Tennessee Introduces New School Grading System, Assigns First Letter Grades

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According to data released on Thursday, the average Tennessee school received a high C grade under a new formula used by the state to assign letter grades to schools for the first time.

The Tennessee Department of Education’s long-awaited letter grades meet the requirements of a 2016 school accountability law, which Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds has embraced as a simple and familiar way for families to evaluate local schools.

However, just before the release of the first grades, Reynolds revised the grading formula to give more weight to academic achievement, or proficiency, rather than academic growth. The previous formula, which was never used to publicly assign grades, placed more emphasis on growth.

Related: Find out what you need to know about the A-F grades Tennessee schools will receive this week.  ]

This last-minute change has angered many educators throughout the state. Schools that serve lower-income families in rural and urban areas have expressed particularly strong concerns about potentially receiving lower grades under the new formula.

Schools that receive D’s or F’s do not receive any additional support from the state, but they are expected to face increased scrutiny.

Out of Tennessee’s 1,690 schools that received letter grades, three-quarters scored a C or higher. An analysis revealed that the median grade-eligible Tennessee school received 3.2 out of 5 possible points, placing it towards the upper end of the C range.

At present, there is no way to directly compare this year’s letter grades with what they would have been under the previous formula. The education department has not yet published the state testing data used to calculate the letter grades.

An analysis conducted by Memphis-Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district, indicated that sticking to the original formula “would have been more favorable,” according to Bill White, the district’s director of planning and accountability. The district’s analysis also revealed that low letter grades were more likely to be assigned to schools with higher proportions of low-income students.

“Many of our students face significant challenges outside of the classroom …,” said MSCS interim Superintendent Toni Williams. “So we need a more comprehensive assessment system that recognizes student growth, family engagement, and the unique context of each school and its students.”

When announcing the letter grades on Thursday, the education department stood by its new formula. Reynolds referred to it as a “clear rating system” that provides families with “a snapshot of how their child’s school is performing.”

Although student academic growth is still a component of the new formula, it is now measured differently. In the new calculation, Tennessee removed the option for schools to increase their grade by meeting individualized academic benchmarks rather than statewide targets.

According to an analysis, only 5% of Tennessee’s graded schools received F’s. Half of these schools are located in Memphis. Most of them belong to Memphis-Shelby County Schools, and six are charter schools operated under agreements with the state-run Achievement School District or the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission.

MSCS had the highest number of F’s among districts with at least 50 schools, but the most common grade received by district schools was a C.

Metro Nashville Public Schools mostly received B’s, C’s, and D’s.

The school letter grades can be found on Tennessee’s State Report Card website. The dashboard provides additional information on how each school performed across the three or four categories that contribute to the overall grades.

Some schools were not graded because they did not have sufficient test data or only served adult students.

You can use the table below to search for grades by school.

Laura Testino is a reporter covering Memphis-Shelby County Schools for Tennessee. You can reach Laura at .

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