Three days after Gov. Bill Haslam asked the federal government to waive No Child Left Behind requirements in Tennessee, Metro school officials on Monday released test results that, as expected, show the district’s students aren’t meeting federal targets.
Due in part to heightened academic standards implemented last year, 55 Metro schools are categorized as “high priority” under the national education law, Director of Schools Jesse Register told reporters Monday. The school district itself has fallen into “Restructuring I” after Metro failed to demonstrate adequate yearly progress for the fifth year.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Register said, before pointing to a few positives, including bumps in students’ value-added scores.
“The most important thing to me is to see that trend line going up for all of our students,” he said.
Haslam and other governors have said the controversial Bush-era law has established unreasonable measuring sticks. Register said he supports Haslam’s waiver request, which the governor made Friday.
On Monday, Register described a law that requires all student subgroups — African-Americans, the disabled and English language learners, for example — to meet testing benchmarks in all subject areas. Register said targets had previously been set at getting 40 percent proficiency of each subgroup. The threshold is now up to 60 percent; hence, Metro’s complications in reaching standards.
“What’s important for us is to have an aggressive turnaround strategy,” Register said, adding that Metro’s large English language learner population presents a major challenge.
The focal point of that strategy is Metro’s new Office of Innovation, led by Alan Coverstone, who will be overseeing 10 low-performing schools across the district. Schools within the new cluster, unveiled Monday, were based on No Child Left Behind testing. They are as follows: Napier Elementary, Bailey Middle, Margaret Allen Middle, Antioch Middle, Whites Creek High, Apollo Middle, Cameron Middle, Wright Middle, Jere Baxter Middle and Glencliff High schools.
“These schools were selected because they were further down the list,” Register said. “They have not met adequate yearly progress for a longer period of time.”
With the new low-performing school zone, administrators are hoping to bring more direct resources and intervention to schools that need it most. Register has tapped United-Kingdom-based Tribal Group Inc. to help engineer reform efforts.
With its new “Restructuring I” status, Metro is just one more round of poor No Child Left Behind results away from becoming susceptible to a state takeover. But Register doesn’t expect that to be an option based on conversations with state education commissioner Kevin Huffman.
“He continues to assure us that the strategies we’re using in the district are good and there are no plans to take over MNPS,” Register said.
“Education has long been one of my top priorities, and this underscores the need to keep it that way,” Mayor Karl Dean said in a statement issued late Monday afternoon. "We know we still have work to do, particularly when it comes to improving test scores, and Dr. Register is taking the right steps to help students succeed.”
In addition to Metro, schools districts in Memphis and Murfreesboro, and in Hamilton, Knox, Roane, Sevier and Warren counties did not make adequate yearly progress.