Shelby County likely to stick with TCAP practice tests, even as Nashville drops them

PHOTO: T.Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
A Colonial Middle School student takes a practice writing test online in January 2014.

Shelby County Schools wants to extend its contract with Discovery Education Assessments, a company that aims to predict student performance on state tests, even after the state’s second-largest school district recently dumped the program.

Nashville is no longer asking schools to use Discovery’s program, arguing that the software seeks to predict scores on a test that the state has decided does not measure up to new, higher standards. Nashville schools will still be allowed to use Discovery practice tests alongside other assessments.

But Shelby County officials say that Discovery remains an essential tool, at least for the next year, while the state seeks bids from testing companies to replace the annual Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exam, known as TCAP.

Brad Leon, the district’s chief innovation officer, told the Board of Education in July that Discovery Education is still the system’s “best option” to gauge how well students will perform on the TCAP, whose results are used to judge students, teachers, and schools. He recommended that the district continue funding the program for at least one year, at a price tag of $700,000 for nearly 90,000 students in 2nd through 11th grade.

“It accurately informs teachers of student mastery and areas that need to be retaught,” Leon said.

But a local educator said that has not always been the case. For several years, Shelby County students have taken the tests three times during the school year, twice in the fall and one time in the early spring prior to state tests.

“It’s been off for the past three to four years,” said one Shelby County educator, who spoke to Chalkbeat TN on the condition of anonymity to protect his job. “I don’t rely on it.”

Discovery Education guarantees only a 72 to 84 percent accuracy prediction rate and says teachers should not use its results as their only guide to what students’ state test scores will ultimately be.

“Discovery Education assessments have been developed to inform instruction and support learning, and we believe these should be just one of multiple measures that a district uses to evaluate a student’s progression of knowledge and skills,” according to a statement provided to Chalkbeat TN.

In its statement, Discovery Ed also said its program does reflect the Common Core standards, even though TCAP was not designed with the Common Core in mind — a central concern for Metro Nashville administrators.

“(Discovery Education) is not useful in a post-TCAP environment, and we’re not technically a post-TCAP environment, but we’re operating as if we are because we are ready to use PARCC,” said Joseph Bass, a spokesman for Metro Nashville Public Schools, referring to the new Common Core-aligned tests that Tennessee and other states are considering adopting in the future.

Shelby County School Board member Teresa Jones raised similar concerns during last month’s meeting.

“If Discovery Ed is not aligned to the Common Core, then could this be a waste of time,” Jones asked district leaders during a meeting in July.

When the board votes on the issue, which is expected to happen Aug. 26, Jones could be sole dissenting voice against the program.

No other board members have said they plan to vote against the district’s contract for the program, and a few have said they support its proposed contract.

Both Shante Avant and Chris Caldwell, who held on to their school board seats in this month’s election, told Chalkbeat they would support continuing to use the test predictor software.

“Absent a better option, I’m in favor of using it,” Caldwell said.  “It would be great to have something that could correlate with the state tests by 100 percent. But as long as it’s consistent, teachers and principals can adjust and plan appropriate intervention.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at (901) 730-4013. On Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier or @chalkbeattn. On Facebook.
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call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”