The Tennessean Thursday, April 17, 2008 Complexity demands we change methods
By GARY NIXON, Ed.D., and ART FULLER
On the surface, it
should be an easy task to calculate the dropout rate, but finding a
number that accurately shows how many students actually graduate high
school is a very complex task.
may move without warning, enroll in other schools without properly
transferring their paperwork, or even show up with a new name or
address after a custody change. These, and many other variables,
overload an already strained data-management system. Comparing
graduation numbers from state to state is often a hollow task, because
the method used to obtain that number can be different in every state.
national formula to calculate graduation rates is on the horizon. This
spring, Secretary Margaret Spellings announced that the U.S. Department
of Education will begin to propose rules that require a uniform method
for all states to calculate and report graduation rates. Tennessee has
already begun a process to more precisely capture the type of data
national formula will require a paradigm shift in commonly held methods
for calculating graduation. First, commonly held practices for
reporting graduation rates are based on estimates. A recent report from
America's Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
relies on a methodology called the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI).
The CPI "estimates the likelihood that a ninth-grader will complete
high school on time with a regular diploma." The challenge of
identifying, capturing, and tracking student-level data, within a
cohort that changes over four years, requires a robust and reliable
Digital Tracking is Key
This data set is reported by
local school districts and will be independently verified by the state
based on digital records. In the paper-based system, individually
tracking students who transferred among specialized programs, schools,
districts and states easily overruns the system. This process only
provides ballpark figures with noticeable margins for error.
using a digital system that assigned a unique digital student
identification number, Tennessee has a greater capacity to individually
track students who have transferred between systems, other programs for
completion or who have dropped out. This new level of verification
boosts incentive for school districts to track, confirm and verify
implementation of this new system has revealed a few obstacles. At
least four years of student-level data is required to complete a
statewide transition. The Education Department and local districts are
continuing to work through adjustments that allow for a more seamless
transition from a paper-based system to a digital system that provides
robust data to calculate reliable graduation rates.
its master plan, the Tennessee State Board of Education sets as its
goal a 90 percent graduation rate. However, graduation rate alone is
only important insofar as its graduates are prepared to succeed in
today's global economy.
The Tennessean Tuesday, January 15, 2008 (p. 10A) Local innovative decision-making at heart of plan
By Art Fuller
All Tennessee children should have access to great teaching, regardless of where they live.
the request of the General Assembly, the State Board of Education has
collaborated with the Tennessee Education Association, Tennessee
Organization of School Superintendents, Tennessee School Boards
Association and the state Department of Education to form a working
group to craft guidelines for the differentiated pay of teachers. The
working group began its discussion with the assumption that each of the
136 local school districts is in the best position to make decisions
related to recruiting, retaining and rewarding good teaching, based on
the local dynamics within its own communities.
guidelines are about much more than "teacher bonuses" and offer
districts a host of options to choose from as they craft innovative
solutions to overcome persistent teacher shortage and teacher quality
issues. The guidelines direct school districts to move through three
stages in crafting plans to be submitted and approved by the Education
Department starting next year. These stages were arrived at through
consensus of the working group and include:
• Adhering to a set of overarching principles.
• Determining district specific needs.
• Customizing a local solution.
guidelines outline a data-driven decision-making process based on
continual and approved budgeting that does not come at the expense of a
competitive base salary for all teachers.
may submit plans in one or more of four major areas: recruiting
teachers to hard-to-staff schools; recruiting new teachers to
Tennessee; filling the needs in academic shortage areas; and retaining
highly effective teachers. Within each area, options range from loan
forgiveness and teaching fellowships to pay supplements and signing
to popular opinion and intuition, salary is not the main reason
teachers leave the profession. A 2005 study by the National Center on
Education Statistics said the top three reasons teachers say they leave
the profession are:
• Not enough time for planning/preparation.
• The teaching workload is too heavy.
Classes are too large. Salary ranks fourth. Because of this
understanding, the guidelines provide districts the opportunity for
creativity not specifically articulated by the working group. One
specific example includes incentives related to reduction in class load
or class size.
local districts begin the process of designing differentiated pay
plans, we hope systems take full advantage of the flexibility provided
for grass-roots solutions to attract, recruit and retain effective
Art Fuller is the executive administrative assistant for the Tennessee State Board of Education
Monday, December 26, 2005 (p. 18A)
‘Proficiency’ isn’t high enough in state schools
To the Editor:
Tennessee, it’s time to change the perception of student academic performance and achievement data. I am talking about change in a manner that provides the greatest benefit to students, parents, and the public.
The disconnect between Tennessee’s definition of “proficiency” and realized performance on the National Educational Assessment for Progress is striking. It is a fact in this “great state” a student can score below the 15th percentile while still deemed “proficient” in mathematics.
Though not alone among our Southern peers, surely in this we cannot take solace.The explanation from official will point to the fact the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) is standards-based with researched benchmarking scores aimed to assess the requisite knowledge of state not national academic standards. This is “true fact”.
However, Tennessee must decide in whose best interest is it to pretend that the 15th percentile is good enough? It is not, nor ever will be against emerging, global, and unsympathetic opponents. General Motors can vouch for that.
How do we favor our students and parents by subjective iterations of transparency? Tennessee, you will ask for forgiveness, as the global economy laughs at a system of public schools and assortment of “proficient” students who didn’t know any better.
The Tennessean Friday, April 4, 2003 (p. 18A) Pre-K education needs lottery funds
To the Editor:
As the state
legislature considers a role for pre-K within the state lottery debate,
I hope our elected officials do their homework and take notice of
A benefit-cost analysis of early childhood intervention has relayed
some powerful results that warrant further study, examination, and
The National Institute for Early Education Research, in association
with the Pew Charitable Trust, has assessed a four dollar return for
very dollar invested in pre-K education, tracking 111 infants through
adulthood. In comparison to the control, pre-K participants saved
school districts more than $11,000 per child due to reduced expenses in
special and remedial education. Additionally, participants were twice
as likely to attend higher education. These findings are based on the
Abecedarian pre-K program in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Further corroborating such evidence, a detailed analysis of over 1,000
pre-K infants in Chicago, reveals a seven dollar return per dollar
invested, including a 29% increase of graduation rate and 33% reduction
in juvenile arrests. The Institute for Research on Poverty in
coordination with the Chicago Child-Parent Center Program performed
this 17-year study involving over 23 separate centers.
With the lottery debate intensifying, these studies provide persuasive
arguments for an increased focus on early childhood legislation. It has
always been difficult promoting the economic benefits of early
Legislators, two non-partisan agencies have done the homework. Keep powerfully packed pre-K at the center of the debate.