HCS Showing Steady Growth
In January of 2002, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This sweeping education reform pledged to increase funding for poor school districts as well as produce higher achievement scores for poor and minority students. In order to hold districts and schools accountable, NCLB dramatically expanded the role of standardized testing in grades 3-8 in math and reading. With the increase in testing and accountability, came a hyperfocus on data and year to year growth.
For two decades, NCLB has steered shifts in teaching, curriculum, and how individual school districts and their schools are viewed by their communities. Designating schools as “passing” or “failing” based on test data or assigning a school a number in a ranking system based on test data can give a community an idea of the performance of that school, However, that snapshot of data is void of nuance and never tells the whole story of what makes a school or a district perform at a certain level on state tests.
When school districts are measured by test data, the numbers are rarely presented as a longitudinal string of data that spans years. Oftentimes, the data is shared on a year to year basis while only comparing the current year’s data with its predecessor. The numbers are drilled down to comparing consecutive years and making a judgment on whether or not the district improved from the prior year. The next year, the same comparison is made. And so on and so forth. While we can glean some information from comparing two years of data, it doesn’t tell the whole story of what a school system truly is.
When school districts are measured by test data, the numbers are rarely presented as a longitudinal string of data that spans years.
Haywood County Schools, like all school districts in Tennessee, is directed by a superintendent who answers to a school board who is elected by the public who pays taxes. Those taxes are distributed to different entities in the county, most notably the school system, by the county commission who is required to spend a certain amount on public education. When the breakdown of school management and school funding is presented in that way, it’s very clear that a school system does not operate in a vacuum when it comes to educating students in a county. However, school systems are often solely held accountable for those results when, in fact, the success of school systems is the responsibility of the entire community.
School systems are often solely held accountable for those results when, in fact, the success of school systems is the responsibility of the entire community.
With this in mind, The Educational Opportunity Project (EOP) at Stanford University was formed. The backbone of the EOP is the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA). According to their website, SEDA is an initiative aimed at harnessing data to help scholars, policymakers, educators, and parents learn how to improve educational opportunities for all children. In other words, SEDA is able to take test data and show the myriad of factors that influence the learning environment for schools and school systems. Instead of looking at a year to year score, SEDA weighs factors such as academic achievement, as well as district-level measures of racial and socioeconomic patterns, and other features of the schooling system to formulate trends in learning based on these factors.
SEDA takes the data and gives it context by placing it in three different buckets: average test scores, learning rates, and trends in test scores.
According to SEDA, average test scores are a result of how many educational opportunities are available to students within their community and based on grades 3-8 standardized tests in reading and math. These educational opportunities stretch well beyond the classrooms and school buildings; they are comprised of opportunities to learn at home, in neighborhoods, in child-care, preschool and after-school programs, from peers and friends, and at school. Another way to say how average test scores are formed is to say they are a product of, not only the school system, but also the local community and local, elected officials that make decisions to benefit as many of the citizens of a given community as possible.
Based on the data from SEDA, Haywood County provides students lower than average educational opportunities such as neighborhood support and child-care support. Because of this and other factors, the average test score of HCS was lower than the national average by 1.49 grade levels. However, the average test score for HCS was essentially the same as other counties in the country with a similar socioeconomic status to HCS.
SEDA not only shares the data, but also gives an explanation for why the data is what it is. According to the research of SEDA, low average test scores are a result of fewer learning options for students. While average test scores are one way to evaluate school systems, SEDA believes that schools and districts are better evaluated using learning rates, which measure student improvement rather than achievement.
Learning rates simply gauge how much students’ scores improve each year while they attend school. Much like the average test score data, HCS learning rates are just below the national average. However, the learning rates of HCS are nearly identical to similar socioeconomic counties. According to SEDA, HCS learning rates are 5% below the national average. While average test scores simply show the achievement of students in the district, learning rates show how much learning is taking place over time. And while HCS acknowledges that improvement needs to be made, we are very encouraged by our trend in test scores.
A trend in test scores tracks average test scores over time and shows growth or decline in educational opportunity. These trends reflect shifts in school quality as well as changes in family and community characteristics. This piece of data also tells the full story of how a district has progressed (or regressed) over a ten year period of time.
According to SEDA, Haywood County, Tennessee shows improving educational opportunities. In HCS, test scores increased an average of 0.07 grade levels per year between the school years of 2008-2018. What this data shows is that the community and school system are implementing successful programs and the students are showing slow, but steady growth each year.
In HCS, test scores increased an average of 0.07 grade levels per year between the school years of 2008-2018.
While our test scores increased overall during the previous decade, we also saw faster learning growth than other counties with a similar socioeconomic makeup. Another encouraging piece of data found in our trend in test scores was that each sub-group showed growth over the last decade with our minority students showing the most growth.
Assigning a rating or a passing or failing grade to a particular school or school district can be both damaging and misleading. Ratings give an inaccurate and incomplete view of the learning that is taking place within a given district and can become talking points that can form a false narrative.
Assigning a rating or a passing or failing grade to a particular school or school district can be both damaging and misleading.
According to recent research done by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor John Angrist, evaluating a district on achievement scores can be profoundly misleading. An excerpt from the research paper reads:
“Popular school ratings based on achievement levels are particularly misleading measures of quality and highly correlated with race. At the same time, ratings that look at achievement growth or progress across grades better reflect school quality and are less correlated with race.”
And, that is the beauty of the study done by SEDA – it shows a more complete picture of the learning taking place in HCS over the last decade. It allows us, as a community, to understand that the success of a school system is dependent on the totality of the Haywood County.
It goes without saying that Haywood County and the surrounding areas are preparing for changes that will directly impact the lives of every citizen in West Tennessee. It is important to recognize that HCS is moving in the right direction, but also acknowledge that we cannot do this work alone. It will take the entire community supporting public education to make us as successful as we can be – for our students, their future success, and the future success of Haywood County.
- To see the full report of Haywood County by SEDA, click the link below then click on Brownsville on the map.