Cooper: Hamilton County test scores emphasize challenge

Cooper: Hamilton County test scores emphasize challenge

September 12th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

A plaque signifying the 1960 opening of Brainerd High School hangs on the wall near the school entrance.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

For the second year in a row, the Hamilton County Schools district scored significantly above expectation in literacy.

The district's Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) literacy level of 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 for the 2016-2017 school year was the best it could have done.

Unfortunately, that's the extent of the good news for the district where TVAAS scores are concerned.

The district's composite score of 1 means the district, on overall content, scored significantly below expectation. That is disappointing since the district's 2015-2016 overall score was 2 (less than expected growth), up from the 2014-2015 year, when it was 1 and when the state's largest other metropolitan counties (Davidson, Shelby, Knox) all scored 5s.

The scores track whether students make expected academic growth throughout the school year, giving not only a historical performance but also comparing students to their peers. They differ from the TNReady test scores, which show proficiency in specific subjects.

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The district was betting heavily on its 2016-2017 TVAAS scores, pointing out during the year that scores of 4 (above expectation) or 5 (significantly above expectation) by its priority schools on the state's standardized assessment test would keep them from being taken over by the state.

Twenty-three district schools recorded composite scores of 5, but all five of the priority schools (Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Woodmore Elementary) had composite scores of 1.

New Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson tried to put the best face on the district scores in a news release and didn't lose sight of the goal he has for Hamilton County Schools.

"HCDE desires to be the fastest improving district in the state of Tennessee," he said. "We know we have significant work to do but believe with our great teachers and leaders we will accomplish our goal."

Other than the 5 in literacy, the district scored 1s in every other content area: numeracy, literacy and numeracy, science and social studies.

The district has not earned a 4 or 5 composite score on TVAAS since 2013.

Former Interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly had highlighted the district's opportunity last year when 2015-2016 TVAAS scores were announced.

"While we would love to have 5s in all areas," he said in a news release at the time, "our emphasis on literacy shows we can make positive gains. Now we need to put the same emphasis on mathematics and science."

Kelly also had high hopes for Brainerd High, the only high school on the priority schools list. It had received a TVAAS score of 3 (at expectation) for the 2015-2016 year, up from a 1 the previous year. Similar growth in 2016-2017 would have kept it off the state takeover list.

"I'm optimistic we can make it," he said.

Brainerd, however, not only had a composite score of 1 but 1s in every content area. The same was true for Orchard Knob Middle.

Dalewood scored 2s in literacy and science, while Orchard Knob Elementary and Woodmore Elementary boasted a 4 and 3, respectively, in literacy.

During the past school year, district officials said they were implementing various remedies they hoped would pay off in higher scores. The actions included a sweeps bus that would pick late-waking students, more professional development for teachers, and additional hands-on and workplace learning.

District administration has known of the possibility of a takeover for a decade. But to highlight the urgency, the state sent a scathing report during the 2014-2015 school year saying the district needed to act with "absolute urgency" to improve its priority schools, which indicates they are in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide.

In the schools list released Monday, Apison Elementary, East Lake Elementary, Ganns Middle Valley Elementary, Wallace A. Smith Elementary, Westview Elementary, Thrasher Elementary and Loftis Middle scored 5s in all content areas tested.

Johnson, who can accentuate his $197,500 salary with a future bonus if the district earns composite TVAAS scores of 4 or 5, said the district needs to figure out how to replicate its district literacy growth in other content areas.

"We ... desire to learn from the areas of success and ... replicate [it] in an expedient manner," he said. "We are proud of the growth in literacy and know that took an intentional and focused effort by our teachers and leaders. We know there is work to be done in math, science and social studies. We will remain urgent in our efforts to grow our students academically every year."

While many of the county's individual 77 schools have excellent TVAAS scores, we hope Johnson will act boldly both as he cooperates with the state on the plans the state has suggested for the district's priority schools and separately in trying to raise the bar in the overall 30 district schools that had composite scores of 1.

Our schools district needs that type of intervention. Our school children deserve it.

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