Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Metro schools fail for fifth year in row

District loses more control to the state By JAIME SARRIO • Staff Writer • July 29, 2008 Metro Nashville Schools continued its slide toward total state control as student test data released Monday made it the only Tennessee district to fail five consecutive years. There were bright spots. African-American students, who didn't consistently meet math or reading benchmarks the last four years, made progress in every area. And without this year's higher benchmarks, Metro probably would have met federal standards, state officials said. While expected, the news was unwelcome. "It's hard to be real excited when the district goes into restructuring," Interim Director Chris Henson said. Meanwhile, neighboring Robertson County, the only other Tennessee district where years of failure prompted state involvement, raised student achievement dramatically enough to move back toward total self-governance. The verdicts were in the state's annual school progress report under the federal No Child Left Behind education law. The results are based on standardized test scores from the 2007-08 school year, graduation percentages and attendance rates. Under No Child Left Behind, increasing percentages of students have to read and do math on grade level, with the goal of 100 percent of students by 2014. The law pays particular attention to subgroups of students: African-Americans, foreign-language speakers, special education students and others. Based on how many students hit targets, districts and individual schools face increasing levels of discipline under the law, starting with some students having the option to change schools and ending with a district or school's total dismantling. The required percentages increased this year from 83 to 89 percent of K-8 students proficient in reading and 79 to 86 percent in math. In high school, they rose from 90 to 93 percent in reading and 75 to 83 percent in math. As a result, 172 schools statewide missed benchmarks for the first time, up from 106 schools last year. But 28 schools across Tennessee came off the disciplinary list completely for making two years of adequate progress, including Walter J. Baird Middle in the Lebanon Special School District. Three Sumner County schools, Hawkins Middle and Portland and Westmoreland high schools, posted enough gains last school year to show an improving trend. If they repeat the success next year, they will get off the list. On the other hand, the Murfreesboro city school district, which serves about 7,200 kids in grades pre-K through 6, landed on the unflattering list for missing federal targets two years in a row. Not enough non-English speaking students tested proficient in math and not enough Hispanic students reached proficiency in English. Last year, the state devoted $8 million to improving failing Tennessee schools. Next year, that will increase to $20 million. State is in charge In Metro, the state has an unprecedented amount of control over the district's day-to-day affairs, and school officials must draft plans for a possible takeover. The troubled 75,000-student district ultimately failed to meet state requirements because of the reading and language arts scores of students who speak only limited English. Advocates for those students said more consistency in the quality of English Language Learning programs districtwide would help. "We have these extreme opinions," said Cesar Muedas, former president of Comité de Padres Latinos (Committee of Latino Parents). "Something is going on, because there should be an in-between." State officials would not talk Monday about what the future holds for Metro, but they said more details will be announced at a special board meeting next week, said Connie Smith, executive director of accountability for the Department of Education. State officials already rearranged the district's top administrators and put new principals at several schools. They also approved the draft budget, revamped portions of the curriculum and next plan to rework teacher training. "We got the people in place to do the job," said Smith, chief architect behind the changes. "All we need to do now is to let things happen and to watch the data." Smith hopes Metro succeeds and becomes a model for the nation. Nine Metro Schools were released from state sanctions, including two high schools — Pearl Cohn and John Overton. Some Metro schools that reported gains were the same schools where principals were plucked from their positions this summer as part of the state's massive intervention. McGavock High met state standards for the first time in four years, but longtime principal Mike Tribue won't be around to enjoy the success — he was reassigned to an assistant principal position at Cane Ridge High School. Hillwood High's Karl Lang was moved to the central office even though his school met benchmarks for the first time in five years. Pattern of failure State officials said they replaced principals in schools that had a pattern of failure over several years, and that they used other indicators such as parent surveys and teacher input to determine who would be moved. But McGavock parent Doris Johnson said the state shouldn't have moved leaders like Tribue who were making progress. "I think it is very unfair," she said. "I don't think the state should have as much of a say in the situation as the school board does." In previous years, Metro school leaders ignored warning signs and state assistance that could have prevented the district from earning the unflattering status, said Connie Smith. Metro also made poor use of its data by allowing only a few top officials access to the district's numbers. State officials envision a district in which everyone down to the school level is comfortable using test scores to figure out which students are struggling. Mayor Karl Dean, who has been heavily involved in the district's improvement, said Monday's results are promising, but the district needs to be doing more. "The results released today give us a clear picture of the particular schools that need our attention, and we can now begin to focus our efforts at the school level," Dean said in a statement.fullcircle

No comments: