• Print

    19 schools in Memphis no longer among state's bottom 5 percent, report says

    Jane Roberts

    Copyright 2014 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    Picture by Mike Brown



    In the school test scores released Tuesday, 50 schools in the Shelby County Schools district ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, down from 69 two years ago. While 15 schools improved enough to come off the priority list, 17 others, including four charter schools, are now on it and in line for state takeover or closure.

    But for the second consecutive year, a group of SCS schools in the Innovation Zone outperformed students in the state-run Achievement School District in key subjects, including a 17.2 percent gain in science over last year and 13.6 gain in Algebra 1. Six of the 13 schools in the iZone are now off the Priority list.
    “We call this a friendly co-opetition,” Hopson said, half-laughing at the collaboration and competition that exists between the state’s two experiments in turning around low-performing schools.
    “I gotta tell you, in my former days as a lawyer, when I first heard about moving the bottom 5 percent to the top percent, I had questions in my head. I think what you are seeing today is how you do it, how you truly move a large group of schools to the top 25 percent,” he said in a news conference at Cherokee Elementary School Tuesday.
    Tennessee promised to improve schools in the bottom 5 percent when it applied for a waiver from some federal education rules.
    Cherokee, an aging school a half-mile off Lamar in South Memphis, is one of SCS’s proudest examples. Last school year, it produced some of the highest math scores in the state.
    In Roland Woodson’s classroom Tuesday, children rocketed up and down in their seats, waved their hands in unison and recited plate tectonic theory in a call-and-response cadence that had the feel of church.
    “He has the mindset,” said principal Rodney Rowan, beaming at the back of the room. “He’s using what we call power teaching, getting students engaged through movement and call-and-response. He also uses a lot of accountability talk — having students justify their answers and giving them opportunities to add on to what their colleagues are saying.”
    The state released school raw test scores giving parents and taxpayers a chance to see how schools in neighborhoods across the state are doing both in terms of achievement and how fast they are growing, both critical elements in the way the state assesses school performance.
    The state report card, with a searchable database will be released in the fall. It allows the public to compare achievement between schools in its interactive website.
    Shelby County Schools remains a Level 5 district, which means it achieved its performance goals, including that it whittled away at the achievement gap between economically stable students and those whose families are not.
    But even with the gain, Memphis still has more schools on the state’s low-performing list than any urban area in the state. But the trajectory has changed modestly.
    Davidson County, which had six schools in the bottom 5 percent when the priority list was drawn in the fall of 2012, now has 15.
    The municipal districts have no schools on the priority list. The do have schools on the reward list of high-performing schools, which the state plans to release Thursday.
    Of the 83 schools on the 2012 priority list, 17 were turned into ASD-run schools; 17 joined innovation zones; and nine were closed outright.
    Thirty-eight schools — including 22 in Shelby County and three Memphis charter schools — received no intervention other than the regular school improvement strategies in place in their districts.
    More than a third of the Shelby County priority schools that did not undergo a formal turnaround strategy posted high enough scores this year that they no longer fall in the state’s bottom 5 percent
    Two schools in the ASD performed well enough to come off the list. They are Cornerstone Prep, the charter now running the former Lester School in Binghamton, and Humes Middle in North Memphis, run by Gestalt Community Schools.
    Cornerstone, which had a rocky start in the 2012-2013 when parents accused teachers of not allowing children to use the restroom, jumped up 11 percentage points in the number of children proficient in reading and made 14 percent gain in math proficiency.
    The ASD had enough losses that its status dropped from Level 5 to Level 1.
    “We are not going to be a district that schools are struggling to get to success over 10 or 15 years,” said ASD Supt. Chris Barbic.
    “In three years, schools that can’t clear the bar are going to get replaced. That’s the headline on school performance.”
    The iZone schools as a group were up 9.3 percent in math; 6.8 percent in reading; 17.2 percent in science and 13.6 percent in Algebra 1.
    “We are very proud of this data,” Hopson said. “But we still have a lot of work to,” he said.
    With 17 new schools on the priority list, the challenge will be keeping the momentum going with the successes and digging down to help those struggling.
    “We have to be making data-driven decisions,” said SCS school board chairman Kevin Woods. “We have to look at what is working, and how can we cascade that through the entire district. It’s no magic bullet. It takes strong school leaders, great teachers and resources.”
    Schools no longer on priority list
    Alcy Elementary
    Cherokee Elementary (iZone)
    Chickasaw Middle (iZone)
    Douglass Middle (iZone)
    Ford Road Elementary (iZone)
    Hamilton Middle (iZone)
    Hickory Ridge Middle
    Manassas High
    Manor Lake Elementary
    Memphis Academy
    of Science &
    Memphis School of Excellence
    Oakhaven Middle
    South Park Elementary
    Treadwell Middle (iZone)
    Whitehaven Elementary
    schools new to the list
    A.B. Hill Elementary
    A.Maceo Walker Middle
    City University Boys Prep
    Douglass High
    Florida-Kansas Elementary
    Georgian Hills Middle
    Holmes Road Elementary
    LaRose Elementary
    Lincoln Elementary
    Memphis Health Careers Academy
    Mitchell High
    Northside High
    Omni Prep Academy
    Lower School
    Omni Prep Academy
    Middle School
    Southern Ave. Middle
    Springdale Elementary
    Wooddale High
    To see a full list of Focus and Priority Schools visit: http://tn.gov/education/data/accountability/schools_2014.shtml
    Chalkbeat Tennessee, a nonprofit news organization covering educational change in public schools, contributed to this story. To read their story on Tennessee test scores go to tn.chalkbeat.org.