Thursday, May 25, 2006

Thursday 5/25/06

Monday evening I attended the graduation for Stratford Comprehensive High School at TSU’s Gentry Center. What a difference from the graduation for East Literature Magnet on Friday. The East one was quiet and sedate in comparison to the Stratford students and their families who could hardly contain themselves they were so glad to have made it that far. They had a lot to celebrate and I’m very glad for them. Most students hardly wanted to shake the hands of dignitaries as they crossed the platform and many didn’t even bother—I don’t blame them a bit. We laughed and cheered most of the way through the ceremony.

BOE MEETING: Tuesday evening was my first board meeting. I met with Chair Pam Garrett beforehand and we went over the agenda and the previous minutes, I asked several questions regarding who had approved items for passage where they money had come from, if they’d gotten notice of some of these things before hand. All were satisfactorily answered by Ms. Garrett.

She also surprised me by telling me she wanted me to lead the pledge at the opening of the meeting—which I did.

Judge Carol Solomon did my public swearing in after an award from the Education Consumers Foundaton to Principal Brenda Steele of Amqui Elementary, a couple of perfect attendance awards that were overlooked previously (they missed this event though) and the goodbye and hello of the student board members.

The consent agenda was passed unanimously. It contained some contract changes to maintenance work and the awarding of the contract for the remodeling & additions at Glengarry Elementary school awarded to a company called Kerry-Campbell, Inc.

Next up were the final readings of what are monitoring reports for the results the board desires in the system, specifically the results in AP classes and ACT/SAT/PSAT testing. Ms. Garrett told me that since I hadn’t been on the board for the previous presentations of these I would not vote on those but I did comment.

I had been at the school board meeting on 4/25/06 when testimony about the AP classes was presented and noted at the time that while the number of students taking the classes was increasing and the number of students passing the classes was increasing two important pieces of informtion were missing. I had a chance to mention those during the discussion at this BOE meeting. One was we don’t know how many students are taking the classes and the students aren’t required to take the final test. I did stumble and ramble a bit trying to make this point. I can only attribute it to my first time speaking up in that venue and I got better quickly.

SIDE COMMENTARY: If we’re to really understand our rate of return, if you will, on providing these classes we’ve got to know if the goal of obtaining that college credit is being accomplished. I think taxpayers are willing to help these students get a jump start on their college credits. But it was news to many that night and I’m sure news to many taxpayers that students are not required to take the test if they take the class. If we have 100 students in the class and only 50 take the test and then only 54% of them passed are these classes really a wise investment of taxpayer dollars in a system that has so many foundational needs? We can’t accurately assess the success of these classes without all the numbers. So the Board is going to require them.

Also at that 4/25/06 meeting the woman presenting had a slide I considered very enlightening. We know that not everyone is a good test taker. MNPS is tracking good test takers and encouraging them to participate. The slide called “Next Steps” said: MNPS Assessment and Evaluation department provides lists of all students who are capable test takers to the principals in the fall. These freshmen and sophomore students are encouraged to take the PSAT as a practice test. The presenter said those students would be encouraged to participate in these AP classes.

Next up was the final reading on the ACT/SAT/PSAT monitoring report. Here there was a bit of discussion initiated by Dr. Awipi about the Board’s goal of 22 as the average ACT score for Metro students. He suggested that since 21 was the rate for lottery scholarships perhaps we should drop that down to 21 also. I spoke up and told the Board that I had attended several of the House Education Committee meetings where this score was discussed. The intention of most of the legislators I heard was to allow as many students to participate in these scholarships as possible and a higher score was definitely going to be a problem for too many. And so they settled on 21. I told the Board that 21 was certainly not the gold standard and I felt our students could do better than that. No change in that rate was made.

On First Reading were monitoring reports on college entrance requirements and ELL/Special Ed.

Regarding College Entrance the goal is to have 65% of the students meeting the college entrance requirement (mostly via ACT score of 19 and above) by 2007. It’s only at 57% to date with new data not available until the fall. It became obvious that it was unlikely, considering the past rates, that this goal was going to be met.

2001 46%
2002 46.2%
2003 49.2%
2004 48.7%
2005 51%

English Language Learners information was confusing to most of us on the Board. Part of the problem was inconsistency in wording and charts that didn’t consistently include the same population. The presenters are going to work on that. Bottom line on average—across all ELL students-- it takes 3.3 years for them to obtain sufficient English skills to be test takers. Younger students catch on more quickly than the older students.

The real highlight of the evening’s reports was the Special Education presentation. Ms. Sharon Wright (and I’m sure she had a team) presented what could have been a confusing amount of information/definitions and statistics but wasn’t. There are 8,202 students classified as Sp Ed ages 6 to 21. They’ve got 685 teachers and 531 assistants tending these children. That sort of attention is massive, granted, but they’re getting things done if this presentation is accurate. Amazingly 80% of these children are there simply because they haven’t learned to read. And of those 40% were just not taught. [UPDATE: clarification at the request of BOE member Kathy Nevill on 5/31/06. The 80 and 40% statistics Ms. Wright presented were from the "Presidential Commission on Special Education, 2002 and not MNPS specific.] That’s just an amazing statistic shadowed only by the fact that they’ve managed to have 42.9% of their charges obtain a regular high school diploma. I had to repeat that back to her just to make sure that I understood correctly.

Wednesday morning: I was pleased to help serve the teachers at East Literature Magnet school. Their PTO provided them a hot lunch and fabulous desserts. My task was filling the cups with ice. This PTO also had on hand a man from Essence Day Spa providing massages, and so, many teachers left full of good food, fellowship and quite mellow from the massages.

Thursday morning: Finally, this morning I attended the Mayor’s State of Metro Address at the Convention Center hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Since I had previously blogged ( that this event should occur in the council chambers finding myself at the BOE table was interesting. And in honor of a constituent request* I asked the wait staff to clear my place setting and drank just ice water. Interestingly the Mayor announced that next year’s State of Metro address would be held at the new public square as part of Nashville’s Bicentennial.

Regarding the budget the Mayor announced he would recommend on Friday that the Council fully fund the BOE budget (to include their list of “we’d rather not do without but we will if we have to.”) The BOE members at the table who’d done the yeoman work on creating that budget were quite excited and thankful for his support.

So, Friday the Mayor will tell the Council how much he wants and then the Council will wrangle out the details and tell the BOE how much they have. You can view the budget here:

Other news:

Inglewood Elementary is being considered for an exciting incentive pay plan being sponsored by private funds. The staff there voted yesterday to participate if chosen. If specific academic goals are met every employee there would receive a cash bonus for their team success. I certainly hope that Inglewood is chosen. I’m sure Dr. Garcia understands that he has my support and earnest desire to see this happen in our neighborhood.

*This mom is very concerned about the physical condition of her child's school (Isaac Litton Middle School) and is wondering why MNPS is feeding folks when that money could be going to improvements in schools. She's asked me and is encouraging other people to forgo any MNPS paid for meals to demonstrate solidarity with her efforts. I'm happy to do so.

There was a lot of wasted food on tables and plates after the State of Metro Address. I can’t imagine how much paint, plaster and ADA renovations all that would have paid for.


George Rand said...

Although I've stated this in part on a previous comment I'll give the complete comment here now on the AP courses and relevance. Even reporting "pass" rates based on the entire population that took the course rather than just the population that took the test, provides a misleading, if not outright duplicitous evaluation of our AP course's effectiveness. AP stands for advanced placement. According to Tennessee Tech's July 2002-2004 Catalog(The one my son, a 2004 Hume-Fogg graduate got during his campus visit and therefore the one I have at hand. I feel safe in assuming they have not changed since the policy was effective January 1,1990). The only class you can get college credit for with a 3(which is what is considered as a pass) is Math( "AB" gets you 3 hours of Math 1830 and "BC" gets you 5 hours of Math 1910-I'm assuming "AB" & "BC" are different AP classes/tests) Note-this is only one semester for a two semester AP class. In the other subjects a 4 gets you one semester credit and a 5 is reqiured for a full year credit. Thus for a proper evaluation of our AP classes we need to evaluate not just the proportion passing, but the breakdown of 3's, 4's and 5's in the classes.

As an aside on the ACT score question an English subtest score of 27 gets you the same credit as a 4 and 31=5. So I think your point about 21 not necessarily being the gold standard is well taken. Engineering majors require a 20 minimum on the composite and math and computer science majors reqire 21 on the math, but still need only a 19 composite.

Tom said...

There was a lot of wasted food on tables and plates after the State of Metro Address. I can’t imagine how much paint, plaster and ADA renovations all that would have paid for.

The breakfast is paid for by the people who attend, and the Chamber of Commerce. No tax dollars pay for it.

The point about wasting food is, however, well taken. Clean your plate, kids.

Kay Brooks said...

Good points, George. Thank you. I'll try and remember this as it is important.

We need to clearly define passing as obtaining that college credit.

JJ Ross, Ed.D. said...

I'm not clear about the accountability concern - do you see requiring testing for all AP students as a reporting solution, to get better documentation of advanced learning you feel already is taking place, so money already being well-spent in these courses will receive state reimbursement and/or continued taxpayer support? Or conversely, is it an actual learning concern, a fear that many students are spending the time and money in these courses but not learning enough college-worthy material to justify the public investment in them?

Seems to me the right policy solution depends on what you need or want that you're not getting. For example, requiring the AP exam of all course takers might alter initial course enrollment, course retention and persistence, change test success rates for the worse (unwilling test-takers may well depress passing rates, rather than improve them) and thus impact the budget and instructional program in various negative as well as positive ways.

Raising requirements is like raising taxes. Sometimes less is more! :)

Kay Brooks said...


" get better documentation of advanced learning you feel already is taking place, so money already being well-spent in these courses will receive state reimbursement and/or continued taxpayer support?"

Yes. Specifically taxpayer support.

"Or conversely, is it an actual learning concern, a fear that many students are spending the time and money in these courses but not learning enough college-worthy material to justify the public investment in them?"


Without the addtional data we don't really know for sure where we stand.

Financially, push will come to shove and we've got to know if these classes are a good investment. If they are--great. But if they're not, if only a relative few are actually taking the classes and receiving college credit perhaps these can be delivered in a different fashion to save money.

But again, we won't know without this additional information.

Eric Holcombe said...

Kay, I'll have to echo George's comments - although I am surprised things haven't changed in 20 years at the state board of regents universities. I took AP English but opted not to take the AP exam as I scored high enough on the ACT to exempt myself from two of three Freshman English courses at TTU (under quarter system then). I would have had to score a '5' on the AP exam to exempt myself from the third course (plus pay $50 and spend all day on a grueling exam). My valedictorian classmate took the AP exam and scored a '5', however TTU only gave him the same two-class credit because he had an ACT English composite score of "only" 25 or 26.
The ACT English portion was a joke compared to the work we did in AP English, much less the AP exam. TTU's English courses weren't much of a challenge compared to AP either. I found the repeat of a year of composition and then another of English/American literature to be redundant. It wasn't until the junior level courses that we saw something different. So, credits or no, we were certainly given a leg-up on college English courses, for whatever they are worth. Unfortunately, I don't know how to measure that unless you look at how those AP students fared in college courses. I am not familiar with the AP course format these days, so I am not sure how valid the comparison is. However, I am not optimistic that the quality is/will be the same with the advent of "lottery-based" education.

Lynn Hutcheson said...

Dear Ms. Brooks,
I read your comments on AP classes and would like to respond. Four years ago my daughter began college with 21 hours of credit, due to AP exams. My husband and I were pleased that she received the college credit, of course. However, we had encouraged our daughter to take the classes because of their academic rigor rather than for the purpose of earning college credit. My concern about requiring all AP students to take the exams is that worthy students will opt out of the courses due to the expense of the exams. The primary advantage of the courses is the academic demands they place on the students. Although my husband and I both work, we found the cost of the AP exams to be a challenge. I believe that a strong work ethic and an academic aptitude should determine which student is allowed to take a particular course. Although students/parents are eventually reimbursed for AP tests which receive a particular score, that reimbursement is not immediate enough to enable the students who don't have the money upfront to take AP exams.

Kay Brooks said...


I'm glad your daughter's AP experience was so positive.

The fees are certainly a consideration and each family will have to take a look at their own budgets and decide where the priorities are--not unlike what the BOE must do as we examine our budget and make long term plans for expected expenses.

Neither you or the BOE gets money out of thin air. The BOE needs to keep in mind that every tax dollar we spend has come from a family that must do without in order to provide this 'free' public education. Whether that money comes directly through property taxes or indirectly through sales taxes on goods and services or federal income taxes it's still money that families won't have available for their needs.