Freed from lofty expectations outlined in the now-irrelevant No Child Left Behind law, Metro Nashville Public Schools finds itself in a more comfortable “intermediate” status under new state accountability metrics.
“That’s a nice change from the old No Child Left Behind standard where Nashville ranked on the lowest rung of the latter,” Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register told media Monday at a press conference following last week’s release of district-by-district TCAP scores.
“We’re very pleased with that,” he said.
After landing a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education in February, Tennessee is no longer holding districts, students and schools to President George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind standards known as Adequate Yearly Progress. In its place is a new state-monitored accountability system tailor-made for each district — one that recognizes some school systems historically perform better than others.
In past years, the NCLB law placed Metro in various forms of “corrective action,” labeled dozens of schools “high priority,” and routinely singled out the lack of achievement among Nashville’s sizeable English Language Learners and disabled students as barriers to good standing. The law habitually put Metro school officials on the defensive this time of year.
But the highly ridiculed NCLB system is now a thing of the past in Tennessee. And following newly released TCAP data, Metro is somewhere in the middle — or “intermediate,” as the state calls it.
Metro is not one of the 21 districts statewide that are so-called “exemplary districts” under the new system. But Metro is also not one of the several systems across Tennessee that saw declines within particular demographics: students with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged or designated ethnic groups.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve made advancements in all of these sub categories,” Register said.
Among these, Metro’s ELL population — the largest in the state, and one of the district’s greatest challenges to educate — saw a 5.5 percent TCAP proficiency improvement in math and 3 percent tick in reading at the K-8 level.
Working with the state, Metro created nine benchmarks, according to Paul Changas, executive director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation at Metro. The district hit seven of them, falling short in only third-grade reading/language arts and its overall graduation rate of 76 percent in 2011. (The 2012 graduation rate has not been calculated.)
Metro’s graduation rate had previously increased to 82.9 percent. But a change in state law requires ELL and disabled students to graduate in four years. Previously, they could graduate in four years.
Replacing the NCLB expectation that all school districts reach the same academic benchmarks, Tennessee’s new system focuses on “growth and improvement,” according to the Tennessee Department of Education. The new system also places an emphasis on “gap closure” between demographics.
“I think it’s realistic,” Register of the change. “I’ve said this a number of times: ‘It really increases the pressure on us.’ The expectations that we had under No Child Left Behind were outdated and therefore not realistic. We didn’t have a chance at moving those standards.”