Hamilton County Department of Education is gearing up to intensify its focus on science education.
In the 2016-17 academic year Tennessee Value-Added Assessments, the Hamilton County school system received a one, the lowest possible score, in science, as well as in all other categories with the exception of literacy, in which it scored a five.
The TVAAS measures student growth each year by looking at student performance in five subject areas: literacy and numeracy, science and social studies.
"Looking at the data, we acknowledge science is one area we have struggled in the past," schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson said in a statement. "We are taking steps to correct that through a combination of efforts, including the expansion of Science Sparks! lessons."
Science Sparks! by the numbers:
340 teachers participating, 7,700 students benefiting
70 teachers participating, 7,500 students benefiting
Science Sparks! is a hands-on curriculum designed by Hamilton County's leading teachers. Once teachers complete training sessions on how to implement the curriculum, they receive a bin full of materials needed to teach the science lessons.
Last spring, about 40 teachers piloted the program, and this year more than 400 teachers will take part in the training sessions, according to a news release from the department of education. This will allow about 15,000 students to benefit from the new curriculum.
Additionally, the district will hire a lead teacher for science to serve as an expert resource, mentor and counselor for new and developing teachers throughout the school system, according to the news release. A lead teacher is typically a tenured teaching professional who has excellent leadership skills. Lead teachers for social science and fine arts also will be hired.
Johnson and Jill Levine, chief of the Opportunity Zone (made up of the district's 12 struggling schools), spoke Tuesday at the Tennessee Aquarium's Beyond the Classroom science education celebration.
The event was aimed at showing teachers how the aquarium can be a resource for education.
"The kids in [the Opportunity Zone] have been robbed for many years of hands-on science, arts, theater, rich, experiential learning," Levine said. "It's not because anybody is to blame, necessarily. It's a system that really forced people to believe they could only teach reading and math because we had to raise the test scores."
She said the children who benefit the most from visiting the aquarium are those who struggle with learning, whether they're English as a second language students, or if they come from high-poverty homes.
"You don't just come here once," Levine said. "You keep returning, and the learning gets deeper and richer each time."
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.