he or she completes both courses.

The opinion that this approach to instruction in intended solely to inflate EOC scores is misguided. This is a standard practice used by school districts in our state. The fact that the state’s testing calendar allows for EOCs to be taken in the spring and summer is evidence that this practice is supported by the state. The state does not use EOCs to measure the academic performance of a specific grade level. Unlike grades K through 8, high school courses are offered to students based on their individual academic level. For example, an advanced student may take Algebra I in eighth grade instead of ninth grade, in which case the EOC score is calculated into the middle school’s math data, rather than the high school the student goes on to attend. Similarly, students who take AP classes do not take EOC exams for those subjects, therefore their academic performance is not included in the high school’s overall EOC data. EOC data is intended to reflect the high school’s ability to successfully teach the state standards in main subject areas, regardless of when the student takes the course during his or her time in high school. There is a clear disincentive for high schools to unnecessarily delay a student’s promotion among courses since the state calculates a high school’s graduation rate based on “on-time” graduates, defined as students who graduate within four years and one summer of starting high school. Because all students are required to earn four math credits and four English credits, when they are delayed from completing one of those required credits it risks requiring the student to take more than four years to graduate.

Most importantly, our focus is on helping students succeed. Ultimately, our goal is to prepare every student for college and career. If a student requires extra time to successfully master the content of a course, we believe the student should be allowed that time. Forcing students to progress in course schedules when they are not prepared to understand or master the content would equate to setting our students up for failure.    

Use of Content Recovery in High Schools

In addition to “credit recovery,” which is a student re-taking a failed semester of a course, Metro Schools also offers “content recovery” courses to support students who are struggling with the foundational skills needed to succeed in an EOC course.

For example, the district offers “Algebra I A,” a content recovery course to support students enrolled in Algebra I. The Algebra I A course may cover basic math skills, such as fractions, based on what underlining knowledge is needed for a student to understand the Algebra lessons. Similar classes are offered for English courses, and are listed as “English I CAR,” with “CAR” standing for Content Area Reading.

It is district practice for students to be enrolled in content recovery courses either simultaneously or prior to taking an EOC course. A content recovery course cannot be taken in place of an EOC course. Although students do earn credits for content recovery courses, the credits do not qualify for the math or English credits required for graduation. Additionally, enrollment in a content recovery course does not negate a student’s requirement to take the EOC exam at the end of the second semester of the EOC course.

Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School

  • You claim:
    • Pearl-Cohn has removed students from EOC exam classes and placed them in independent study courses as a means of avoiding their scores from affecting the school’s overall EOC score. You intimate in an email to Principal Sonia Stewart that direction for this practice is coming from supervision in the district office.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining the district’s practice of remediation with students who are failing EOC classes. Further detail and explanation is provided above in the statements on credit recovery and content recovery.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015

Stratford STEM Magnet School

  • You claim:
    • Students being “physically pulled” from EOC exam rooms or barred from entering EOC exam rooms.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining Stratford’s EOC participation rate is consistently 95% or above for the last two years. The data is as follows:
      • Algebra I – 100% in 2014 and 97% in 2015
      • Algebra II – 95% in 2014 and 96% in 2015
      • English II – 98% in 2014 and 98% in 2015
      • English III – 96% in 2014 and 95% in 2015
    • We further explained that given the AMOs of 95% participation and average daily attendance of 93%, there is no incentive for principals to withhold students from EOC exams, lest they risk failing to meet the AMO.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.

Hunters Lane High School

  • You claim:
    • Hunters Lane has removed students from EOC exam classes and placed them in elective courses as a means of avoiding their scores from affecting the school’s overall EOC score.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining the district’s practice of remediation with students who are failing EOC classes. Further detail and explanation is provided in the above statements on credit recovery and content recovery.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Oct. 30, 2015.
  • On Oct. 29, you asked for:
    • Insight into the situation of a specific Hunters Lane student who was allegedly removed from EOC courses she was passing.
  • Our response:
    • We are still investigating the details of this student, including a close look at the student’s data. However, there are extenuating circumstances surrounding this particular student, which are part of her private record and may not be discussed with you without a written waiver from the parent/guardian.

Maplewood High School

  • You claim:
    • Without knowing the specific mechanism being used, that students are being either pulled from EOC classes or prevented from taking EOC exams.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 explaining the district’s practice of remediation with students who are failing EOC classes. Further detail and explanation is provided in the above statements on credit recovery and content recovery.
  • You claim:
    • A source reported to you seeing an email from Jay Steele giving direction in this practice.
  • We responded:
    • Verbally on the phone the week of Oct. 26 that no such email is known to exist, but that it could have been confused with an email sent by Aimee Wyatt on Feb. 11, 2014, to high school principals giving guidance on how to use credit recovery for course remediation. You were provided a copy of this email.
  • You asked for:
    • All course offerings for Fall 2015 and number of students enrolled in each class
  • We fulfilled this request on Oct. 30, 2015.

Statement from Board of Education Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry on the Director of Schools decision

“I am surprised and greatly disappointed in Dr. Looney’s decision to decline our offer. Throughout the negotiation process he appeared committed to this opportunity. We would not have carried through with the contract and final vote if he had not been. Not only did the Board commit a tremendous amount of time and energy into finding who we thought would be a great fit for our school system, but the entire community participated in this process which we now have to begin again.

“The Board will need to regroup on how we move forward from here. The district is in capable hands with Chris Henson as interim director, so I do not feel a sense of urgency to make any immediate decisions. Our upcoming Board retreat in the fall will be an opportunity for us to discuss this and come together on the best course of action to ensure we get a top-quality leader that our students and teachers deserve.”

Statement from Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register on the failure of tuition equality

Dr. Register issued the following statement after the failure of HB 675:

“Today the Tennessee Legislature denied deserving young people across Tennessee the ability to improve their futures. Without the same opportunities given to their peers, young new Americans will continue to struggle in trying to attend college.

“It is a shame that our students, sitting in the gallery as this vote took place, had to witness such a lack of leadership in our state lawmakers. They have been deeply engaged in this process from the beginning, a testament to their desire for access to higher education and their dedication to civic engagement.

“Nashville is by far the city with the largest number of new American students in Tennessee, and this decision will have a tangible impact on our city as a whole. By essentially blocking their way into college, we are hampering their advancement in our community.

“We are thankful for the 49 members of the House who voted in favor of this, as well as bill sponsors Rep. Mark White and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, and especially grateful to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition for leading this effort. We look forward to another vote on this matter next year and hope our state leaders will do the right thing for these students and their futures.”

Metro Schools receives 13 charter applications in 2015

Today Metro Schools received 13 complete applications to operate charter schools before the April 1 deadline for the 2015 application cycle. Single applications for two (2) elementary, three (3) middle, and one (1) high school were received. The remaining seven (7) of those are multiple applications from Rocketship (3) and LEAD Public Schools (4). One application was returned because it was incomplete.

School Name Grade Range Proposed Opening Number of Students Year 1 Number of Students at Capacity
D.R.E.A.M. Academy Pre-K – 4 2016 200 600
KIPP Nashville Primary K-4 2017 100 500
Rocketship 3 K-4 2016 448 560
Rocketship 4 K-4 2016 448 560
Rocketship Conversion K-4 2016 448 560
East End Prep Add 6-8 2017 100 300
KIPP Nashville Middle School 5-8 2017 96 350
Knowledge Academies @The Crossings 5-8 2016 200 300
LEAD Academy Conversion 1 5-12 2016 140 1,000
LEAD Academy Conversion 2 5-12 2017 140 1,000
LEAD Academy Conversion 3 5-12 2017 140 1,000
LEAD Academy Conversion 4 5-12 2018 140 1,000
Cameron College Prep HS 9-12 2016 320 620

View the Applications Online

Each application will go through a careful and thorough review process as 3 teams of 11-12 specially trained educators and community members will carefully examine each application according to a detailed scoring rubric before offering recommendations to the Board of Education. Formal reports are given to the Board June 16th. The Board then votes to approve or deny each application by June 23, 2015.

This is the first formal step in the process of evaluating and approving charter schools. Applications that do not meet exacting quality standards or which do not advance the very best interests of the students and the district will be recommended for denial. Only those that meet the quality standards will be recommended for approval.

“Our review and authorization processes are strong, and have good track records going back a number of years,” said Alan Coverstone, who leads the Innovation Office that manages charter school authorizing for Metro Schools. “Our Board authorizes good schools and they do so according to the needs of our students and the priorities of the district as a whole. It is a system that works and benefits families across Nashville.”

The number one priority overall is program quality. Each proposal is first examined for its capacity to provide an exemplary educational program. The review then includes an evaluation of the operational capacity and long-term financial viability that can sustain academic excellence. Review teams then interview each applicant group before drawing together their final reports and recommendations.

“Above all else, we are focused on providing high-quality educational opportunities to Nashville families,” said Coverstone. “That includes working collaboratively with charter operators for the greater good of our students, district and Nashville as a whole.”

Dr. Register applauds Gov. Haslam’s proposed funding for teacher insurance

Earlier today, Gov. Bill Haslam published an amendment to his state budget proposal to include $30 million in recurring statewide funding for teacher insurance costs in the BEP.

Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register applauds the move, saying:

This is a very positive step forward and proof that Governor Haslam listened to our concerns at last week’s meeting with the superintendents. It is clear that he and his team are willing to make real, collaborative progress toward our shared goal.

Funding teacher insurance is one of the two major concerns we shared with the Governor last week, and it was the top recommendation of the BEP committee. This is the first step toward solving it. Reaching a full solution will take time and cooperation, but together we can come up with a substantive plan to properly fund public education in Tennessee.

It also confirms for me that a lawsuit is the wrong direction to take. As today proves, more can be accomplished by working together than in the courts.

Statement from Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register on the Metro Schools Performance Audit

The audit report we received last week is a thorough analysis of our district’s operations. We always appreciate an outside perspective of our system, and we value much of the feedback given in this report.

There is much in this report to consider, much we have already addressed and some we do not agree with. Of the 124 recommendations given to district administration, we agree with the vast majority of them and almost all of them are currently being implemented or have already been addressed.

The report identifies nearly equal amounts of savings that can be generated over the next five years and investments needed to improve services.

The most dramatic changes recommended in this report are to outsource three of our most vital non-academic functions. We have decided not to pursue those recommendations at this time. We have explored the risks and benefits of outsourcing these services in the past, and we determined that it was not worth any potential money to be saved. In fact, it could potentially cost the city more along with an expected degradation in service.

District improvement is an on-going effort, and we must always be thinking and practicing innovatively. We will continue to pore over this extensive report and make sure we consider every recommendation seriously.

Read the fact sheet on the Metro Schools Performance Audit report.

The full Metro School Performance Audit report can be found on the Office of Internal Audit website.

Letters of intent to apply to operate charter schools opening fall of 2016 and 2017

Eighteen letters of intent to file applications for charter school authorization were submitted by Monday afternoon’s deadline. Of the letters, 14 propose expansions of networks currently operating schools in Nashville, and four are proposals from new operators.

Eights of the letters point toward new elementary school (K-4) proposals, with three of those from Rocketship, which already operates one school in Nashville and is preparing to open a second this fall. Three of the first time operators plan to propose elementary schools. Existing operators Intrepid College Prep and KIPP signaled their intention to propose new elementary schools for their networks.

East End Academy, sponsored by the Martha O’Bryan Center, will seek to add grades 6-8 to its existing K-5 charter to complete development of a K-8 school.

Three middle school proposals will come from KIPP, New Vision, and Knowledge Academies. Each organization currently operates middle schools in Nashville.

LEAD Public Schools plans to propose adding high school grades (9-12) to its Cameron College Prep campus along with up to four new conversion schools over the next 1-4 years.

One proposal, from The Dream Academy, seeks a 6-12 grade configuration.

School Name Grade Range Proposed Opening
D.R.E.A.M. Academy PK-4 2016
International Academy of Excellence K-4 2016
Intrepid College Prep Elementary K-4 2017
Jump Start Reading and Math Academic K-4 2016
KIPP Elementary (replication) K-4 2017
Rocketship #3 K-4 2016
Rocketship #4 K-4 2016
Rocketship (conversion) K-4 2016
KIPP Middle (replication) 5-8 2017
Knowledge Academies @ The Crossings 5-8 2016
New Vision – NW 5-8 2016
East End Prep Middle 6-8 2017
LEAD Conversion 1 5-12 2016
LEAD Conversion 2 5-12 2016
LEAD Conversion 3 5-12 2017
LEAD Conversion 4 5-12 2017
The Dream Academy 6-12 2016
Cameron HS 9-12 2016

“This is a very early step in the process,” said Alan Coverstone, who heads the Innovation Office htat manages charter school authorizing for Metro Schools. “We will not know how well prepared the schools are to operate and meet the immediate needs in our district until after their applications are submitted April 1, 2015.”

Efforts to professionalize authorizing and oversight of charter schools since 2009 have borne fruit as the district has granted charters to several schools that are both academically high-performing and serve a diverse student body.

“The MNPS mission emphasizes the importance of high-performing and diverse schools, and we are pleased to see some of our real successes in those areas growing and serving more students well each year,” said Coverstone.

Once actual applications are received on April 1, each will undergo a rigorous and thorough review of organizational and financial capacity, educational plans, accessibility, and need. “We will only recommend approval of strong schools that serve the best interests of the students of Davidson County,” said Coverstone.

In the past year, examination of the potential fiscal impact of charter schools confirmed the district’s previously articulated priorities for schools that improve academic performance by converting management of low-performing schools and for schools located in areas where they can help to alleviate overcrowding from rapid student enrollment growth.

Submission of letters of intent to apply to open charter schools gives the Office of Innovation time to organize and train its application review teams according to the Principles and Standards of high-quality authorizing articulated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

The time between now and April 1 also provides opportunity for potential applicants to consider, develop, and adapt plans in order to strengthen their potential applications serve the articulated needs of MNPS students.