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.

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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.

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