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State Report: No Rules Prohibiting Metro Testing Practices

Posted: 7:00 PM, Jun 06, 2016
Updated: 2018-12-18 13:36:01-05

Critics called it "gaming the system."

But, in a just-released report, the Tennessee Department of Education says there were no rules prohibiting the testing games played by some Metro Schools.

Still, the carefully worded, six-page report does suggest that Metro Schools should put the testing practices of five high schools under closer scrutiny.

Metro's testing practices came under state review after two whistleblowers went public with allegations that some low-performing schools were pulling struggling students from classes with critical End-of-Course exams so those students would not pull down the schools' test scores.

In some cases, those withdrawals came in the last few weeks of school.

"All of these students, the ones that got pulled, have that in common: they did not perform well on the predictive tests," said former guidance counselor Kelly Brown.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Why would they do that?"

"The only reason," Brown answered, "is because they want their scores to go up. That's the only reason."

Toni Jones, a student at Pearl-Cohn High School, was pulled from Algebra I -- a course she was actually passing -- and told to study it on a computer on her own.

"Sooner or later, after that, I just gave up," she recalled. "I stopped caring about my math grade. I was like, ok, I just didn't care any more."

 

In fact, the state report says it did find similar examples.

But it added: "the State of Tennessee does not have any laws or rules in place that direct when a student can or cannot be removed from a class."

As a result, the state "does not ... take any position as to the appropriateness" of such practices.

Toni Jones' attorney, Gary Blackburn, said that just because it's not against the rules doesn't mean it's right.

"There always have been people, as long as there have been systems, who try to game those systems -- and that's what's happened here," Blackburn added.

"So, no, I am not surprised that we do not yet have any sort of a specific regulatory provision. I would be surprised if there weren't some interest in creating one now that the problem has been identified."

The Department of Education report looked at the number of students district-wide who got credit for those courses without taking the required End-of-Course exams and concluded that those omissions "did not have a material effect on End-of-Course compliance rates."

However, the review did not look at whether those omissions might have had an effect on the testing outcomes for individual schools.

Still, it says Metro should closely track End-of-Course testing practices at five schools: Glencliff, Hunters Lane, John Overton, Maplewood and Pearl Cohn -- as well as the district's alternative learning centers.

The two whistleblowers who sparked the investigation and gave lawmakers huge files of evidence say the Department of Education never even contacted them.

And the state lawmaker who requested the state review had some pretty strong words.

Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, calls it a "whitewash" by the Haslam administration and "nothing more than smoke and mirrors."

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