I hope you Nashville folks have had an enjoyable fall break. Based on my social media feeds, y’all have definitely taken advantage of the time off and made some awesome memories. But like all good things, it must come to an end. Monday will find students and teachers back in the classroom.
Quite a bit happened this past week in education circles. I’ll try to touch on as much as possible, but I promise today’s post won’t be as long as yesterday’s novel on the MNPS director of schools evaluation. Let’s get started.
I’ve been following a very interesting story out of Knoxville over the last several weeks. Superintendent Bob Thomas, as a member of the policy review committee, recommended that the Knoxville School Board change some language in the district’s harassment policy in order to more closely align with federal and state policy. This was at the prodding of the legal department. The proposed change would have removed the words “actual or perceived gender” and “sexual orientation” from the list of protected groups in the district’s policy and replaced them with the word “sex.”
The board was initially set to vote on this change on September 11th, but due to a firestorm of opposition, the vote was postponed until this past Wednesday. Superintendent Thomas and board members were caught off guard by the reaction and maintained that this change came as a recommendation by the law department, and as Thomas stated, “It was about bringing it [language] in line with state and federal law, so it was not any malicious intent to reduce the effectiveness of the policy.”
While the board felt that the word “sex” would still cover “gender” “and “sexual orientation,” many advocates argued that recent actions taken by the Trump administration didn’t support that view and could leave future students vulnerable. They pointed to a brief filed by the Justice Department in July that asserted that federal civil rights laws do not extend to workplace protections for discrimination based on sexual orientation as evidence of possible future exposure.
In the weeks preceding the tabled vote, advocates organized and fought against the proposed change. At a board meeting on Monday, several concerned citizens spoke out. Both the mayor and student leaders crafted letters to the school board arguing against the change. On Wednesday, the board voted to keep the language the same. After the meeting, people stayed and thanked the board for listening and taking action. “It isn’t just that you are seeking to protect the people, all people, you’re seeking to protect the corporation, but also by spelling that out, you’re allowing these people to be protected but to feel protected,” said Nancy Mott. “I thank you so much for being willing to retain the language.”
This story fills me with optimism. It demonstrates just how powerful democracy is when it works. Board members believed they had a better way, concerned citizens believed differently. There was a robust conversation, sans name calling and vilification, which led to a decision that seems to have pleased everyone.
To be honest, I know that some board members did feel vilified. “I feel like this board has been almost accused and condemned in how we’ve handled this, that we’re insensitive or somehow in favor of discrimination or harassment, which is just an absurd thing,” said board member Tony Norman. I can only say that in all my reading, advocates argued for policies not against personalities. There are many lessons for all of us here, and both sides walk away as heroes.
Next Tuesday is an MNPS board meeting. As part of the agenda, there will be a discussion on MAP testing. Y’all need to listen up to this.
On Wednesday, the Mayor’s Literacy Council held a press conference announcing plans to double third grade literacy rates by 2025. As an impetus for this action, they quoted the oft-repeated statistic that 2 out of 3 third graders are not reading on grade level. This statistic drives me absolutely nuts because it is not supported by actual data.
TCAP results are often cited as the basis for the statistics, but TCAP is, first of all, not a “reading” test and secondly, its results are two years old. The other aspect of this statistic I find bothersome is the use of the term “on grade level.” What exactly does that mean? Grade level is a semi-arbitrary term set by education experts based on their suppositions of what a child should be able to accomplish at each level. Let me be clear – I’m not saying there are no issues. What I am saying is let’s have an honest conversation.
One good thing district leaders did last year was introduce MAP testing. MAP is a nationally normed test that solely measures reading and math. It gives us a test that directly shows how our kids perform comparatively to kids across the country. It’s also an intuitive test: as kids answer questions, the degree of difficulty rises. What MAP does is allows us to have an honest conversation.
The MAP results being presented tell an interesting story. The test was administered in the fall of 2017 and then again in the spring and the fall of 2018. I don’t want to get too into the results before Tuesday’s board presentation, but I do want to point out a few things in hopes that it will lead to questions and further explanation.
- Scores were the highest in the fall of 2016 with 51.3% scoring in the average or above quintile. In the spring that number fell to 46.3% before rebounding this fall to 50.3%. The higher number in the fall is surprising because the test was administered shortly after a return from summer break where kids would be presumably engaged in less reading. The improvement held true for both black and Hispanic children as well, with the former scores increasing by 5.2 percentage points and the latter by 3.8 percentage points.
- Third graders scored very low on the testing at 47.7%. But what I find more disconcerting is the drop in scores from fall 2016 when they scored at 52.8% to Spring 17 when the number was 49.1% to fall 2017 when the number fell again to 47.7%. I hope somebody has an answer for that one.
- While third grade certainly needs love, sixth grade needs it just as much. The sixth grade score was 47.5%, which was .2% lower than the third grade score.
- Also, why are second graders our second highest performers at 52.5%, while third graders are among the lowest at 47.7%?
- Math scores are not very encouraging, but I’ve predicted that based on our history of running back and forth between focusing on literacy and math. Seems like it’s always one or the other.
UPDATE: Here’s why it’s good to be married to a teacher. The wife just pointed out to me that I need to compare spring 2016 with fall 2017 to get an accurate read. When I look at things that way, I notice that growth for 2-3 is minimal. But when you get to 4-8, the increase is huge. Sixth grade to seventh goes up 9 percentage points. Seventh to eight grade is 7.2% points. Those are big jumps over the summer. I’ve always said I don’t have all the answers, just a lot of questions.
These are just my takeaways, and it is entirely possible that I could be reading things all wrong. We’ll all find out on Tuesday at the board meeting. I encourage everyone to either attend, watch on Channel 3, or follow on Twitter via Amanda Haggard or Jason Gonzales.
Congratulations to MNPS School Board member Christiane Buggs for being named by the Nashville Scene as school board member of year.
On October 24th, from 8am to 10:30am, Community Achieves will be hosting a Learning Summit at Pearl Cohn High School.
The next ProjectLit Book Club meeting will be this Friday at Maplewood HS at 7:30am. This month’s book is The Hate U Give. People who’ve read this one have ranked it up there with Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders.
Chalkbeat TN has a great story about students being taught how to be advocates for their own education. Cool read.
Over at Teach Run Repeat, Josh has an interesting post on Nashville’s perceived teacher attrition problem. I don’t know that I agree with him, but he does present a solid counter argument. Give it a read and let me know your thoughts.
Did you really think that we’d seen the end of problems with last year’s TNReady tests? Yea… guess again. According to TNDOE, about 9,400 TNReady tests across the state were scored incorrectly. According to ChalkbeatTN, 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change. The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result. All I can say is that this is a dumpster fire from this vantage point. At this point I’m not sure what it’s going to take for somebody to be held accountable.
Two MNPS schools will get new principals come Monday. Haywood principal Edward Barrios has decided to pursue other opportunities. Word on the street is that Megan Galloway will assume the position. Buena Vista principal Michelle McVicker is out for undisclosed reasons. No word on the street yet on who will be assuming her duties and whether it’s a temporary move or permanent.
Special thank you to all the MNPS educators who took time to meet with me during this fall break. I never stop learning from y’all.
Let’s talk fall break, director evaluations, and school board members of the year with this week’s poll questions.
Growing up, I don’t think fall break was as big a deal for us as it has become today. I look at my social media threads and see trips all over the country and some abroad. Then there are the Webers, who just stay home and fight with their kids. What did you do with your fall break?
Yesterday I posted the majority of the director’s evaluation by the MNPS school board. What are your thoughts? About right? What you expected? Out of touch? You tell me.
Lastly, the Nashville Scene awarded Christiane Buggs school board member of the year. I want to know who Dad Gone Wild readers would give it to.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the weekend. As always you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.
I am looking at all the data you have on how various grades scored in reading. There is no set range of Lexile scores that determines grade level. There is overlap between grades. Also, no one seems to consider that students are often horribly bored by these standardized tests and do not see their relevance. I have taken sample tests myself and am also bored. We have so over-tested students that many just do not care about the results anymore. Plus, it is easy to pass to the next grade since students are given 50’s, even if their actual grade is lower. A student does not have to pass a standardized test in order to move to the next grade.
Refuse the MAP test. It is a horrible test. The students quickly learn to game the test to make it end. It’s boring, redundant and given too often. When you answer 3 incorrectly the test will stop. Twice exceptional children can sit all day and take this test. This year there is an added SEL component to it. The children are now timed in their responses and if they take too long to respond to the computer, they can be deemed learning deficient. It is truly a dreadful test and doesn’t give one bit of correct information to the teacher….even though the results are almost immediate.
The information regarding the Knox County Superintendent and Board is not accurate. Superintendent Thomas did not recommend any language change. It was listed as “recommended by the superintendent” in the agenda, largely due to habit. (Prior superintendents brought changes forward from the committee, which was administrative, rather than a committee of the Board with noticed meetings.) That has since been corrected, to more accurately reflect that policies have been reviewed by the committee and are being sent forward as such, rather than appearing that the superintendent recommends or carries forward any changes that come from the committee. I think this will be a great improvement, regarding transparency, as the community will have more accurate information regarding who or what department or committee is responsible for agenda items.
I was in that first committee meeting where this policy was discussed and the only changes, beyond legal references at the bottom, came from Board members – not from the superintendent, the law department, or anyone else, as has repeatedly been reported. It should be noted that no reporters or private citizens attended that meeting, meaning original reports (and many follow-ups) were put together largely from conjecture and from what people assumed, before they spoke with anyone who was actually there. That misinformation has been very difficult to correct.
Though I would like to agree with your optimism, there was, in fact, quite a lot of name-calling, villification, and other nastiness. It came from people reacting, before discussing – and much of it could have been avoided had people talked to their Board members before reacting in other ways.
New policy language could not have been supported by the Board, as there was no vote until October. Reports that the Board “planned” or “intended” to change anything were not true, since the Board ONLY has power as a whole. Without an initial vote, intention for or against any change could not be confirmed.
Knox County still has a long way to go toward recovering from past administrations and toward trusting that the current administration and Board would rather be working together with our communities than working as adversaries, though we do get a little closer every day.
Knox County Board of Education – District 2
Jennifer thank you so much for correcting what I had wrong. I took 90% of my information from newspaper reports and tried to put it together the best I could because I felt it was an important story. I should have talked to more people. I will incorporate your comments into the post. Thank you again.