Bradley County Schools aiming at 'exemplary' ranking

Bradley County Schools aiming at 'exemplary' ranking

September 30th, 2012 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel

Photo by Paul Leach/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bradley County education officials want to boost achievement scores of the system's disabled and poor elementary school students.

At a recent special meeting, the Bradley County Board of Education met to dissect the state testing performance scores of students and review grant plans intended to improve future scores.

Bradley County Schools "earned a gold star" by most accounts, said Shannon Moody, a data analyst with the Tennessee Department of Education's Southeast Center of Regional Excellence.

However, the school district failed to score "exemplary," the highest state ranking, because it missed goals involving students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged. The missed objectives revolved around the concept of "gap closure," or closing the achievement score gaps of student subgroups -- based on factors such as disabilities, ethnicities and/or economic situation -- and the rest of the student population.

Five county elementary schools are seeking grants of up to $200,000 to improve the performance of their subgroup student populations: Charleston, Parkview, Prospect, Taylor and Waterville. The grant applications seek to focus funding on professional development of teaching staff.

Education officials said the grant application process was enlightening for administrators.

"The process of writing the grants provided informative steps to engage the students at little cost," said Johnny McDaniel, director of the county school system.

The board also discussed new state guidelines that will affect how some children with learning disabilities are tested.

In recent years the district has been able to use a modified assessment testing tool that allowed for consistent tracking of the performance of students with disabilities, said Tena Stone, director of special services for the school system.

The new guidelines place a cap on the number of students eligible for modified assessments, which test for grade-equivalent knowledge but have been tweaked to reduce answer options or remove potentially distracting information in the problems.

Students who scored proficient in mathematics and reading/language tests are required to take regular achievement tests, Stone said. One concern is that they might not do as well, and another is that the ability to track student performance disappears when jumping from one testing method to another.

"It's not fair," said school board member Chris Turner, adding the comparison between the modified and standard testing tools sounded like a comparison between an apple and a banana.

"It's a smelly banana," Stone said.