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Tennessee’s turnaround district scores worse in nearly all high school subjects

Monica Disare

Tennessee’s school turnaround district has little to celebrate with the latest batch of scores from the state’s new test.

In all subject areas but one, the Achievement School District produced high school scores that were the same or worse when it comes to passing grades. The exception is English III, which saw only a 4 percent increase in students testing on grade level.

Math and English remain a gargantuan challenge for students in the state-run district. Only about 8 percent of high schoolers passed English — fewer than last year — while math scores stalled with less than 1 percent meeting expectation.

The lower scores call into question the turnaround tactics being used by the ASD, at least when it comes to its oldest students.

Tennessee launched its school improvement district in 2012, gradually taking control of some of the state’s most struggling schools and assigning charter management organizations to turn them around. The ASD now oversees 32 schools in Memphis and Nashville, with all six of its high schools in Memphis.

Superintendent Malika Anderson said Wednesday that more collaboration is needed across the district’s charter groups to address significant differences in testing results. That’s a tact that has helped the Innovation Zone, another Memphis turnaround program operated by Shelby County Schools, which has logged stronger gains than the ASD in past years. (Whether iZone schools outpaced ASD schools this year remains to be seen. School-level scores won’t be released until the fall when Tennessee publishes its state report card.)

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen hinted earlier this week that ASD scores would be disappointing when her department released district-level results on Wednesday. McQueen emphasized that school turnaround work is hard, especially at the high school level — a sentiment borne out across the nation and echoed by Anderson after the scores came out.

“[Our] students have often spent most of their educational careers in underperforming elementary and middle schools and have very little time before they will have to transition to postsecondary life …,” Anderson said in a statement.

Four of the ASD’s six Memphis high schools are turnaround schools: Fairley High, GRAD Academy, Hillcrest High and Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory. Two are alternative schools that aim to help off-track or disconnected students attain their diplomas. Comprising a third of the scores across the ASD’s high schools, those two alternative schools likely skew the district’s test results down.

The scores compare poorly to statewide averages that aren’t so great themselves. Across Tennessee, 22 percent of students are learning on grade level in math and 34 percent are passing English.

You can compare the ASD to other school districts in the interactive chart below.

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