in the burbs

Germantown tops Tennessee in high school test scores, other suburban Memphis districts see gains

PHOTO: EdBuild
Six municipal school districts were created near Memphis in 2014 after splitting off from newly consolidated Shelby County Schools.

Three years after breaking off from Memphis schools, most of Shelby County’s six suburban school systems showed modest improvements on state test scores for high schools — and one outpaced all districts across Tennessee.

Germantown Municipal School District had the highest gains of high schoolers passing the state’s new TNReady test in 2017, besting all 129 Tennessee school systems with high schools.

And nearby Arlington Community Schools, with one high school, scored the second highest in the state in English and history.

Collierville High School also posted in the state’s top performers in all subjects: third in science, fourth in math, fifth in English and sixth in history.

All three of those districts also reduced the percent of students performing below grade level in every subject. Arlington, Collierville and Germantown were among 10 school systems statewide to achieve that status, showing that its students are still improving, even if they haven’t reached proficiency.

Only Millington and Bartlett saw noticeable drops in end-of-course tests — both in U.S. history. Bartlett also dipped slightly in math scores to just under 25 percent proficiency.

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The latest high school scores provide a significant snapshot of the suburbs’ academic performance in their third year of existence and in the second year under a new, harder state test.

The school systems were created in 2014 after a failed merger a year earlier of mostly black Memphis City Schools with the mostly white suburban county district known as Legacy Shelby County Schools.

The developments were part of a sea change in the educational landscape of Greater Memphis that is significantly fractured along racial and socioeconomic lines. The suburban districts now have far fewer poor students compared to inner-city schools in the new Shelby County Schools. Impoverished students generally come to school already behind academically, and the Memphis district must pour more resources into catching them up.

Shelby County’s suburban districts were spotlighted this summer in a national report on school district pullouts. The report from EdBuild, a nonprofit research group focusing on education funding and inequality, called the 2014 breakaways one of the nation’s most “egregious examples” of public education splintering into a system of haves and have-nots over race and class.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.