Bright spots amid gloomy schools report

Bright spots amid gloomy schools report

October 21st, 2017 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Despite test results released Thursday showing Hamilton County students mostly lagging state averages in English, math and history, there were a few individual bright spots.

The Hamilton County Department of Education on Friday released data showing several local schools ranked in the top 5 percent statewide for achievement, growth or both.

East Ridge Middle and Thrasher Elementary both earned Reward School status for being in the top 5 percent for student academic progress, schools spokeswoman Amy Katcher said in a news release.

Lookout Mountain Elementary, Nolan Elementary and STEM School Chattanooga earned Reward School status for student achievement.

And Hixson Middle School improved its scores enough to get off the list of Focus Schools, the 10 percent of schools statewide with the largest achievement gaps among groups of students. The school had been on the list for three years due to the performance gap between the school's whole population and its black, Hispanic and Native American populations, according to Principal LeAngela Rogers.

In addition, Katcher said, the Tennessee Department of Education has designated Hamilton County as an "achieving" school district in its district determinations. The state ranks districts on four levels: Needs Improvement; Progressing (achievement growth below 2 percent); Achieving (growth from 2 percent to less than 3 percent), and Exemplary (growth at 3 percent or above.)

Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson said by telephone Friday that while there's a lot yet to be done to get schools where they need to be, "When you look at us comparatively from the district determination standpoint, I think you're going to see that it's pretty favorable."

He pointed to improved scores in several categories from 2015: Students in grades 3-5 raised their statewide percentile ranking from 44.7 to 48.2 in English language arts. Their sixth- through eighth-grade peers went up in language arts from 34.3 to 45.3, an 11-point improvement in the statewide percentile.

The sixth- to eighth-grade cohort also scored significant growth in math, rising from 37.1 to 51.8, nearly 15 points.

But the third- through fifth-graders dropped nearly 10 points in math achievement, from 70.9 to 61.

Johnson said the district determination usually is an overall compilation of data from TNReady test scores and the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, which measures year-to-year progress.

This year, school districts were allowed to choose either growth or achievement, he said, and Hamilton County chose achievement.

TNReady replaced the TCAP statewide standardized test with what education officials have called a more rigorous assessment and more demanding standards.

And the problem-plagued rollout for the new system included canceled tests in lower grades last year, results reported too late to include in local report cards this year, and most recently the discovery that nearly 10,000 tests were wrongly scored, which in some cases affected student and school results.

The TNReady results released Thursday showed only 20 to 38 percent of Hamilton County students were at grade level in English, math and history.

Among students in grades 3-8, 31.8 percent hit grade level in English and 38.4 in math. That's compared to 22.8 and 38 percent, respectively, statewide. In science, slightly more than half of grades 3-8 were at grade level: 54.5 percent in Hamilton County vs. 58.5 percent statewide.

In high school, only 16.3 percent reached grade level in math; 21.7 percent in history; 30.5 percent in English and 45.6 in science, lagging statewide averages in all cases.

Justin Robertson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Hamilton County Schools, told the Times Free Press on Thursday the results can "set a new baseline" for achievement in grades 3-8.

And he noted that while there are individual positives in some schools, "we are aware we must urgently address areas of growth and remain focused on levers that will move student learning forward and ensure every student will be post-secondary ready."

In Friday's news release, Johnson said the district needs to learn from its successes and expand them throughout the district.

By phone Friday, he acknowledged the task ahead.

"Next year we know we've got to move the needle in regard to growth. We know we still have work to do, but it [the overall "achieving" ranking] is encouraging," Johnson said.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


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