State test scores for Shelby County Schools increased this year in every subject except English for elementary and middle school students, according to state data released Thursday.
But the district’s students did not make as much progress as other students across the state, earning Shelby County Schools the lowest score on the state’s 5-point growth scale.
Students did best in fourth-grade math, where 34.7% scored proficient on the state’s TNReady test, up from 27.9% last year. But in third-grade literacy, just 24% of students scored proficient, down from 27% last year.
Shelby County Schools officials said the results show “obvious areas for continuous support and improvement,” but cited examples of “encouraging progress that the district can build on.”
Superintendent Joris Ray, who started his first full year as district leader this week, said he was confident new efforts such as increased emotional support for students who have experienced trauma and increased attention on ensuring students have equal access to rigorous programs would help the district “overcome some significant barriers to learning that we’ve seen in previous years.”
“Working together, we will improve these results on behalf of all students,” Ray said in a statement. “That is our imperative task and one that I and my team keep in front of us every day. I realize that this is hard work, but the teachers, principals, and central office have the heart to move this work forward in our district.”
Three schools in the district, Tennessee’s largest, also improved enough to be excluded from the state’s next list of low-performing schools, used to determine in part which schools undergo state intervention. All of them appeared on the “priority list” for the first time last year — Dunbar Elementary, Getwell Elementary, and Robert R. Church Elementary.
The district pointed to progress in all high school subjects as a “bright spot” in this year’s test scores. High schools have been the hardest for the district and state to improve, especially as students arrive several grade levels behind. Last year, Shelby County Schools dispatched a team of reading specialists to focus on high school, increased teacher development, and adjusted curriculum to better align with new state requirements. This year, the share of high school students scoring proficient in English II went from 18% to nearly a quarter. About 20% of high school students in English overall met state expectations.
The district already told parents that third-grade reading scores dipped this year in meetings about plans to hold back second-graders who don’t read on grade level for the 2021-22 school year. The school system aims to have 90% of third graders reading proficiently by 2025.
Ray said in a call with reporters Thursday morning that overall, the district is moving in the right direction.
“Next year this time we’ll be having a different conversation,” he said. “I guarantee it.”
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