Metro students show continued growth in nearly every subject

Official release from MNPS Communications Office:

Achievement gaps, overall growth all better than state averages

Building on strong momentum, Metro students continued to grow academically in 2013-14, placing the district in the “Achieve” category for overall growth in student achievement.

Elementary school test scores were up in every subject, with students growing at an even faster rate than the state average. In the four years since Tennessee adopted higher academic standards, elementary students have made big gains in all three subjects.

High school students improved in four out of six subjects in 2013-14, with particularly strong growth in English I and English II where gains almost doubled the state average. Four-year trends show growth in every subject, with double-digit growth in three subjects.

“Thanks to the hard word of our students and the dedication of our teachers, the district strategies we’ve developed are working,” said Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register. “Now we must maintain this momentum. Our teachers and our students have worked too hard to slow down now. We have many of the pieces in place and they are paying off for our students.”

Metro Schools also made good progress in closing achievement gaps, but hard work must continue to close them further. Still, district achievement gaps are now smaller than the state average in every category. In such a diverse district, this is of the utmost importance.

All but one of the student subgroups improved in at least half of the achievement measures in 2013-14. The only group to miss this target was the Asian subgroup, which missed it by just eight students. Because of this, Metro Schools is in the “In Need of Improvement for Asian Students” category for achievement gap closure.

“We always love to see growth, particularly the huge gains we’ve made since 2010, but none of us is satisfied yet,” said Dr. Register. “We want our students achieving at the highest possible level and know how important each year is to their success. We have clear district strategies that are making a difference and will propel us to be the highest performing urban district in the country by 2018.”

Two areas that clearly need immediate attention are English III and Algebra I in high schools and reading/language arts in elementary schools. The stage is set for aggressive growth in these and other areas with these strategies and many others:

  • Pre-kindergarten for all children who want or need it by 2018 By expanding pre-kindergarten for all families, we can start building a solid foundation for academic success at an earlier age. This will pay off in the future as students are more prepared for the grades ahead.
  • Personalized learning for every student every day in elementary and middle schools In grades K-8, every student will get 30-60 minutes of personalized instruction every day. That includes intervention for students who need it, enrichment for high achievers and reinforcement of learned skills for others. This will particularly help reading scores catch up to the big growth seen in math and science.
  • More technology, family involvement and focused teacher support for English learners (EL) Students with limited English proficiency will have greater support in the classroom, including language support groups during personalized learning time and more technology integration. This year there will be a specific focus on literacy training for teachers of EL students and general EL training for teachers who work in high EL populations. Parent outreach and involvement will also be priorities.
  • Greater student engagement in learning through hands-on projects Metro middle schools are now working harder to engage students in learning through hands-on projects. This practical – and fun – application of skills helps students retain and have a deeper understanding of the skills they learn in class. It is working in our high schools and will work in middle schools, too.
  • Wider identification and enrollment in advanced programs to nurture academic talent Efforts are already underway to expand the reach of our early gifted programs to underrepresented groups of students like English learners and the economically disadvantaged. We have seen huge growth in the number of high school students taking advanced classes like AP, as well as middle school students seeking high school credit.
  • Intelligent school budgeting that supports individual student needs School-based budgeting is now in 55 Metro schools, including all traditional middle and high schools. This gives principals the freedom to spend money where it can improve student achievement the most. Principals and teachers know best what their students need and should have the power of the purse strings to see those needs met.

Challenges High school English III and Algebra I are particular challenges because the district’s push for greater advanced academic participation.

The highest achieving students often take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other advanced English classes and are therefore not allowed to take the EOC exam. In 2013-14, more than 700 juniors took one of these advanced English classes instead of English III. It is thrilling to see this many high school students reaching higher and stretching themselves academically, but it also makes English III scores that much more difficult to raise.

Similarly, 2012-13 saw a spike in the number of eighth grade students taking Algebra I – 500 more students – which means they did not take it again in the ninth grade in 2013-14. Because the EOC exam only counts grades nine through 12, again many of the district’s brightest students were excluded from this high school measure. Both of these issues could continue to appear as the district further expands advanced academic opportunities, but clearly more emphasis needs to be placed on helping students in regular and honors English III and Algebra I.

Moving Beyond TCAP One of the most needed changes that has yet to come is the test itself. TCAP is not an accurate measure of the instruction happening in the district every day. Now entering the fourth year of Common Core implementation, Metro students and teachers are operating at a different level than multiple-choice tests like TCAP. They are not aligned with the standards.

“We need an aligned assessment, and we’re willing to be a test site for the new assessment the state chooses,” said Dr. Register. “TCAP is a snapshot of how a student performs on one day out of the year. We need an assessment that better informs teachers of student learning throughout the year.”

The new class of third graders in Metro Schools has been taught the new standards since starting school in kindergarten. Next May, they will take TCAP tests that are not aligned with the only standards they have ever been taught.