The Tennessee Department of Education’s blundered interpretation of No Child Left Behind guidelines in 2007 meant Metro schools for the past four years had wrongly been operating under a more severe classification of the federal law than they should have.
State administrators have corrected the error. Still — in retrospect — consequences could have been severe, with a potential state or mayoral takeover of Metro schools riding on the line.
“The district’s status for Metropolitan Nashville was incorrectly determined based on the accountability workbook for 2007,” Director of Schools Jesse Register told The City Paper in an interview at his office Monday.
“The way our district’s status was determined in 2007 was a mistake,” Register said. “That’s just the bottom line. The accountability workbook was not followed correctly”
The accountability workbook refers to a lengthy, state-drafted document — approved by the federal government — that sets how student test scores are interpreted under the No Child Left Behind law. The book determines what constitutes proficiency or failing when comparing one school year to the next.
In 2006, the Metro school district as a whole failed to make so-called Adequate Yearly Progress in reading. The next year the district failed to make AYP in math, but did so in reading.
Two consecutive years of failing scores within the same subject area is the criteria to warrant a jump to a more severe classification of NCLB. (The harsher the category, the greater the chance for state intervention.) But this isn’t the standard the state placed on Metro. State administrators apparently compared 2006 reading scores with 2007 math scores, and it hurt Metro’s NCLB standing.
“The core issue is that the accountability workbook said that to drop a level in status, you had to fail in the same subject area two years in a row,” Register said. “And we didn’t.”
Register said the district raised the issue in 2007 — before Register’s arrival — but Metro’s appeal was rejected. After Register this summer talked with newly appointed Tennessee Department of Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the district received a different answer.
State officials, however, have a slightly different take on the 2007 mix-up. Nonetheless, officials have confirmed changing Metro’s 2007 status, which has had a ripple effect on all subsequent NCLB classifications each year thereafter.
According to state education department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier, accountability standards were briefly changed in 2007 in a way that compared test scores in all subject areas to test scores in all subject areas the next year.
“So, Metro ... got caught in this interim period where the policy was different,” Gauthier said, adding that it was later changed.
With heightened benchmarks this past school year, Metro failed to make AYP and currently falls under “Restructuring I” of NCLB. During a press conference announcing Metro’s NCLB standing two week ago, Metro officials alluded to the 2007 mistake.
If the state hadn’t agreed to retract its 2007 interpretation, Metro would have fallen into “Restructuring II” this year, which allows for an alternative governance of the system.
In retrospect, the direst consequences of the 2007 hiccup could have resulted two years later in 2009.
Back then, Metro also found itself in “Restructuring II” under the NCLB law. Register had just arrived to Metro. Failing to meet benchmarks one more year would have allowed for a reconstitution plan of the district.
Mayor Karl Dean had been outspoken about his interest in spearheading a mayoral-led school system. Another round of poor NCLB test results would have enabled the state to intervene — and perhaps hand the district to Dean.
Instead, to the surprise of many, the district cleared NCLB requirements in the summer of 2009 and averted the consequences. In retrospect, Metro shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.
Register suggested Metro’s 2007 NCLB story underscores the potential flaws inherent in the law.
“What it does point out is that No Child Left Behind’s AYP standards are subject to question,” Register said.
Tennessee is among a handful of states that has requested NCLB waivers to clear itself from repercussions for failing grades over the past year.
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has outlined a system whereby waiver applications will be considered.