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Six charts showing test scores in schools that Tennessee wants to turn around

State achievement test scores always invite local study and review. But in Memphis, the latest mixed results remain the source of intense scrutiny at local, state and national levels. Here, Tennessee has planted its flag as the battleground to transform the state’s chronically failing schools into its best schools.

Tennessee’s most populated city is also home to a disproportionately high percentage of minority and low-income students, along with historically low student achievement, prompting intensive school turnarounds efforts through the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) and Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone.

The stakes remain high, as Memphis has received the lion’s share of government and philanthropic investments in the state’s school turnaround work. The outcomes are being closely watched, particularly as the ASD has completed its third year of school operations and Shelby County Schools is ramping up and expanding its iZone program.

The ASD, which began operations in 2012-13 with some of the worst-performing schools in Shelby County and across Tennessee, continues to face a heavy lift, as do most schools operated by Shelby County Schools.

Shelby County Schools, which is the state’s largest public school district, saw improvements in every subject except reading/language arts — an issue with which school leaders have long grappled. This year, the district is rolling out a new comprehensive literacy improvement plan that taps the expertise of reading coaches and integrates reading skills across the curriculum.

Most schools in Shelby County’s iZone, a select group that started in the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools, saw their students’ math scores rise since the previous school year.

The improvements were enough to elicit praise from top state officials. “I am proud of the iZone work that is happening in the state,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, calling the iZone “a strategy that we have felt is extraordinarily important for change and for improving all of the lives of our students.”

District iZones were borne of the same state legislation passed in 2010 that gave traditional public school districts special flexibilities and federal money to improve schools at risk of state intervention. Shelby County Schools deployed an aggressive iZone initiative that gave principals at select schools the autonomy to hire teachers, rewrite their curriculum, and add extra hours onto the school day.

*School joined the iZone in 2012-13, **School joined the iZone in 2013-14,***School joined the iZone in 2014-15
State data is not available for Grandview Heights Middle for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

However, iZone reading scores were mostly stagnant or dipped, mirroring what’s happening across the state. Only three iZone schools showed improvement in reading by 2 or more percentage points.

*School joined the iZone in 2012-13, **School joined the iZone in 2013-14,***School joined the iZone in 2014-15
State data is not available for Grandview Heights Middle for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. English I scores from 2011-14 were not available for Trezevant High, Melrose High or Hamilton High so they were not included in this chart. The 2013-14 English I scores for Trezvant, Melrose and Hamilton were 23, 33.1 and 26.2 respectively.

The state’s ASD is the other primary agent for school turnaround work in Memphis. Most ASD schools saw gains in math, but results were mixed for schools that have been under ASD oversight the longest.

The majority of ASD schools performed better last school year than the schools did in 2011-12, before the state-run district began its turnaround work.

*School joined the ASD in 2012-13, **School joined the ASD in 2013-14,***School joined the ASD in 2014-15
State data is not available for schools showing 0 percent proficient or advanced. High school scores are from Algebra 1 exams.

Reading continues to be a challenging subject for the state-run district, but also for schools across the state. More than half of the ASD schools saw their scores decrease.

“We know from national research and our own experience that reading growth tends to lag behind other subjects in a school turnaround setting,” said Malika Anderson, ASD deputy superintendent. “Our public school operators know this is a challenge and will continue to make reading a major focus this year.”

*School joined the ASD in 2012-13, **School joined the ASD in 2013-14, ***School joined the ASD in 2014-15
State data is not available for schools showing 0 percent proficient or advanced. High school scores are from English 1 exams.

The results — both from the state’s ASD and Shelby County’s iZone — offer a platform for studying what’s working, and what’s not, in school turnaround efforts in Memphis.

“The great debate will be: Did (the ASD) force Shelby County Schools to step up and be intentionally focused on improving the outcomes of hardest-to-serve populations?” asked Shelby County board member Kevin Woods. “If you look at data of our iZone schools, you could argue that our success could be credited to the fact that our competition was here in Memphis.”

Data source: TN Department of Education. Graphics: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

Editor’s note: This updated story and charts correct 2011-12 data included in an earlier version.

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