Children in Metro Schools scored higher in most of this year’s state standardized tests, and in many cases made greater gains than the state average — but more than half of them are still below grade level.
“I am not satisfied that we’re where we need to be,” said Director of Schools Jesse Register about the test scores released by the state and district Wednesday. “Really, the trend is what’s really important there. We have higher standards, our overall achievement is going up. And we see in a number of our schools where we had a lot of low performing kids, we see kids moving up with their test scores.”
Register argues the scores are not a true reflection of student achievement given the test is off base from the Common Core education standards teachers have shifted to in the last few years. The state isn't expected to switch to a new test until spring of 2016 at the earliest.
Here are four takeaways from Metro’s district-level results on the high school End of Course exams and the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests:
As a whole, students in Metro’s middle schools struggled to make solid gains. Students in grades 3-8 made marginal gains on this year’s test, posting 2 percentage point climbs in math and science but struggling to move the needle more than a percentage point in reading, social studies and U.S. history.
High schoolers did better. They posted a 7.2 percentage point jump in English II and the number of English I takers who scored at or above grade level climbed by 6 percentage points. However, English III scores took a hit, dropping by 2.6 percentage points from last year.
But math was a mixed bag for high schools. Algebra I scores dropped 3.6 percentage points, while Algebra II climbed 4.4 percentage points. In Biology I, students climbed 3.2 percentage points.
In most subjects, less than half of students are below grade level. Student scores are separated into four categories. Students scoring “proficient” are considered to be at grade level, and those scoring above proficient are ranked as “advanced.” Students scoring below grade level are given scores called “basic” or “below basic.”
More than half of students scored “basic” or “below basic” on all math and science exams and half of the English tests. Tests with a majority of students scoring below grade level include Algebra II (71 percent), Biology I (50 percent), and elementary and middle school students taking the state test in math (55 percent), reading and language arts (59 percent) and science (52 percent). In Algebra I, 52 percent of students are below grade level, as are 77 percent in English III, although the district says some students in advanced classes either do not take the test or it does not count, pulling bright students' scores out of the results.
Although many students are scoring below grade level, the district has seen improvements in the last four years that have amounted to double digit gains. Since 2010, students scoring proficient or advanced in Algebra I rose to 48 percent from 29 percent. In elementary and middle school math, 45 percent of students are basic or proficient, compared to 27 percent four years prior.
The district’s best tests are English I and English II. On those exams, almost two thirds, 62 percent, scored proficient or advanced in English I, and 55 percent scored on grade level in English II.
Students scored well on history and social studies, too. Here, nearly 92 percent of students scored at or above grade level in high school U.S. history, as did 76 percent taking social studies in third through eighth grades. Statewide, students pass this test with flying colors with 95.9 percent and 85 percent, respectively, scoring at or above grade level.
MNPS’ scores lags behind state. Metro students statewide still trail behind Tennessee averages on every test. Middle schools are closest to catching up, trailing their peers by 6.7 percentage points in math and less than 9 percentage points in reading. In high school English I and II, Metro students are within 9 percentage points of the state average.
On all others, the school district is double digits behind its fellow Tennesseans. In the district’s worst case, Algebra II students are nearly 20 percentage points from the average high schooler’s score.
But in a majority of the tests, Metro Schools students are gaining ground on the state averages, posting larger improvements than the state has as a whole. Middle school students in all but social studies made greater gains than the state did, as did students taking English I and II test, high school biology and U.S. history.
MNPS’ achievement gaps are smaller than the state’s. While the district sees gaps in test scores between students who are poor, have disabilities, speak limited English skills or come from a racial minority, those differences are smaller than the statewide average.
MNPS was already ahead of the state on 13 out of 16 math and science measures last year, but shrunk the gap in the last three benchmarks this spring.
This year’s testing shows smaller gaps between minority students and their peers from a year ago, with similar results for poor students.
While the district’s achievement gap is smaller than the state’s, MNPS’ gaps grew between students with disabilities and those without. Students with limited English skills also saw the gulf between their test scores and their English-speaking students widen.