REPORT: Internal Review of High School Test Participation

Key Highlights

  • The internal review process was labor intensive and the credibility of the review is validated by the fact that the district independently identified many of the same students that the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) inquired about.
  • After four months of research, the district found no indication of systemic “gamesmanship” where students were being moved out of classes to avoid end-of-course (EOC) exams in order to inflate school performance data, which was the primary allegation made against the district.
  • The district did identify a relatively small number of cases where students were removed from EOC courses and placed in credit recovery without having the opportunity to first attempt the second semester of the course in a traditional classroom.  Most of these students did not take the EOC exam. However, these students accounted for only 0.1% of EOC exams administered during that particular school year.
  • In response to the internal review findings, the district has revised and strengthened its course retake policy to give more specific guidance on when credit recovery should be used to help struggling students.

Review Process

  • Interim Director of Schools Chris Henson asked Chief Operating Officer Fred Carr to investigate the allegations being made against the district related to the use of credit recovery and EOC testing.
  • The TDOE separately asked for information on more than 500 students in regard to EOC exam participation.
  • The Chief Operating Officer is responsible for testing and accountability through the Department of Research, Assessment and Evaluation (RAE). The Chief Academic Officer is responsible for principal supervision.
    • This structure is set up deliberately to separate the two and keep accountability independent from instructional leadership. One does not answer to the other.
  • RAE worked for four months carefully analyzing student data from multiple sources to answer TDOE inquiries and internal questions about student class assignments and EOC participation.
  • This was a time-intensive process that required many hundreds of staff  hours. The result is an “Internal Review” report, as well as a spreadsheet and multiple pieces of documentation delivered to TDOE.
  • In addition, RAE did a system-wide analysis to review school practices related to credit recovery and participation that have resulted in changes to policy and practice.


 Credit Recovery

  • There is no system-wide course code to identify credits earned in credit recovery, making it impossible to accurately identify the number of students taking credit recovery.
  • Furthermore, there is little state guidance on use of credit recovery programs and great variation from district to district.
  • In Metro Schools, there are inconsistencies in the way credit recovery is applied and and used.
  • In several cases, it appears district policies and procedures were not followed, allowing 42 students to earn course credit through credit recovery without initially completing the second semester of the course in a traditional classroom.
    • 42 students represent 0.1% of the 35,561 EOC exams administered in 2014-15.

End-of-Course Exams

  • While there is one outlier among the district’s 24 high schools, deep and detailed analysis of EOC participation rates found no evidence of systemic gamesmanship or intentional manipulation of EOC data.
  • With the exception of one school, all high schools had EOC errors in numbers small enough to be attributable to human error or complicated student mobility.  At the outlier high school, the issue is being addressed with administration.
  • The state calculates participation rate in a simple manner that counts the number of attempted tests against the number of answer documents returned. This counts all students who are enrolled in an EOC class on that day, but not all students who were enrolled in that EOC class at some point during the year.
  • To account for this difference, RAE used several different methods to calculate participation rate. One included following a cohort of students through four years of high school and analyzing their EOC participation independent of the state’s calculation.
    • This method helps account for students moving in and out of classes and taking tests at different times.
    • It also takes into account legitimate exclusions, such as absent students, students in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, certain English learner students and others.
  • In both calculations, the state’s official calculation and the district’s more thorough calculation, participation rates were very high.
    • State Calculation
      • 98% overall in 2014-15
      • At or above 97% in each subject for each of the past three years
      • All zoned high schools exceed 95% annually
    • District Cohort Calculation (including legitimate exclusions)
      • Algebra I – 98.4%
      • Algebra II – 96.4%
      • English I – 98%
      • English II – 96.8%
      • English III – 93.1%
      • Biology I – 99.3%
    • In the case of English III, some of these students are scheduled to take the EOC this spring.  Others missed the test last spring and were not required to take it over the summer because the state did not offer EOCs last summer.
    • Given this exceptional circumstance, and in order to get a more typical view of Algebra II and English III participation at these schools, RAE applied the district calculation to the 2013-14 cohort of 11th graders.
      • In this analysis, Hunters Lane High School did have an unusually high number of students (21) with no EOC record in Algebra II. All other schools had 7 or fewer.
      • Hunters Lane also had an unusually high number of students (27) with no EOC record in English III. All other schools had 3 or fewer.
      • The majority of these Hunters Lane students were moved out of the course during the second semester and into credit recovery.

ACT Participation

  • Calculating ACT participation rate can also be done in multiple ways. To answer media inquiries, RAE was asked to calculate the rate as a percentage of 11th graders, which is typically the year students take the test.
  • But in fact, TDOE has indicated that official participation rates, soon to be used in district accountability, will likely be based upon high school completers, not tied to a specific grade level. TDOE even encourages the use of vouchers to allow 12th graders to take the ACT if they miss it in the 11th grade.
  • Obviously, this means vastly different rates can be produced depending on the method used. The district believes it should be calculated against high school completers, as the ACT is seen as a culminating activity for students.
  • Using this method, the ACT participation rate for the class of 2014 was 94%. That number dropped to 87.4% in 2015 due to a snow storm that closed schools on the ACT test day. The make-up day was during spring break. This caused many students to miss the test entirely.
  • In addition, a great deal of data quality issues exist in calculating ACT participation. ACT will often generate multiple records for one student or put students in the district file who are not enrolled in Metro Schools.
  • Because of these issues, RAE is hesitant to generate more detailed participation data until TDOE finalizes the rules surrounding accountability for participation.

Tennessee Department of Education Inquiries

  • Having TDOE provide a list of specific student names and cases for review was extremely helpful. Some cases could be easily explained by absences, mobility, discipline or other circumstances. Others could not.
  • After reviewing cases and sending responses back to TDOE, Department officials still had questions about 86 students. Of these 86 cases, only four schools had more than 5 students on the list:
    • Hunters Lane – 30
    • Maplewood – 14
    • Glencliff – 7
    • Pearl-Cohn – 7
  • Another TDOE inquiry centered on a relatively high percentage of 9th graders without English I EOC answer documents (20.2% in 2013-14 and 17.8% in 2014-15).
  • Analysis of student course history shows that many of these students have been classified as 9th graders for more than one year because they have not earned the required number or type of credits to be on track for four-year graduation.
    • In many other districts, students are not listed as “9th grade repeaters” regardless of credits earned. That is not the case in Metro Schools.
  • So even though these students may be classified as 9th graders, most would have taken the English I EOC in a previous year and many were enrolled in English II or III.
  • In addition, many of those 9th graders were English learners who are taking language development courses before English I.
  • Taking these into consideration, course enrollment analysis shows that less than 3% of 9th graders during these years were not enrolled in an English class.


  • Metro Schools takes test participation and academic intervention very seriously. While we do not feel there have been widespread, systemic issues in either area, it is clear that more monitoring needs to occur and new policies and procedures implemented.

Credit Recovery

  • Credit recovery can provide good reinforcement of core academic concepts, and we stand by our use of it to help students earn credits in classes they previously failed.
  • However, the TDOE’s current four year calculation for graduation rate puts increased pressure on students and teachers to earn credits, particularly in subjects that require four years of classes like math and English.
  • We recommend the state adopt a five year calculation for graduation rate to give students more flexibility in retaking classes and earning credits.
  • The new student information system through Infinite Campus will allow for course codes that specifically identify credit recovery. This will make reporting and oversight more robust.
  • The course retake policy has been revised and strengthened to give greater guidance for principals, counselors and teachers on the best educational practices for when to use credit recovery to help struggling students.

End-of-Course Exams

  • RAE will produce an EOC course enrollment file at the time of testing to help verify which students need to take EOC exams. This will be post-exam verification much more thorough than it is currently.
  • RAE will also generate a new report to monitor EOC exam participation based on the more strict calculation method to share with district leadership.
  • Based on the arduous data analysis work done by RAE staff to answer TDOE inquiries, a new report will be built in the Data Warehouse that allows for automatic generation of the same data analysis. This report will be available to school counselors and district staff for easy monitoring of student credits earned and EOC requirements.

ACT Participation

  • ACT participation is now part of district accountability to TDOE, though districts do not yet know how TDOE will calculate the rate. Once these business rules are finalized, RAE will refine its own reporting.
  • RAE will continue working with school staff to identify students eligible to test.
  • RAE will continue attempts to address ACT data quality concerns prior to calculating participation rate.
  • We recommend that TDOE allow 12th graders to test on the one day each year set aside for statewide ACT testing.

TNReady and TCAP Tests

  • RAE recommends using the same methods to monitor EOC participation that are detailed above and applying them also to TCAP and TNReady exams in grades 3-8.



Metro Schools receives four charter school applications in 2016

On Friday, April 1, Metro Schools received four (4) complete applications to operate charter schools.  All four applications seek to open elementary schools. 

Each application will go through a thorough review process with carefully trained reviewers who will examine each application according to a detailed scoring rubric before offering recommendations to the Board of Education.  Formal reports will be given to the Board by May 31.  The Board then votes to approve or deny each application on June 14, 2016. 


Grade Range

Proposed Opening

Number of Students Year 1

Number of Students at Capacity

Rocketship Fresh Start





Rocketship Conversion





Napier Community School

Pre-K – 4




Jump Start Charter School





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 best interests of the students and the district will be recommended for denial.  Only those applications that meet the quality standards will be recommended for approval.  The review and authorization processes are strong and have good track records over the years of authorizing only high performing schools that benefit students and families across Nashville.

The number one priority is always program quality.  Each proposal is first examined for its capacity to provide an exemplary academic program.   The review then includes an evaluation of the operational capacity and long-term financial viability that can support and sustain academic excellence.  Strength in one or two areas of the application does not negate weakness in others; therefore, an application must score “meets or exceeds” standard in all major areas in order for the evaluation teams to recommend approval to the Board of Education.  Along with the capacity review of the written application, the evaluation team will interview each applicant group before drawing together their final reports and recommendations. 

Our focus is always on providing high quality educational opportunities to Nashville families and students, and our process is designed to ensure only the most exemplary schools are recommended for approval.

We need your input! Take the director of schools survey now

As you have probably heard, a renewed Director of Schools search is underway. The Board has worked hard to make this an inclusive process by engaging and leveraging leadership from the Mayor’s Office, education leaders, parents, faith leaders, civic leaders, private sector partners, the nonprofit community and others. A unified effort is essential as we work to put the city’s collective best foot forward to recruit and hire a terrific leader who can take our public schools boldly forward.

As a first step, the Board joined hands with the Mayor and the Nashville Public Education Foundation to convene a Search Advisory Committee to provide initial recommendations on the search process. Their job is not to identify candidates per se, but rather provide advice and counsel about what kind of leader we need, where we might find people with the strongest track record of success, and how we can best compete for top-tier candidates. With these recommendations as a starting point, the Board will commence a robust national recruitment effort.

As part of their work, the Search Advisory Committee has reviewed in depth the community feedback we received during the initial search effort earlier this year. For those of you who participated in the focus groups and community survey last summer, we are deeply appreciative as that has provided a strong foundation. The Committee has expressed an interest, however, in seeking some additional, more specific feedback from our educators and parents in particular.

We are hopeful you would take a few minutes to provide some additional insights. Anything you share in the survey below is strictly confidential. It is being hosted, collected and analyzed by the Nashville Public Education Foundation, an independent, non-profit community organization. You will not be asked for any identifying information (i.e. name, school, etc.).

Click here to complete the follow-up survey:

Chris Henson: We are not standing still.

Interim Director of Schools Chris Henson addressed an assembled crowd of city, community and business leaders at the annual release of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Education Report Card on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.

The following are his unedited remarks.


Thank you, Mayor Barry.

We greatly appreciate the support you continue to show for our schools.

The Director Search Advisory Committee that your office is leading in partnership with the Public Education Foundation is vitally important for the future of our school district.

I’ve said since I stepped into the Interim Director role back in June that I’m happy to serve in this capacity – I’ve done it before – but I’m not interested in the permanent role.

I am, however, extremely interested in seeing our city recruit top-notch candidates. We’ve come a long way in recent years, but we need a visionary leader to carry us forward if we’re going to fulfill our goal of becoming the highest-performing urban school district in the country. And I believe we can.

So again, Mayor Barry – thank you for your leadership during this critical time.

I appreciate the hard work that the Chamber and volunteer committee members put into developing this report each year.

It speaks volumes about our business community that the Chamber has made education its No. 1 priority, and that it invests such a great deal of time and resources into supporting our school district’s continued improvement.

I’m going to respond on behalf of the school district to some of the Report Card recommendations, but I also want to take this opportunity to describe the progress we’re making this school year.

We’re in an interim period…but we’re not standing still.

We have a strategic plan – Education 2018 – that was approved by our Board, and we’re continuing to work toward the goals outlined in that plan.

This plan is centered around personalized learning for our students.

Our school district is diverse, and so too are the needs of the students we serve.

To meet those needs, we have to meet every student where they are, and challenge them with high expectations.

We’re doing this by empowering our principals to be instructional leaders in their buildings.

Personalized learning can’t happen through top-down mandates. It happens when high-quality school leaders – who know their schools and know the needs of their unique student populations – are able to design their own instructional plans.

We’ve empowered our principals to do this in a very real way – by giving them direct control of over half of our school district’s 800-million-dollar budget.

Through student-based budgeting – which went district-wide this year for the first time – schools are given a funding allocation based on the individual needs of the students they serve, and principals are given the flexibility to align their resources to meet those needs.

The Report Card Committee recognized this important step, and I appreciate principal autonomy being included in the list of this year’s commendations.

I won’t address every Report Card Recommendation, but I do want to respond to a couple of them.

First, on the recommendation for “dramatic intervention for all students reading below grade level in the first through third grades”:

As a district, we agree with the committee, that success in elementary school is synonymous with success in reading.

We know that children who lack the ability to read at grade level are likely to face problems in other subjects as they move through their education.

The early years of elementary school are our opportunity to curtail that risk. They are critical years.

We also agree that literacy needs to be an increased area of focus. This has been a point of discussion for the Board, as well.

Academic achievement data from last year point to declining reading levels as a state-wide trend. However, this doesn’t excuse the need for us to focus on changing that trend here at the local level.

Through student-based budgeting, principals can hire staff to support the academic needs of their schools – this includes instructional coaches and literacy coaches, who work with teachers on best practices in the classroom.

As an additional support measure for our lowest-performing schools, we offer elementary schools that rank in the bottom 20% of schools on our Academic Performance Framework, the opportunity to participate in our district reading initiative – called Reading Recovery.

This program was bolstered this year with an additional $1.4 million in funding, thanks to the support of the Mayor’s Office, the Metro Council and our School Board.

Participating schools receive a full-time Reading Recovery teacher, who works with the schools’ lowest-achieving first grade readers.

This program is currently in 20 of our schools.

It’s a short-term, early intervention program, that’s one part of our layered approach to literacy instruction.

Our school district is large, and the need is so great, that we need many layers of literacy intervention in all schools, but especially in our most high-need schools.

Other supports include Reading Interventionists, who support the next tier of low-performing schools – those at risk of falling into the bottom 20%.

We also have a Literacy Partnership with Lipscomb University that provides intensive training to literacy coaches, including some of our English Learner coaches.

This allows us to work on establishing literacy leaders in all schools, which is something we need to do to make the type of impact our district needs in this area.

Improved and expanded literacy resources, and principal training on literacy, are some other tools we’re using to improve reading proficiency with our youngest students.

We’re proud of the work we’re doing in this area, but we know we need to do more.

We’ve targeted our resources to help our lowest-performing schools, but the reality is all schools have some low-performing readers.

Additional funds could support the expansion of this program and broaden the pool of available resources for principals to add literacy supports to their school plans when they see the need.

As another way to boost achievement in these early grades, the Report Card also mentions the importance of aligning pre-K curriculum to the instruction taking place in elementary grades – and we fully agree.

With the federal pre-K grant we were awarded, we have – for the time as a district – provided standardized curriculum for all of our pre-K classrooms. And as a next step in that process, we’ve hired a veteran principal to work on aligning instructional practices from pre-K to third grade.

We’re excited about the benefits we know this work will begin producing very soon.

The other committee recommendation I want to address is the “independent, comprehensive review” of our Human Capital department using HR professionals from some of Nashville’s leading businesses.

As members of the Council of the Great City Schools organization, which represents the largest school districts in the country, we’re able to access the expertise of large urban districts through peer reviews. We’re planning to reach out to them to perform an independent analysis of our HR division.

We agree that teacher recruitment and teacher retention are a challenge for our district – and for all school districts in some regard, as the interest in entering the education field has waned over time.

But we also agree that we have no greater lever to improve student outcomes than having a highly-effective teacher in every classroom, and so the work to attract and retain top teaching talent should consistently be a priority for our district. And it’s appropriately included as a strategy in our district’s strategic plan.

While I support the Report Card Committee’s recommendation, I think it’s important to point out that teacher recruitment and retention is not an issue that one department can solve – because the experiences that our high quality teachers have, that make them love where they work, or choose to leave where they work, are impacted by the school environment, by many different departments, and by the culture of the district as a whole.

Along these lines, we recently completed a Teacher Retention Plan – which was one of the recommendations in the Metro performance audit released at the beginning of the year.

This plan was presented to our School Board at their meeting a week ago.

It was the culmination of four months of research and teacher focus groups by a cross-department work group.

The work group’s own findings were that most teachers who leave Metro Schools leave for personal reasons – that accounts for half of our attrition, according to exit surveys.

But the next top two reasons were school culture or dissatisfaction with the administration.

We have to remember that not all attrition is bad. We should expect to find dissatisfaction from low-performing teachers, or those who realize teaching in not the profession for them.

But what’s concerning to me is the number of teachers we lose who are top performers – teachers who score a 4 or 5 on their TEAM evaluation. These are the teachers we want to keep.

The teacher retention work group developed a set of recommendations that focus on four big themes:

  • Central Office culture
  • Principal quality
  • Onboarding and teacher induction processes, and
  • Elevating great teaching
  • We look forward to beginning work on implementing these strategies.

And we agree with the Report Card Committee that there’s still more we can do to improve the structure and practices of our Human Capital department.

Teacher retention is not the only issue we’ve tackled this school year.

Most of you have probably heard the media reports earlier this semester about our bus driver shortage.

We need over 500 full-time drivers to be fully staffed, and we started the school year about 50 drivers short. By October, that number had grown to over 100 vacancies.

The pay we were offering wasn’t competitive in the local market for commercial drivers. On average, we were losing 5 drivers a week to other job opportunities.

Our Transportation department and our Human Capital department came together to solve the problem. We took the time to listen to our bus drivers and study the local job market.

Earlier this month, we rolled out a new pay structure that will allow bus drivers to earn more income as they gain experience.

To me, this was a great example of what can result from collaboration and innovative thinking.

It also highlighted the significance of our support employees.

Whether they’re driving a bus, serving lunch, or assisting in a school’s front office – every Metro Schools employee contributes to our ability to run an effective and efficient school system, and ultimately, give each of our students a great education.

We’re already beginning to plan for next year’s budget, beginning with our capital needs requests.

We opened two new elementary schools this year to address overcrowding.

Relieving overcrowding in our elementary grades and renovating our dated high schools continue to be a primary theme of our capital needs discussions.

We’re unique among urban school systems in that our student population continues to increase, rather than declining. On average, we’ve been growing by an additional 1,500-2,000 students each school year.

I believe that’s indicative of Nashville being a dynamic city, as well as more families recognizing the value of our public schools.

We need to continue to plan for this growth, and that requires significant capital investment every year.

We look forward to engaging with the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Council on this issue as budget planning progresses.

As I said earlier, this may be an interim period, but we’re not standing still.

We’re continuing to implement our strategic plan, solve challenges as they come along, and plan for the future.

When the Board hires our new leader, we’ll be well positioned to take our school district to the next level of success.

Again, I appreciate the Chamber and the Report Card Committee for all of the work that goes into this annual report.

We appreciate the constructive nature of the report, and the support it provides for issues that we agree need to be addressed.

As we do each year, we’ll study these recommendations carefully and work to implement them.

Thank you.

Statement to Phil Williams on Hunters Lane High School Allegations – Nov. 12, 2015

To: Phil Williams, WTVF-TV, NewsChannel 5
From: Communications Office, Metro Nashville Public Schools
Date: November 11, 2015
Re: Grade change allegations at Hunters Lane High School

In response to your public records request, you have been provided with documentation related to an internal investigation conducted in 2012 after a teacher employed at Hunters Lane at the time filed a complaint with Human Resource Development (now called Human Capital) that she was forced to change failing students’ grades to passing grades.

The investigation was turned over to the department of Leadership and Learning because there was no disciplinary action or termination being disputed. The matter was investigated specifically by the lead principal of high schools, who was the direct supervisor for Hunters Lane at the time. In April 2012, the investigation concluded that the school principal’s actions did not violate existing district policy.

Principals are responsible for supervising the entire school program, including effectiveness of teachers. Grades should be an indication of student learning. If a high number of students are failing a class that indicates students are not learning the material. Principals are expected to monitor teachers’ gradebooks and discuss their teaching and intervention practices if students are failing.

The Grading Procedures Policy (IM 4.144) in 2012 stated:

An administrative change in a teacher’s grade shall not be made without prior consultation with the teacher of record. The teacher may request that the decision of the principal or the results of the consultation be reviewed by the appropriate Associate Superintendent or designee.

Policy IM 4.144 currently states:

The principal has the authority to modify a grade given by a teacher under his/her supervision only when it has been determined that the grade was based upon inaccurate data or when he/she feels that policy was not followed. An administrative change in a teacher’s grade shall not be made without prior consultation with the teacher of record. The teacher may request that the decision of the principal or the results of the consultation be reviewed by the appropriate Associate Superintendent or designee.


Interim Director of Schools Chris Henson: Help us uncover the truth in academic allegations

The below email was sent to all Metro Schools employee email addresses on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.

To All Metro Schools Employees:

By now, you have likely seen or heard about the investigative reports airing on News Channel 5 by reporter Phil Williams. We are seeking your assistance in uncovering the truth about the allegations being made in his stories. Please see the bottom of this email for instructions.

The first two stories Mr. Williams aired allege that certain high school students are being improperly un-enrolled from courses with state-mandated End-of-Course exams mid-semester after performing poorly on predictive tests. Mr. Williams’ sources have told him this is a strategy to avoid having low-performing students’ EOC scores count against individual schools’ performance data. These allegations have been made specifically against Hunters Lane and Pearl-Cohn high schools.

We have said this to Mr. Williams, but we want to say this directly to you, our employees: We take these allegations extremely seriously, and will take immediate corrective action, if these allegations are found to be true in any regard.

Mr. Williams says that school employees, including several that would not agree to be interviewed on camera, have shared numerous examples with him that serve as evidence that this type of impropriety is in fact taking place. We have repeatedly asked him for copies of the documentation in his possession. In response, he has shared only limited information with us. In fact, he has provided only one specific student name for us to investigate.

We have launched an extensive internal review of district data to get definitive answers on whether or not the allegations being made in Mr. Williams’ stories are true, including a review of transaction logs to look for mid-semester course changes. This is intensive, time-consuming work. To expedite this work, we ask that if you believe academic impropriety of any kind is taking place in our schools – but especially the type of actions detailed in Mr. Williams’ stories – to elevate these concerns to district leadership so that we can properly investigate and address them.

School employees are encouraged to report concerns to their principals and then elevate the issue to the district office, if you believe it is not appropriately addressed at the school level. The district leaders for each tier are listed below. They can be contacted using a dial-by-name directory by calling (615) 259-3282.

  • Aimee Wyatt, Executive Officer for High Schools
  • Antoinette Williams, Executive Officer for Middle Schools
  • Vanessa Garcia, Executive Officer for Elementary Schools

If you do not feel comfortable using these reporting channels that are regularly available to you, we encourage you to share the information without fear of retaliation or punishment of any kind by reporting specific details anonymously to the Department of Internal Audit in Metro Government.

The Metropolitan Nashville Government Office of Internal Audit provides employees with a means to anonymously communicate any fraud, waste, or abuse concerns. You can contact the Metro Nashville Hotline 24 hours a day toll-free at 1-855-252-7606 or at, use organization name ‘Metro Nashville’. Any information you report will be shared with us to further investigate, but you will have the security of sharing this information with complete anonymity.

Our goal is to get to the bottom of these concerns as quickly as possible, address any issues that are identified, or clear the air if no problems are identified. We are here to serve our students first and foremost, and if a disservice is taking place against our students, we want to know about it and correct it. You work for Metro Schools because you care about improving the lives of the young people we serve. Please make a proper report of any issue that goes against our district policies or values.

Thank you for your service to our students and their families. If you would like more information about the investigative reports by Mr. Williams, you can read a detailed account of our responses to him to date online at


Chris Henson
Interim Director of Schools

Statement to Phil Williams on Pearl-Cohn High School Allegations – Nov. 5, 2015

To:  Phil Williams, WTVF-TV, NewsChannel 5

From:  Communications Office, Metro Nashville Public Schools

Date:  November 5, 2015

Re:  Allegations made against Pearl Cohn High School  

Based on our communication with you, we understand your story tonight to focus on three issues at Pearl Cohn High School. Below are our responses to each:

Allegation: Pearl Cohn is using a “nothing below 60” grading policy, which is not in line with the district’s Grading for Learning policy that assigns a lowest possible grade of 50.

Response: This was first brought to the district’s attention through your inquiry. The administrative staff who supervise Pearl Cohn High School looked into this allegation and confirmed the following: Pearl Cohn teachers assign grades of 50 to students who are absent for and/or do not take final exams, as required by district policy. However, in other grading practices, the school has been utilizing a balanced scale of 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 to reflect student learning and communicate with them using a rubric aligned to these scores of below basic, basic, proficient, advanced, and mastery.

While the intent of the principal in this case was to align grades with how well students are mastering content, this practice is not reflective of district policy. The principal has communicated with Pearl Cohn teachers that the school will be following district grading policy going forward.

Allegation: Students who signed up to take an Advanced Placement exam at Pearl Cohn were automatically given an “A” for their district exam grade in the course.

Response: This allegation was investigated, found to be true and has been corrected. However, the district takes responsibility for not adequately communicating expectations related to Advanced Placement exams to high school principals and for allowing practices that are not reflective of district policy.

District policy states that “Final semester examinations are to be given in all 9-12 courses during the regular school year. The Associate Superintendent of high schools or his/her designee must approve exceptions to this rule.” While there is no specific policy related to Advanced Placement exams, the Leadership and Learning Department does allow for such an exception so that students taking Advanced Placement exams can be exempt from any other final exam for the course. This is done to incentivize students to take Advanced Placement exams – which, if passed, provide them with college course credit before graduating high school.

However, these instructions have not been applied consistently, had proper follow up or been written into official district policy.

The lack of district policy has created inconsistency in how the exemption is recorded on students’ records at different schools. At Pearl Cohn, the students were given an exam grade of an “A” for having attempted the Advanced Placement exam. Instead, students who take an Advanced Placement exam should receive an “E” for their exam grade (to connote exempt), which allows for their two quarter grades to average into a final semester grade.

The principal at Pearl Cohn has been informed on how to handle Advanced Placement exam grades going forward. To ensure consistent and proper application of this exception district-wide, the Advanced Placement exemption will be written into an official policy revision.

Allegation: In 2014, a rumor was reported to the district by other school staff that an administrator at Pearl Cohn completed coursework for a student enrolled in A+, the district’s credit recovery program, and that the student earned credit for the course. In your reporting, a source has relayed the same story and claims the situation was not thoroughly investigated by the district at the time.

Response: This allegation was brought to the attention of the Pearl Cohn principal by a school counselor at the time it first occurred. Evidence was presented to the principal in the form of program records. The principal then spoke with the student, all staff involved and reviewed records of the student’s coursework. The student and the assistant principal explained to the principal that the student was working on two separate courses in two separate rooms with two separate faculty members within the same class period, which is possible and allowed in the credit recovery program. The teacher in the other credit recovery course supported this explanation, as did the program records reviewed by the principal.

Though there was no determination of actual wrongdoing, the administrator received a verbal warning to always follow proper procedure in supervising credit recovery work and not be overly involved in student coursework.

After this school-level investigation was completed, this situation was reported to high school supervisors in the Leadership and Learning Department in the form of rumors circulating among staff at other schools. Record of this report is included in an email exchange between Aimee Wyatt and Michelle Wilcox on May 29, 2014. District staff spoke with the principal, heard the allegations and a summary of the investigation.

In cases such as these, the school principal is allowed the authority to investigate and make decisions at the school level. Essentially, the principal is the supervisor of school staff and district leadership are the supervisors of the principal. In this particular case, it was determined by high school supervisors that the principal acted properly and made the right decision in resolving the allegations.

If anyone involved in a situation like this one feels that their principal has made a wrong decision, we encourage them to elevate it to the district level. When allegations against a principal are brought to his or her supervisors in district leadership, they are thoroughly investigated. These allegations were not directly brought to the principal’s supervisors but rather reported only as rumor among staff at other schools.