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.

Statement to Phil Williams on Pearl-Cohn End-of-Course Exams – Nov. 3, 2015

As explained in our statement yesterday, district policy allows a student to take “credit recovery” after failing a semester of a course and this practice is supported by the Tennessee Department of Education. The story you aired last night makes claims that students are being placed in credit recovery without having failed the course first, although after repeated requests you have not shared the documentation with us that has led you to this conclusion.

Also, you have asked for an analysis of an increase in the number of students enrolled in “independent study” courses between the fall and spring semesters at Pearl Cohn High School during the 2014-15 school year. Based on your previous reporting, we are making the assumption that your story tonight will draw a conclusion that the students enrolled in independent study courses at Pearl Cohn last spring were improperly placed in credit recovery.

Here are the facts you should know:

  • Independent study can be used for credit recovery, but it may also be used for a variety of other benefits to the student, such as dual enrollment Nashville State courses online, online ACT prep or other virtual classes.
  • At Pearl Cohn, 38 students were enrolled in independent study courses in the fall and an additional 65 students were enrolled in the spring.
  • A sample review of the 65 additional students indicates that they were enrolled in independent study to take credit recovery for a course they had failed in the fall.
  • We conducted a separate review of students who passed EOC courses at Pearl Cohn in the fall of 2014. Of those, only three were not enrolled in the subsequent course in the spring. These three cases are described as follows:
    • A student who was taking courses while expelled from Pearl Cohn
    • A student with special needs whose IEP dictated a change in course sequence
    • A student who withdrew from the school and was not granted credit for any courses

Your story last night portrayed credit recovery as a program that forces students to get “information on their own.” This is not true. While the work is completed through online modules, every credit recovery course is taught by a certificated teacher. Schools use tutors at their discretion to provide additional support to the students. There are additional online resources used to support the instruction and the students are allowed to go through the units at their own pace.


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.