Nashville’s conversation on ACT scores is misleading

With all the recent conversation about ACT scores, you would think the facts would be well established, but we keep reading ACT stories that report the same mistakes. Here are the facts.

Even though the average score in Tennessee and in Nashville remain well below what they should be — and what they will be — strong growth is happening. In Nashville, we saw big gains in the ACT this year, bigger gains than Tennessee saw as a whole. In fact, we were one of the top ten districts in the state for growth and earned 5’s—the top score—for value added. On top of that, Metro students averaged an ACT score almost a full point higher than projections.

That is huge news.

Why? These projections were made four years ago when these students were about to enter high school. That means our high school instruction has improved a great deal over the last four years.

  • Projected Mean Score: 17.49
  • Actual Mean Score: 18.43

But it’s still not good enough. We want every student to score a 21 or better on the ACT.

Let’s compare Tennessee’s average ACT score to that of Massachusetts:

  • MA – 24.1 (the highest in the nation)
  • TN – 19.7 (fourth from the bottom in the nation)

Looks pretty dim. But now let’s compare where those scores are coming from in those same two states:

  • MA – A quarter of students tested: Those headed to college who choose to take the ACT (and pay for it, study for it, etc).
  • TN – All students tested on the ACT: Everyone. Like Tennessee, the other states at the bottom of the rankings have universal testing of high schools students.

Are those playing fields level for comparison? No.

There are those who would argue that shouldn’t matter, that scores are too low in Nashville and Tennessee no matter how you look at it.

They are correct.

Every student in Tennessee takes the ACT. It’s not only used to measure our collective achievement, but it also gets them into a college mindset and assesses whether or not they are prepared for college.

That last part is where we have to do better. We have to better prepare our students for college. Anything less is a disservice to students in our schools.

Let’s go over that part again because it’s important.

No one in Metro Schools believes an 18.4 district average is acceptable. No one in Tennessee believes the 19.7 statewide average is acceptable. Anyone who thinks we are resting on the laurels of incremental score growth is wrong.

When you’re talking district-wide transformation, test scores are always the last piece to move – especially ACT scores. That’s because ACT scores measure the accumulated wealth of years of education.

The recurring obsession with ACT numbers does two things: it unfairly compares states with different populations taking the ACT and gives short shrift to the growth in student achievement and the hard work to make that happen.

The real solution is building stronger high school students who turn into stronger graduates. That starts as soon as they enter kindergarten.

Good thing, then, that we now have a district-level executive guiding instruction for K-12 as one, continuous whole. A unified vision for instruction at every grade level means elementary students will be better prepared for middle school. Middle schoolers will come to high school achieving at higher levels. And eleventh graders will score higher on the ACT.

Good thing, then, that we are moving our top experts in instruction into schools, where they can adapt and guide instruction for individual clusters, schools, classrooms and even students.

The transformation of Nashville’s public schools is ongoing and ever evolving. But it’s driven by – and has always been driven by – the same goal: across the board improvement in academic achievement for all students, by any measure.

Is the ACT important? Of course. Colleges use ACT scores for admissions decisions. Educators rely on them to assess how they are doing and how they can better prepare students for graduation.

But is it the end all, be all of the education conversation? No.

What should be the end all, be all of the education conversation? Everything leading up to the ACT.

Opinion Piece: Banning all virtual schools isn’t the answer

What practical effects would come from revoking the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act? For one thing, it might actually decrease accountability for online education.

That’s the conclusion of Dr. Kecia Ray, head of Learning Technology in Metro Schools. She gave her thoughts about all the talk of banning virtual schools this week in The Tennessean.

Public virtual schools have the same accountability standards as brick-and-mortar schools. Under the current system, underperforming virtual schools are at risk of state takeover or even closure. Revoking the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act would actually allow schools to circumvent accountability by operating as virtual programs, not schools, with student achievement results sent to the student’s zoned school. This is not the transparency most desire.

Dr. Ray also gives a possible alternative to this drastic measure at the end of the piece.

To read her full opinion column, visit Tennessean.com.

You are invited: A conversation on School Vouchers

Join in a thoughtful discussion on a topic on many minds in Tennessee: School Vouchers.

The League of Women Voters of Nashville and Vanderbilt’s Peabody College are hosting a panel event called “Options in Education: School Vouchers – What Research Shows Us.” Alan Coverstone, the Metro Schools Executive Officer for Innovation will be on the panel, along with two professors from Peabody College.

The event is open to the public. Details are below.

The League of Women Voters of Nashville

in collaboration with

Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College

invites you to attend

Options in Education:

School Vouchers—What Research Shows Us

Thursday, February 7, 2013

4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

The Commons Center in Room 233

Peabody Campus of Vanderbilt University

18th Avenue South at Horton Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212

Parking available in Lot 77, 18th Avenue South at Horton Avenue

Panel

Alan Coverstone, Executive Director

Office of Innovation

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Dr. Claire Smrekar, Associate Professor

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College

Dr. Ron Zimmer, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Education

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College

Ten letters of intent to open charter schools in Nashville

With ten letters of intent to open charter schools here in Nashville, 2013 promises to be a big year.

We’re very excited about the level of interest shown in operating high quality charter schools in our district. Our city keeps drawing applications because of the collaborative opportunities we provide and our nationally recognized application process, which we continue to refine.

Our view is every charter school in Metro Nashville should perform above the district average. Schools approved and opened using our current process are meeting that expectation.

The possibility of opening more outstanding schools in Nashville is worth getting excited about. We look forward to seeing the completed applications this spring.

Read the letters of intent linked below to see the charter school operators now eyeing Nashville.

Name Grade Levels Beginning Grade Level Total Enrollment* Focus Sponsor
International Academy of Excellence K-4 K 400 Elementary focus with foundation in global and cultural awareness and foreign languages Beyond the Border
Nolesnville Academy for Math and Science 5-10 5-7 600 Provide a math and science focus for students primarily from minority and immigrant populations who predominately live in poverty Nolensville Academy of Math and Science
Nashville Prep II 5-8 5 440 College Prep Nashville Prep Charter School
KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary K-4 K-1 480 College Prep KIPP Nashville
Kemet Academy PreK-8 PreK-8 250-500 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) The Teach One Foundation of TN, Inc.
Valor Collegiate Academy 5-12 5 740 College Prep Valor Collegiate Academies, Inc.
Thurgood Marshall School of Career Development 9-12 9-12 200 High achievement and support for juvenile offenders The W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools, Inc.
One Nashville Preparatory Academy PreK-8 PreK-K 996 College Prep and closing the achievement gap within subgroups Martha O’Bryan Center
Young Women’s Leadership Academy 5-8 5 400 Single gender female, college prep Young Women’s Leadership Academy of Nashville
Rocketship Nashville K-5 K-5 630 Combination of traditional classroom with blended learning, parent engagement and college prep Rocketship Education Tennessee

*Total enrollment means the total enrollment for a 10-year charter, not initial year enrollment.

Report: District-charter collaboration is alive & well

“The reports of the death of [district-charter] collaboration in Nashville are greatly exaggerated.”

Cute, but true.

Nashville has a lot to be proud of in its commitment to high-quality education in all types of schools. A new report evaluating the collaboration-compact between Metro Schools and public charter schools agrees, while also laying out a path for future success.

The report finds collaboration alive and well in Nashville, despite a headline-grabbing controversy and the media storm that followed.

Through this summer of discontent, however, the substance of genuine collaboration enshrined in the original compact has persisted, and the charter school sector has continued to grow and thrive. Overall district performance has been enhanced by the work of charter schools as well as district schools with increased autonomy and strong, innovative leadership. The commitments in the original compact have, by and large, continued to develop, and Dr. Register and Dr. McQueen, Dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb have introduced monthly collaboration dinners linking charter and district leaders who have begun to cross-pollinate even more rapidly than before. Decentralization of the central office, greater school-level autonomy, and networks of excellence are expanding the promises of the original compact more aggressively than ever before.

Educators of all stripes continue to learn from each other thanks to this compact, according to the report, because success is success, no matter where it comes from.

But much has changed in the two years since the compact was first signed. Our district transformation continues to evolve, school personnel have changed, new schools have opened and the political climate is… different. Does this mean we need to update the compact?

This report says “yes” and recommends cementing collaboration into our very institution.

One thing is certain: We have come too far and laid too strong a foundation to allow collaboration to falter at this critical juncture…

However, the time is right for each of these recommendations to be considered in deeper substance and more lasting…

None of this would be possible without every-thing we have been through and experienced in the past two years. Without our first effort, we would not be in a position to institutionalize substantive collaboration as a centerpiece of district reform. We are in this position now because of everyone and every-thing that went before, and we owe it to them as well as our future generations of students and families to continue the work on behalf of our shared commitment to high-performing schools regardless of type.

Read the full report here. It’s well worth it to get a refreshing breath of optimism for a system that is working.

District-Charter Compact Annual Report 2012

Metro Public Charter Schools Website

Metro Schools shifts authority, resources to schools to accelerate improvement

Lead principals to expand to all schools over three years, central office to shrink 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 23, 2013) – Lead principals who oversee several schools in addition to their own will have an expanded role in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools under a new organizational plan Dr. Jesse Register, director of schools, shared in a public event today in the district’s central office. Each lead principal will work with five or six other principals in a network and will be responsible for increasing student achievement, evaluating principals and sharing effective practices across their network of schools.

Register also announced changes to his executive staff and promised changes to middle management through the end of June when the current fiscal year ends.

“The key element of the plan is to take to scale the position of lead principal over the next three years so we move resources and authority closer to students and accelerate achievement. This is a natural progression of the work we have been doing over the past few years, most recently with the Tribal Education Group consultants,” Register said. “With this approach, we will keep the most highly skilled principals in schools rather than promoting them out, expand their scope of influence to multiple schools and give them ongoing leadership training.”

Lead principals will be selected based on qualifying criteria that include test data, leadership skills and teacher input. Lead principals will have increased autonomy including final say on all staffing and the flexibility to organize instructional and support staff. They will also have school-based budgeting autonomy so funds can be used flexibly within fiscal guidelines.

There will be nine lead principals for the remainder of this school year, with 18 projected for 2013-14 when all high schools will be part of a lead principal network, 25 planned for 2014-15 with all middle schools participating, and 30 in 2015-16 with all elementary schools in networks.  Numbers may vary by one or two lead principals each year. As the lead principal ranks increase, the central office will shrink,

Register also announced his new executive leadership team to include Fred Carr, chief operating officer; Chris Henson, chief financial officer; Tony Majors, chief support services officer and Meredith Libbey, special assistant to the director for communications. Jay Steele will be part of the team in the newly-created position of chief academic officer as will Susan Thompson as the chief human capital officer.

SEE the New Master Organizational Chart

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and philanthropist Steve Turner worked with Register to recruit Steele to Metro Schools from Florida in late 2009. During Steele’s tenure as associate superintendent for high schools, the district’s graduation rate has climbed steadily; the Academies of Nashville college and career readiness program has expanded to every zoned high school and earned national recognition for excellence. Steele has worked to increase academic rigor in high schools and has expanded the district’s Advanced Placement Scholars program, reinvigorated the International Baccalaureate Programme and launched the Cambridge University AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) program. The district is among Tennessee’s top 10 districts for ACT composite score growth for 2012 and over three years.

The exceptional education and English learner departments, under the continued leadership of Dr. Linda DePriest, and the iZone schools, under Alan Coverstone, will report to Jay Steele as will the executive officer for elementary schools, Brenda Steele. This ensures every student and every school will be part of a rigorous instructional continuum.

Thompson has responsibility for recruiting, retaining and developing teachers and staff and for human resources operations. A lifelong educator, she joined the district in 2012. She has experience as a teacher, school and central office administrator and national consultant. Most recently, she worked with low-performing schools across the state of Texas to increase student achievement. Thompson has made changes to the human capital function, formerly known as human resources:

Katie Cour has joined the district as the executive director of talent strategies from Education First Consulting where she was a senior consultant. Previously a senior legislative research analyst with the office of education accountability in the State of Tennessee’s comptroller’s office, she has additional experience working with nonprofit organizations.

Sheila Armstrong is promoted to the director of classification, compensation and human resource information systems. She joined the district in 2012 with more than 20 years’ experience in human resources, most recently with St. Thomas Hospital and Ascension Health Services.

Craig Ott is the executive director of human resources operations. Ott joined the district from Sumner County Schools in 2011 and has a wealth of experience in human resources in both education and corporate settings.

Dr. Lora Hall, most recently the associate superintendent for middle schools, will be the district’s university liaison with responsibility for working with higher education to develop effective teaching programs and new teachers with the goal of putting the best in Metro Schools’ classrooms.

“Susan Thompson has put together a first-rate team. Katie Cour has been a value consultant in our schools and we are delighted to have her expertise in house now. In their short time here, Sheila Armstrong and Craig Ott have already made important contributions. Dr. Lora Hall brings valuable experience as a teacher, principal and district leader to the university liaison role,” said Register. “She knows the district, what it takes to be an outstanding teacher and principal and will be a tremendous addition to our human capital team.”

Register also announced the district’s data resources have been brought together under the leadership of Fred Carr, chief operating officer.

“With this change we will have our data warehouse; research, assessment and evaluation; and technology support under one roof,” said Register. “Each of these functions has a strong leader—Laura Hansen, Dr. Paul Changas and John Williams, respectively–and supports student performance in multiple ways.”

Metro Schools’ strong relationships with Metro Police and other emergency personnel will be even stronger with a new director of security. The district plans to hire an experienced law enforcement professional who will ensure the district and emergency personnel have consistent approaches to security and emergency preparedness.

“School security and other student services departments have been re-aligned under Tony Majors to ensure they work more closely with principals and the security department,” said Register. “We will have effective interdepartmental collaboration to provide the social services our students’ needs in a secure setting.”

The changes announced today are effective immediately.

 

High school graduate or dropout? It’s complicated.

When is a high school dropout really a graduate? It’s a strange but appropriate question when you look at the way graduate rates are calculated.

The education team at Nashville Public Television explores this question and breaks down what Nashville’s graduation rate really means in a new documentary airing this Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. The special is called “Graduation by the Numbers” and is part of the national “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” series exploring high school dropout rates and efforts to boost graduation.

If you haven’t seen the previous “American Graduate” entry from NPT, called “Translating the Dream,” you’re really missing out. It looks at the challenges facing English learner and immigrant students as they try to graduate high school and navigate the options – or lack of options – given to them afterward.

If you want to join the conversation about graduates and dropouts, you can join NPT online this Tuesday night, January 22 at 7:30 p.m., for an online social screening of “Translating the Dream” using a new public media tool called OVEE. Producer LaTonya Turner and other panelists will join in on the discussion.

Translating the Dream: Online screening & panel discussion
Tuesday, January 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Click here to take part.

“Graduation by the Numbers”
Documentary airs Thursday, January 24 at 9:00 p.m.
on NPT channel 8

Here is more from the NPT press release:

Half-hour documentary looks at “Graduation by the Numbers;” part of national “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” initiative.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – January 10, 2013 — Nashville Public Television (NPT-Channel 8)  takes an in-depth look at efforts in Nashville to keep students in school until they graduate in “NPT Reports: Graduation by the Numbers,” premiering Thursday, January 24 at 9:00 p.m. The documentary is part of the national “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” initiative.

In Nashville Public Schools in 2012, one in 11 students dropped out — 8.8 percent — which is almost four times the previous year’s dropout rate. But a student counted as a dropout is not necessarily someone who does not graduate. The result is that the graduation rate can go up—even as the rate of dropouts goes up. The NPT report, produced and narrated by LaTonya Turner, looks at why the numbers for graduates and those for dropouts often don’t add up.

“The numbers can be confusing and in some cases misrepresentative of who is graduating and who is not,” says Turner.

Nashville school officials have taken the lead in Tennessee by looking for ways to make student data more useful, accurate, and accessible, with the goal of spotting students in trouble before they show up in school reports or drop out altogether. The main risk factors for students dropping out are: attendance, academic performance, and behavior. Using a new online digital system for tracking individual student data called the Data Dashboard, Nashville educators can now pinpoint and trace the risk factors and intervene with the student early enough to prevent failure. They are finding that high school may be too late; the risk in many cases begins in middle school or even earlier.

Nashville’s new middle school bridge program was begun to specifically start honing in on earlier for students at risk of dropping out. Simultaneously, some Nashville high schools are now aggressively working to retain the students who might have slipped through but are starting to slip off the path to graduation..” to graduation. A good example is McGavock High School, the largest school in Nashville, which was among the first to embrace the Data Dashboard as a tool – from the office to students in the classroom. It’s part of McGavock’s aggressive effort to turn around a dismal performance record.

Following Nashville’s lead, Tennessee education officials are on the cusp of launching a statewide online data tracking system. The goal is to help educators more effectively identify and reach out to individual students with strategies and support that address their specific risk factors for dropping out before graduation.

“Graduation by the Numbers” is the second in a series of public affairs documentary by NPT as part of its role in the national Corporation for Public Broadcating (CPB) initiative “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen.” The first was “NPT Reports: Translating the Dream,”  an in-depth look at the graduation rate among ELL and immigrant students in Tennessee; the challenges they face that can prevent them from graduating on time; how schools and teachers are trying to address this increasingly demanding need; and how all of us are impacted when students drop out of school. It is available for free online viewing now at http://wnpt.org/amgrad.

About Nashville Public Television
Nashville Public Television is available free and over the air to nearly 2.4 million people throughout the Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky viewing area, and is watched by more than 600,000 households every week. The mission of NPT is to provide, through the power of traditional television and interactive telecommunications, high quality educational, cultural and civic experiences that address issues and concerns of the people of the Nashville region, and which thereby help improve the lives of those we serve.

About American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen
American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is helping local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American Graduate demonstrates public media’s commitment to education and its deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming that educates, informs and inspires, public radio and television stations — locally owned and operated — are an important resource in helping to address critical issues, such as the dropout rate. In addition to national programming, more than 75 public radio and television stations have launched on-the-ground efforts working with community and at risk youth to keep students on-track to high school graduation. More than 800 partnerships have been formed locally through American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation .

About CPB
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.