Director points to successes and areas for improvement after first full day of school
With nearly 88,000 students coming back to school for a new year, the Metro Schools leadership team is closely examining what went well and what areas need greater support. In a detailed memo to principals and other school leaders, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph acknowledges the concerns seen and heard in schools and spells out ways they are being addressed.
“We feel like it’s been a good start to the year, but overall I give us a grade of B,” said Dr. Joseph. “We had some great successes, largely due to our phenomenal principals and school staff. The schools look great, the staff are friendly and easy to access and everyone is working with a positive attitude. But there are some issues we saw in multiple areas of the district that we know we need to fix. The next steps are for my team to find resolutions, and quickly, so that principals can worry more about instruction and less about late buses and enrollment questions.”
Leading up to the first day, Dr. Joseph tasked central office leadership with visiting every school between August 3 and August 12 to observe schools, talk to principals and teachers and see what supports need to be given. At the end of each day during this period, the central office team gathers together to go over the issues found and make a plan for solutions.
Some of the issues found in the first two days of school include:
Several families in Metro Schools were not assigned school bus routes over the summer as they should have been. This is likely due to issues related to moving to a new student data system, as some student addresses were not transferred in the move. Enrollment staff members are working right now to ensure every student has a valid address, and transportation staff members are working to get them into the routing software as quickly as possible.This issue is leading to some delays in school bus service and, in some cases, families not having a route at all. District officials acknowledge this is a problem, and are working to solve it for all families. In the meantime, families can check the Find Your Bus Stop tool online to see if they have school bus information available. If they do not, they can contact the Family Information Center at 615-259-INFO (4636) or by email at FamilyInfo@mnps.org to create a record of their individual issues.
Families continue to enroll throughout the first day of school, and instructions for school staff about enrollment were not clear enough. This caused some confusion over who was responsible for enrollment and how it should be handled. There are also several students with information waiting to be entered into the new student data system, which came online July 11.Schools have now been given clear instructions on how to enroll students on the spot, without having to send them to an Enrollment Center, along with all necessary forms. Enrollment staff members are working to ensure proper entry of all students who have completed the enrollment process.
- Family Information Center
With increased phone call volume related to the start of schools, along with an antiquated phone system in the process of being replaced, the Family Information Center phone lines crashed for two hours on the first day of school, leaving many families with no answers to their questions. The system remains at capacity, leading to long wait times and, in some cases, disconnected calls.The phone system is being replaced with a more modern system, though that will not be finished until early fall. Call volume is expected to return to normal levels in the second week of school, which should allow for faster answer times and quicker resolutions. However, other solutions are also under discussion to provide more immediate relief.
Other common issues seen in schools involve access to the new student data system, custodial services and interpretation for families who do not speak English. They are detailed in a memo to school leaders. You can also view the observation checklist used by district leadership during school visits.
“Like we’ve been saying, we have high expectations of ourselves, and we need to live up to and exceed them,” said Dr. Joseph. “That includes giving schools everything they need to serve students. Right now, we’re falling a little short. We need to acknowledge it, fix it and move forward in the school year.
“It was a busy summer for us, with a brand new leadership team coming on board in July, hiring nearly 30 principals, changing systems and processes – we did a lot. But we can always do more, and the lessons we learned this week will make us stronger this year and next August when we open the doors on 2017.”
Rate skyrockets from 61.9 percent in 2005 to 81.6 percent in 2015
With a 2015 graduation rate of 81.6 percent, Metro Schools continues its sharp upward trajectory in the number of students who are graduating high school prepared for the rigors of college and success in life after high school. The new graduation rate marks an increase of 2.9 percentage points in a single year, handily beating the district’s goal of 80 percent. In the last ten years, the district’s graduation rate has increased 19.7 percentage points, from 61.9 percent in 2005.
“Our efforts at district-wide improvement are paying off in an extremely important way,” said Chris Henson, interim director of schools. “More students are earning their high school diplomas, and that is our ultimate goal. Most districts don’t lead improvements with high school. Ours are blowing away all expectations and cementing Metro Schools as an example of how to do high school reform right.”
The vast majority of individual high schools – 18 out of 23 – saw increases, with Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet School remaining steady at 100 percent.
2015 reflects the highest graduation rate the district has reached since before 2011, when the Tennessee Department of Education changed the way it calculates the rate. Before 2011, students were given five years and a summer to count as graduating on-time. Now they are given only four years plus a summer. Despite this higher standard, the hard work of Metro teachers, principals, counselors and staff are helping more students graduate on time.
“You can’t underestimate the power of our teachers and principals to change students’ lives,” said Chief Academic Officer Jay Steele. “Our schools have become nimble and responsive places where educators can make individualized decisions for students based on real-time information of what they need at any particular point in the school year. They are getting better and better at tailoring instruction to individual students and meeting the needs of our very diverse student body.”
That diversity is represented in graduation rate gains, as well. Over the last five years, the district as a whole has increased the graduation rate by 5.4 percentage points with several student subgroups improving at an even faster pace. The rates increased significantly for economically disadvantaged students (+7.3 percentage points), students with limited English proficiency (+8.7 percentage points) and Hispanic students (+12.8 percentage points). These rapid gains are helping close the gap between these subgroups and their peers.
The decreases in graduation rates for Asian students and student with disabilities will require close study to determine the root cause and possible solutions. Students who receive a special education diploma or take more than four years and a summer to graduate, as many special education students do, count against the graduation rate.
“Once they reach graduation, students have a world of options available to them, with a focus on college readiness and access,” said Dr. Steele. “With the real-world exploration and experience they gain in Metro high schools through the Academies of Nashville and other programs, students are better prepared to make decisions about where to take their lives. And with dual enrollment, dual credit and advanced placement opportunities, they often head to college already equipped with several class credits.”
Learn more about the advantages Metro students gain for college life in this video, produced through the Academies of Nashville.
Note: A previous version of this post included longitudinal grad rates that were inaccurate. We regret this error and have revised the graphic to reflect the correct rates.
Development and expansion of new pre-K program continues with help from Vanderbilt research team
Starting this month, the high-quality, play-based curriculum guiding instruction in Metro Schools’ three Early Learning Centers is being expanded district-wide to 174 prekindergarten classrooms located in over 60 schools.
The latest research from Vanderbilt University on statewide prekindergarten offerings reiterates the need to provide consistent, high-quality curriculum and build upon the benefits of pre-K in early elementary grades. Metro Schools has proactively taken on that challenge and is building a high-quality pre-K program in Nashville that is unique in Tennessee and can help improve early learning practices district-, state- and nationwide.
The three Early Learning Centers that opened in the district last year are designed to be models for a brand new pre-K program based on research and the specific needs of young children. The expansion of Creative Curriculum – which offers a style of teaching based on structured play instead of large group instruction – is the first major step in a series of initiatives being funded by a federal pre-K grant that will improve the quality and consistency of pre-K instruction citywide. The grant gives the district $8 million in year one, with the possibility of another $25 million over the next three years.
The three primary goals of the federal pre-K grant are:
- Expand pre-K seats so more families have access
- Improve pre-K programming so it makes a longer lasting impact on student achievement
- Unify early childhood learning citywide – among public and private providers – so every child in Nashville can have a consistent experience and be prepared for elementary school
“Winning the grant was a game changer for early childhood education in Nashville, and we already had a big head start,” said Dana Eckman, director of Early Learning Innovation. “Thanks to a local investment from the Metro Council and the Mayor’s Office, Metro Schools was perfectly positioned to carry out an ambitious plan to rebuild pre-K. And thanks to a partnership with the team at Vanderbilt University, we have access to the very latest research to help shape what we’re doing in real-time.”
“We should all be proud of the investment we’ve made in high-quality prekindergarten and hopeful for the future of early childhood education in Nashville,” said Nashville Mayor Megan Barry. “As I’ve toured our early learning centers and spoken with our pre-K teachers, I have been incredibly impressed with their dedication and professionalism. Metro Schools is blazing a new path in pre-K that is building a foundation in learning that we can and should be building on in elementary school and beyond.”
In order to judge the effectiveness of this program as it develops, the Vanderbilt team is conducting a separate research project just about Nashville’s pre-K development. They are in the Early Learning Centers, speaking with teachers, observing and assessing students so the program can continue to evolve with the very latest and best expert feedback.
“We have been working in a collaborative partnership with the Metro Schools Early Learning Centers since they opened in 2014,” said Dale Farran, co-investigator of the Vanderbilt pre-K study. “Our goal is to assist them as they develop a vision for what an effective and positive pre-K experience should be. We provide real time extensive feedback to the teachers and coaches about the interactions and instructional quality of the classrooms. Teachers and coaches use those data to create goals for better practices. Our work from last year identified eight areas of practice that we showed were linked to higher gains for the children. Those eight areas are the focus for coaching and professional development this year. We are pleased that MNPS is taking its pre-K program so seriously and seeking to create a genuine evidence-based set of practices that will support the development of many young children.”
The new research from Vanderbilt on Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program shows that once students leave statewide pre-K classrooms, many of them begin to slip academically in later grades. By the time they reach third grade, many have fallen behind their peers who did not attend pre-K. To combat this elementary school slide on the local level, the district is putting a strong emphasis on early grade alignment, meaning that kindergarten, first, second and third grade will be built to support the instruction and style of learning students experienced in pre-K. Going further, there will be greater collaboration between pre-K and elementary grade teams, with teacher professional development designed to build a continuum pre-K through fourth grade.
“If we’re giving four year olds developmentally appropriate instruction in pre-K, we need to make sure we continue that practice as children move through the other early grades,” said Eckman. “That means we’ll be doing more experiential learning, arts, music, movement, foreign languages and outdoor learning in elementary schools.”
Watch as the early learning experts at Vanderbilt talk about the importance of high-quality pre-K and how to take it to scale.
To help this effort, former elementary principal Robin Cayce has been tapped to join district leadership as the executive director of professional development for grades pre-K through four. She is building education programs for elementary teachers that will spread these best practices throughout the district.
Along with Cayce, the support team for pre-K has grown with the addition of federal funding. The pre-K office will soon have its own dedicated staff of a dozen family involvement specialists who can build community and social supports for children and families. They will also work to get families engaged in their children’s learning early on to build good habits that can carry through in later grades.
“As Chief Financial Officer, I was proud to advocate for expanded and improved pre-K. As Interim Director, I’m proud to continue to build this program,” said Chris Henson. “It is one of the smartest high-yield investments we can make in the future of this district. With a brand new, high-quality pre-K program, our students will be prepared for anything they face leading up to and after graduation.”
Parents and students can visit with more than 200 colleges and universities all in one place during our annual College Fair next Tuesday, September 22nd at Global Mall at the Crossings from 3:30 – 7:00 p.m. There you can learn more about admissions, financial aid, college life and opportunities for scholarships.
Parents can get more information and support for the college search at http://www.collegefortn.org.
Last year we asked you to fill out two forms and send them back to school so we could know more about your family. It was a big success! We learned a lot and got the information we needed.
Well… now it’s a new year, and we need to do it again.
On August 25, your child will bring home two forms.
They must be filled out and returned by August 26.
What are these forms?
One form tells us who your child is, where you live and how to get in touch with you. The other helps us know how many of our families are economically disadvantaged.
Why do you need to know that?
There are two big reasons:
- Money – Without this information, your school could lose money. Certain kinds of federal and state money – including money used to buy technology – are partially dependent on the number of students who are economically disadvantaged. We need to know how many there are so our schools can get all of the resources they need.
- Accountability – We are required by the state to track the academic performance of economically disadvantaged students. Failure to complete this form could have an effect on your school’s accountability status.
What will the survey ask?
The survey will ask some very simple questions:
- Phone number
- Number of people in your household
- A range of income for your household
That’s private. What if I don’t want to share it with you?
We completely understand the concern. But there are two really important things to know about your personal information:
- We will never share it with anyone. It will always stay private. We promise. Your answers are put together with everyone else’s and reported as a percentage, with no names or identifying information attached.
- We don’t want to know how much money you make. The form only asks for your range of income. We don’t want to know an exact number.
Is there another way for you to get this information?
We used to collect this information with the Application for Free and Reduced Price Meals. If you’ve never filled out that application, then you have probably never seen this form. Because we now offer free meals to every student without an application, we need a new method to keep track of our economically disadvantaged families. This is it.
What if I’m not economically disadvantaged or don’t want your free lunch? Do I still have to fill this out?
Yes. We need this form from everyone. It’s not a requirement to get free breakfast and lunch. Everyone gets that already. But we need you to fill out the form so we can get the funding we need to serve all students. If you don’t fill it out, we won’t know if you’re economically disadvantaged or not, and we do not want to miss even a single family.
What is the student information form, and why do I have to fill it out?
There are thousands of Metro families with out of date contact information in our system. This summer, we mailed home nearly 44,000 report cards. Thousands were sent back to us with incorrect addresses. We clearly need a better way to keep this information up to date, and this is it. We need to be able to reach you if there is urgent news from your school, there is some sort of emergency, if school is closed due to weather or any number of good reasons.
How do I fill it out?
The form shows your child’s information as it is in our system right now, including address and phone number. Please hand write corrections directly on this form and return it to school by the next day (Wednesday, August 26). We will take your corrections and note them in our system. If there are no corrections needed, please write “NO CORRECTIONS” and send it back to school by the next day.
Again, these forms will be sent home when August 25 and needs to be returned August 26. They will also be available at our Enrollment Centers.
Thank you in advance for helping us capture this vital information about our families!
For eight years, the Parent University Conference has helped parents start the school year right with workshops, health screenings and community services. Families work with educators and district employees to learn how to be more involved in their child’s education and how best to support them in their academics.
There are also chances to win door prizes and get free school clothes and supplies. Plus, there will be free breakfast and lunch, as well as free childcare of parents who pre-register!
This year, we are honored to welcome Tennessee Commissioner of Education Dr. Candice McQueen to speak with parents about what they can expect from their kids’ education now and in the coming years.
It’s always a terrific event, one that brings together parents, teachers and city leaders to talk about how we can all work together to help kids. Here’s what parents have to say about it:
“I’ve learned so much information and gotten lots of help. I really like how I am able to get information that I might not have gotten at other places and am able to actually speak with service providers.” – MNPS Parent
“I feel better about sending my children to a public high school. I am happy I came and will spread the word to other middle school parents.” – MNPS Parent
Registration is free, and you can get a free ride on an MTA bus if you tell the driver you are going to Parent University. How easy is that?!
Register for Parent University online or call 615-298-6752
Saturday, August 15, 2015
8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Trevecca Nazarene University
Boone Business Center
333 Murfreesboro Road, 37210
Reward Schools list includes 6 charters, 5 magnets, 2 zoned schools and 1 non-traditional school
Fourteen Metro schools placed in the top five percent of public schools statewide for academic achievement, growth or both, according to the Tennessee Reward Schools list released by the Tennessee Department of Education today. The list of Metro Schools represents a mix of charter schools, magnet schools and zoned schools.
Reward schools earn recognition for performance, meaning very high raw achievement scores, or progress, meaning a large increase in scores from year to year. Two of the schools made the Reward list for both performance and progress, placing them in the upper echelons of schools statewide – Liberty Collegiate Academy, a charter school in East Nashville, and MNPS Middle College High School, a non-traditional school located on the campus of Nashville State Community College.
“This is a great way to start the school year. It validates the work our teachers are doing and gives us great momentum going into the first day of school,” said Interim Director of Schools Chris Henson. “We have been visiting with teachers over the last several days, encouraging them to continue this steady progress. Having such high recognition for so many of our schools is evidence that they are helping improve educational opportunities for students of all backgrounds and from all areas of Nashville.”
The district’s 2014-15 Reward Schools are:
- Glendale Elementary Spanish Immersion Elementary School – Performance
- Lockeland Elementary Design Center – Performance
- Percy Priest Elementary School – Performance
- Meigs Magnet Middle Prep – Performance
- Hume-Fogg Magnet High School – Performance
- Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School – Performance
- Liberty Collegiate Academy – Performance & Progress
- MNPS Middle College High School – Performance & Progress
- Apollo Middle Prep – Progress
- Intrepid College Preparatory School – Progress
- KIPP Academy Nashville – Progress
- Lead Academy – Progress
- LEAD Prep Southeast – Progress
- New Vision Academy – Progress
Five of these schools are on the Reward list for the first time:
- Apollo Middle Prep has been on the road of steady improvement for five years and has made incredible gains in all three tested subjects – 30 percentage points in math, 25 percentage points in science and nine percentage points in reading – with more than 86 percent of its student population coming from economically disadvantaged homes.
- MNPS Middle College High School, located on the Nashville State Community College campus, has been quietly building its reputation as a top-tier Nashville high school where students can earn high school diplomas and dozens of college credits simultaneously. Last year alone, 68 students earned 883 college credits, 2 associates degrees and 2 general education certifications before actually graduating from high school.
- Three Metro charter schools are also first timers on the Reward list. LEAD Academy, LEAD Prep Southeast and Intrepid College Prep are all being recognized for growth in student achievement. All three also serve student populations with more than 75 percent coming from economically disadvantaged homes.
The other eight schools returned to the list for at least a second year in a row, including five magnet schools and two charter schools.
“We are proud of all of these schools,” said Henson. “They represent the story that is being told in more than 160 schools district-wide. We are a district on the rise, and we will not stop until every child in Nashville has the chance for a world-class education.”
District continues steady improvement in
9 out of 10 subject areas
- Metro Schools showed achievement gains in 9 out of 10 tested subjects. In seven of those subjects, gains were larger than the state average and as much as double statewide gains in several high school subjects.
- The district scored a 5 out of 5 on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, which measures achievement growth.
- The district met 10 out of 11 academic targets set by the state accountability system – the highest number the district has ever met.
- Metro Schools is in good standing with the state once again at Intermediate status under the Tennessee Department of Education accountability system. Four years ago, the district was in Restructuring status, the lowest possible rating under No Child Left Behind.
- TCAP tests, which measure student performance in grades 3-8, saw moderate single-year gains in the number of students scoring proficient or advanced in math and science and a small decline in reading. Five-year gains, however, show growth in every subject, including significant growth in math and science.
- End-of-Course (EOC) exams, which measure student performance in grades 9-12, saw single-year gains in the number of students scoring proficient or advanced in every subject. Five-year gains are very strong, reaching double digits in most subjects.
- The percentage point increases over five years equates to 13,808 more students scoring proficient or advanced on TCAP tests and 5,129 more students scoring proficient or advanced on EOC exams for a total of 18,937 more students when not accounting for student population growth.
- In total, 51% of all Metro schools (75 schools) are growing and/or achieving at levels higher than the state average: 39% in elementary, 65% in middle and 58% in high.
Academic achievement data for the 2014-15 school year shows Metro Nashville Public Schools overall proficiency increasing at a faster rate than the state. As a result of last year’s gains, Metro Schools met 10 out of 11 achievement measures on the state’s accountability system – the most ever for the district.
District data also shows student growth outpacing the state, which reflects year-over-year academic progress for students regardless of proficiency. Metro Schools received a growth rating of five – the highest possible score – in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).
Last year’s scores mark a five-year trend of steady increases in student proficiency in 9 of 10 tested subject areas. In 7 of those 10 subjects, Metro Schools’ increases were significant enough to outpace improvement statewide, which similarly saw increases in every subject area except Reading / Language Arts for grades 3-8.
“Teachers and principals need to be proud of the progress their students are showing. We are certainly proud of them,” said Interim Director of Schools Chris Henson. “They have all worked very hard to improve academic opportunities and outcomes for Nashville’s children, and the progress they have made is significant in many areas. Though some years’ gains may seem modest, added up over time they are often quite large. That means more than just a score on a report – it means thousands more students performing at grade level and preparing for higher education.”
The Tennessee Department of Education implemented new standards and assessments in 2010. Since then, the number of students scoring proficient or advanced (P/A) grew significantly in every subject tested, particularly at the high school level, with most climbing by double-digit increases over five years.
If current proficiency levels were applied to the same student population size that the district had in 2010, nearly 19,000 more students are scoring proficient or advanced on the state’s standardized tests than were back then. Although the actual increase in the number of students meeting proficiency is even higher since the district’s student population has grown significantly during that time.
|Grades 3-8 TCAP||Single-year Gains
(in percentage points)
(in percentage points)
|Increase in Students Scoring P/A compared to 2010|
|Reading / Language Arts||-1.4||4.5||13,808|
|Grades 9-12 End-of-Course (EOC) Exams||Single-year Gains
(in percentage points)
(in percentage points)
|Increase in Students Scoring P/A compared to 2010|
*Since 2012, first year of English III and Algebra II EOC exams.
**The Chemistry EOC exam began in 2014.
|All Grades TCAP and EOC Exams||Increase in Students Scoring P/A compared to 2010|
High school subjects are the most consistently improving areas of academic performance. In fact, Nashville’s high school students grew at a faster rate than the state average in six out of seven EOC subjects. Though they have seen large jumps in long-term growth, elementary and middle school achievement levels are still a concern. Literacy, in particular, remains a needed area of focus after a slight decline in overall scores last year and flat scores over the last four years.
“Growth across the board is very promising, but the fact is that fewer than half of our elementary and middle school students are performing at grade level,” said Henson. “It is extremely important that we continue and accelerate this growth. We are ready to keep pushing forward this year with expanded programs to address our weak spots, particularly literacy, and added resources to help special groups of students like those living in poverty or learning to speak English.”
When considering those special groups of students, called subgroups, and the achievement gaps that exist between them and the student body as a whole, the results are mixed. Overall, achievement gaps in Metro Schools are still smaller than achievement gaps statewide in 15 of 16 measures (see chart below). High schools fared better than other grades, meeting targets for minority and economically disadvantaged students, the two largest subgroups in grades 9-12. While all subgroups improved in at least half of the subjects tested, elementary and middle schools only met one target for achievement gap closure.
About half of all Metro schools are achieving or growing at higher levels than the state average. In total, 75 district schools, or 51 percent, exceeded the state average in academic growth and/or achievement. Nineteen of those schools, or 13 percent, surpassed the state for both growth and achievement. These schools exist in every cluster and at every grade level, representing magnet, charter and zoned neighborhood schools.
“Schools all over Nashville are improving, which is good news for students and families,” said Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jay Steele. “This shows that our teachers and school leaders are developing solutions to meet the unique needs and challenges of their students. There is no secret trick to a successful, growing school. It takes empowered principals who can set goals and make instructional decisions at the school level, along with a great faculty to carry it out.”
That kind of flexibility is gaining even more ground in the 2015-16 school year as student-based budgeting has rolled out district-wide. Principals will have access to more funding for subgroups of students so they can better address their particular needs.
In addition, there are district-wide supports available to principals in areas that need improvement. The district’s literacy program is expanding this year thanks to a $1.3 million investment aimed at meeting aggressive three-year goals. The Office of English Learners is also prepared to enhance support for teachers, students and their families through a new department strategic plan and $1.1 million in additional resources.
Long term, the expansion of prekindergarten to every child who wants or needs it is expected to make a major impact in the years ahead as students enter kindergarten with better literacy skills and a much better grasp on the English language. The district received a major federal grant for the expansion and development of high-quality pre-K programming with $8.3 million being invested this year and the possibility for a total of $33 million over four years.
“There is an enormous amount of hard work happening in our schools, but to really accelerate the pace of learning, we will need the full backing of our community,” said Dr. Steele. “Particularly when it comes to literacy, there is a lot parents and community members can do. All of our schools have volunteer opportunities for tutoring, literacy clinics, after school programs and more. Anyone who wants to pitch in to help a child should contact a school or visit SchoolVolunteers.org.”
“We are fortunate to have an excellent strategic plan guiding our way forward,” said Henson. “It calls for greater supports for our schools, personalized learning for every student and empowering principals to make decisions. That is the philosophy driving our actions now and into the future. Regardless of my status as Interim Director of Schools or the on-going search for a permanent leader, this plan and the leadership team that has been carrying it out are still pushing us forward. There is a lot of work still to do and we are unwavering in our commitment to our students.”