Are Children Learning

UPDATED: Shelby County Schools one of two districts under review for TCAP cheating

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

Two Tennessee school systems, including the state’s largest district, are being audited by the Tennessee Department of Education for potential cheating on their 2013-14 state achievement tests, state officials confirmed on Tuesday.

The state is investigating TCAP results at Alcy and LaRose elementary schools in Shelby County, as well as Robertson County Schools. It already has completed an audit of Williamson County Schools, where investigators found no evidence of a security breach.

The districts were flagged after the state did an erasure analysis, which analyzes the percent of answers changed from wrong to right on the multiple-choice exam. Officials hired psychometricians to examine the three districts where small groups of students had frequently changed answers.

Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball cautioned that the audit doesn’t mean the entire district had a high rate of erasure.

Though state officials have been analyzing erasure marks since the 2011-2012 tests, this was the first time they shared the results with districts, in an effort to help administrators examine their testing security protocols.

Shelby County Schools already has undergone an internal investigation and found no evidence of cheating, said district spokesman Christian Ross.

“We did not find anything indicating that testing had been handled inappropriately,” district officials said in a statement released Wednesday. “The state department is also conducting its own investigation, and we are still awaiting those results.”

Parents were not alerted because the district was following protocol provided by the state and is waiting until the state finishes its investigation, according to the statement.

The statement also explained how assessments are handled after testing. The test administrator distributes and collects the tests in the presence of a proctor. While not in use, all materials are secured in a locked location to which only the principal and the building test coordinator have a key.

Once test results are received, the district reviews the scores to determine whether a school needs further review.

Beginning next school year, Tennessee students no longer will take tests that are entirely multiple choice. The new TNReady assessment, which will be mostly online, incorporates open-ended questions in addition to traditional multiple-choice test items.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a response on Wednesday from district leaders in Shelby County.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.