published Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Hamilton County schools slide on report card


by Kelli Gauthier
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Lynda Pickett looks over the shoulders of Brian Donaldson, Nick Ray, and Frank Salinas, left to right, while they work in Pickett's advanced computer-aided drafting class at Ooltewah High School on Friday. Dr. Jim Scales, Hamilton County Schools superintendent, gave a presentation at Ooltewah High School on Friday after the state Department of Education released the annual Report Card on public schools.

Fewer than half of all Hamilton County elementary and middle school students scored at or above grade level in math and reading, as the district slid into "target" status, according to the annual State Report Card released Friday.

Scores from black students, those with disabilities and English-language learners also were too low to satisfy Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind law, so the district as a whole failed to make AYP.

"We don't want to put our heads in the sand. ... We have a long way to go," said Superintendent Jim Scales at a news conference Friday at Ooltewah High School. "It's our responsibility to teach all our kids to the best of our ability."

After more than a year spent trying to lower public expectations about test score results, the Tennessee Department of Education released its Report Card on Friday, about three months later than usual. Because the state switched to tougher academic standards and tests last school year, officials braced for what they expected to be particularly low scores.

State officials also had to set new cut scores and benchmarks after the shifts to more rigorous standards, which they said contributed to the late release of the data. Also Friday, officials released AYP results that usually come out in August.

Hamilton County has 48 schools in good standing and 28 whose status ranges from "target" -- missing one or more benchmarks for one year -- to "corrective action" after four years of not making AYP.

Of the largest five school districts in Tennessee -- Metro Nashville, Memphis, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby counties -- only Shelby made AYP this year.

In 2002, the federal government had states create their own academic standards.

Only years later did Tennessee officials realize they set standards too low, and even "proficient" students weren't prepared for high school, college or the workplace.

The new standards, enacted last year, are an effort to catch Tennessee students up to those in the rest of the country. From some of the lowest in the nation, state officials now say Tennessee's standards are second only to those in Massachusetts.

To meet the No Child Left Behind goal of having all students proficient in English and math by 2014, Tennessee must increase its number of proficient students by about 20 percent every year.

"This year, right now, we don't have an overwhelming number of students proficient in math and language arts. People need to see it," state Education Commissioner Bruce Opie said.

Despite all the talk about low test scores, Scales said the results are actually better than he expected.

"We thought the overall scoring would be lower. We took a deep breath, and said, 'OK, they're not as bad as we anticipated.'" he said. "They are not nearly where they need to be."

By the numbers

Districtwide, 38 percent of elementary and middle school students scored at or above grade level in math, and 48 percent did the same in reading/language arts.

Hamilton County's overall scores were close to state averages for all students.

The state added a new category of classification this year called "basic," which amounts to a minimal grasp on grade-level material, officials said. Students scoring basic usually would answer correctly 40 percent to 62 percent of test questions, said Kirk Kelly, the district's director of accountability and testing.

The majority of Hamilton County's elementary and middle school students -- 36.5 percent in math and 37.6 percent in reading/language arts -- fell into the basic category.

Middle schools struggled more than elementary schools, Scales said, dragging that number down.

"We need to work harder on the middle-school transition," he said.

High school students fared slightly better, as 67 percent and 68 percent of them scored at or above grade level in math and reading, respectively.

Officials celebrated Hamilton County's graduation rate, which soared this year from 70.9 percent in 2009 to 80.2 percent.

Ooltewah High School, which has been on the state's high-priority list for several years because of its graduation rate, improved enough this year to come off the list. Friday's news conference was held at the school to highlight the school's accomplishment.

The AYP calculation uses the graduation rate from the previous year. Although Ooltewah's 2010 graduation rate is 89.4 percent, its 2009 graduation rate of 90.1 is what counts toward coming off the list this year.

"We were on notice because [our graduation rate] dropped down a smidgen," said Principal Mark Bean. "We have 'Simply the best' written all over here. And those three words have really changed the culture."

Howard School of Academics and Technology also made AYP for the first time ever, under the state's current calculation.

"The thing is, our students are excited," said Principal Paul Smith.

He added that he still is not satisfied with Howard's scores. Although Howard students squeaked by with 24 percent of students at or above grade level in math (the benchmark was 23 percent), they still have a long way to go in reading/language arts. While 40 percent of Howard's students scored at or above grade level in reading/language arts, the state's target was 70 percent.



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about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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XMarine said...

This is a surprise? Oh well,everyone will blame it on the teachers anyway.Graduation rates went up & learning rates went down.Coincidence....?

January 8, 2011 at 6:04 a.m.
dendod said...

I'll say it again....Parents wake up. Dr. "Can't teach a dog to fetch a stick" Scales and Tommy "Smoke and Mirrors" Krantz need to GO!!!!! You pay these 2 a fortune each year and get NO RESULTS. Get some new blood in those job positions. Your children deserve better than you are providing them. Children can't vote. You are the failing link. Get somebody in those management positions that will improve the school system and teach your kids something. Parents and voters are to blame. Scales always has an excuse for his failure. My parents used to bust my rearend when I came home with excuses. Maybe you should consider taking Scales and Krantz to the "old woodshed".

January 8, 2011 at 8:50 a.m.
whatsthefuss said...

Coincidence??? Certinaly not!! Every state creates it's own testing model for APY scores. They also establish what is called a CUT SCORE for the test. In Georgia the students take the CRCT test created by teachers and the Ga DOE. If your child scores an 800 on the test they have "MET THE STANDARD." By MEETING THE STANDARD the cut score for this wonderful achievement is an F. Your child answered 1/2 of the questions correctly. The other benchmark is what they call the SECOND INDICATOR. For high schools it is the graduation rate so it should come as no suprise that the rate is up in Georgia as well. For elementary and middle schools the combination and exclusions would make your head spin and it makes you understand that interest in teaching is not the focus but creating new exceptions every year so the system makes AYP. Mind you the teacher can miss 17.5 days of school and still be given their full salary. Average salary in the state is @$50,000 for 185 days worked. The best retirement system and medical benifits. When you call the US Department of Education and speak with the nice lady in charge of accountability for NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND and ask her how students can score an F on the test and meet any standard she tells you that each state determines the test and the CUT SCORE for the school system and they have nothing to do with it. She is also appauled that anyone would question this and asks what my concern is. REALLY?? The truth is No Child is all smoke and mirrors and as it certinaly had good intentions from the start, the teacher unions and associations have far reaching ties in the legislature, local and national and the dogs of education have been CALLED OFF. So keep paying your taxes and don't expect to see any change in your students achievement any time soon. That would take a serious effort and hard work along with a dose of COMMON SENSE and I don't see anyone in the schools ready to deliver in those terms. Oh yeah, they also determine what the standard is for being GIVEN a high school diploma. So remember, nothing is as it appears.

January 8, 2011 at 9:23 a.m.
XMarine said...

derf32: Learn a child?

January 8, 2011 at 9:31 a.m.
whatsthefuss said...

Xmarine----- I think derf32 took that from your post. LEARNING RATES??? Then I suppose one would "learn a child."

January 8, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
nucanuck said...

If the parents don't know much,if teachers are barely adequate,if the social environment is anti-intellectual,why would we expect children to be above average?

January 8, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.
hambone said...

What you see is the result of dumbing down the curriculum so that those that wouldn't pass before can pass now!

January 8, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.
whatsthefuss said...

Curriculum?? What curriculum. Children are able to learn and progress at an astonishing rate. When they are left to the devices of the current education system where teachers and administration think they are superior to any parent or student and they know everything they need to accomplish the job the results speak for themselves. Learning is a life long process and many have either forgot or their arrogance has replaced their logic. Students leave with a diploma but without the basic skills to survive. They can't multiply, divide, read or write. With 14 years being offered students today and this being the end product it isn't how much parents know, the social enviornment or any other factors. It's the system allowing people to teach our children that lack the skill set for the job. 2+2 is still 4. The square root of 9 is still 3. pi still = 3.1415. When a child has spent this many years in a school system and cannot perform simple skills needed to survive the finger can only be pointed in one direction. Nucanucka, the social environment is not anti-intellectual in Chattanooga. I suggest it is quite the opposite. They have a childrens museum, aquarium, symphony, performing arts, art galleries, plus a great deal of heritage and outdoor resources for recreation and festivals not to mention a zoo and awesome waterfront parks. Also great nightlife, sporting events and home to many tournaments. I live in Georgia but I hold Chattanooga up to any city I have ever visited or lived in. Chattanooga's social enviornment has a great deal to offer. If you get out and look around you just might be suprised!!!

January 8, 2011 at 1:41 p.m.
ceeweed said...

Listen up boys and girls, tweeting and texting does not a smart child make. I've said it before; the smarter the phone, the dumber the child.

January 8, 2011 at 5:40 p.m.
Oz said...

Why does the Superintendent make more than the Governor?

January 8, 2011 at 6:59 p.m.
midnitewatchman said...

I would like to know who's brilliant idea it was to stop using text books? Kids come home with a sheet of paper full of math problems etc. and no text books? When I was in school your assignments were do pages 21-25 from your text book that showed you how to do the problems and you could refer back to that if you didnt understand. Now its a sheet of paper with just the problems, questions and nothing to refer to. We have had to use the internet to find answers to our childs homework problems because the text book is no longer being used?

January 8, 2011 at 8:20 p.m.
anonymight said...

As long as welfare feeds low achievers, there will be be a surplus of low achievers. Hunger is a motivator.

January 8, 2011 at 10:29 p.m.
AboveAverageJoe said...

The problem with Hamilton County Schools is to vast to explain in a simple comment section. So instead I will just name a few things off the top of my head.

  1. The teachers are forced to pass all students (thanks to the NO Child Left Behind Act), even if that student does not have passing grades and should repeat the year in order to better develop his/her academic skills.

  2. The books being used are not user-friendly. Growing up teachers used a system called "drill and kill" in which you had a series of similar problems to complete, with examples provided. These books now do not have examples, and students are expected to figure it out from an hour of class-time and no examples in their books. Giving them no reference.

  3. Google has ruined us all. There is no reason to learn things, when google and yahoo have all of your answers.

  4. People in the south do not harp on the importance of education hard enough or early enough. From what I've seen, many people decide that school is important when a student gets to high school. By then its to late. Then that student goes off to college and by the 2nd semester is back at home because he/she couldn't cut it. They were not prepared properly.

January 8, 2011 at 11:35 p.m.
alancook said...

National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

A Trip To The Number Yard is a math book focusing on the building of a bungalow. Odd numbered chapters cover the phases of the project: lot layout, foundation, framing, all the way through until the trim out. The even numbered chapters introduce the math needed for the next stage of building and/or reviews the previous lessons.

This type of project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our teaching tactics with real life projects.

Alan Cook info@thenumberyard.com www.thenumberyard.com>

bapman1 said...

This year's report card reflects a big change in reporting; under the old reporting standards, Tennessee received an "F" in Truth in Advertising from the US Chamber, and the current stats are a fairer reflection of how students are doing. So that's a plus. Now that we have more accurate information, the question has to be - why are we performing so poorly, and what can we do to improve? And that's where we need to look at things like teacher preparation, effective instructional models, and value-added reporting. People can get a start on all three areas at www.education-consumers.org.>

SavartiTN said...

With students in this school system, in particular, Ooltewah High school, I can tell you what I have observed that is contributing to these abysmal scores:

  1. SCHOOL START TIMES-The middle and high schools start at 7:15 am. This means that students often must get up at 5 am in order to catch the early buses. For example, we live 5 miles from the high school. The children's bus runs at 6 am. They have to walk nearly 3/4 of a mile to get to the bus on the main highway. The transportation dept. refuses to run the bus back to our neighborhood.

After boarding the bus, they ride for 35 minutes, arrive at school, sit in the bus another 15 minutes until the school opens at 6:50 am before they can be discharged from the bus. In other words, my children must get up an hour early for what should be a ten minute ride to the school. So, I get up and take them to school so that they aren't so bleary eyed by the time they get there.

Numerous studies have shown that early start times reduce students performance and increase the drop out rate. when I contacted Scales about this, he indicated that we have a three tier bus system and can't possibly rearrange the times. ?????? Hello, Scales, other school systems do this with even more students than Hamilton Co. Look at the Knox Co schools for example. Standard start time of middle and high school...8:30.

Let me make one really important point here...Howard High School, where they have made vast improvements...has a bell time of 9:00 am. Hmmmm...

  1. TEXTBOOKS-Or lack thereof. Since I have numerous college degrees, I can spot a good textbook. The math books here (if they students are lucky enough to get a textbook) are so incomprehensible that they cannot be used as a study guide.

  2. TEACHER ATTITUDE-I have to say that my students have some teachers with bad attitudes, some with great attitudes. But the bad ones are all it takes for students to not advance. One of their math teachers would scream at the children "I don't have time to teach you the stuff that you don't know." So, that means that I have to spend hours a week teaching math to my children...and I don't even get paid for it...maybe I should submit my bill. Anyway, teaching seems to be the only profession that doesn't require raises based on performance. Something wrong with that.

In addition, the only way to contact a teacher is via email or actually go to the school and demand to see them. Neither method works very well which brings me to the next item...

  1. GRADING WEBSITES-So far, Hamilton County schools seems to think that they are still back in the 1980s. Many school systems have websites on each of the schools that allows parents to check student assignments and grades. Not in Hamilton County. And half the teachers don't hand out progress reports. If you are a parent that tries to keep up with your student's progress...well...it is kind of difficult to do so.

continued...

January 10, 2011 at 4:35 p.m.
SavartiTN said...
  1. LACK OF GUIDANCE-I have a freshman...new in high school...who has not yet been counseled by the guidance department despite having gone there twice for help. They tell him fill out his own request for change of schedule but he has no clue what to ask for. My senior is much more persistent but has a very difficult time getting any help.

I have talked to many students who have discovered at the last minute that they don't have enough credits to graduate and guidance has encouraged them to transfer to the adult high school.

  1. DRESS CODE-Students must follow a dress code but teachers do not at Ooltewah. Ok, my students may be minors but they are not dumb. They view this as a double standard and resent it. Speaking of double standards...

  2. PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT FOR SOME STUDENTS-Athletes, in particular, who never come to class, get other people to write their papers and yet, get glowing recommendations from their principals. This fosters resentment in other students.

  3. TENNESSEE'S AGE OF MINORITY-My student turned 18 over the holidays. She goes back to class and a teacher tells the entire class that if you are 18, you no longer have to let your parents know what is going on at school and that they are even allowed to check themselves out of school without parent permission. WAKE UP, TENNESSEE! I sure wouldn't get up at 5 am to be in class if I didn't have to. And don't use the "parents have to be more involved" rhetoric. The law doesn't allow you to be. The age of majority needs to say "18 or until they graduate high school."

That is the way that I see it. Hey, Scales, if you need any help with this, feel free to contact me thru this blog. I would be glad to help.

January 10, 2011 at 4:36 p.m.
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