Hamilton County public school students showed more academic growth last school year than their peers in other districts, according to state data released by the district Wednesday.
The district received a systemwide score of five — the highest possible score on a scale of one to five — through the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, which evaluates student performance year over year to measure growth.
A score of one means the district's students made less academic growth than expected, a score of three means they had the expected level of growth, and a score of five means the students achieved more growth than expected.
This year's score marked a significant improvement over last year, when the Tennessee Department of Education scored Hamilton County Schools as a one.
"What we're always looking for is that strong growth where we're outpacing the state and we're seeing proficiency increase," Shannon Moody, chief strategy officer for Hamilton County Schools, told reporters Wednesday. "That's what we saw in our data this year that makes us really excited about the future."
Scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program released in July show the district outperformed the state's average proficiency rates in most grades and subject areas.
Moody drew an analogy to a running track to explain the difference between proficiency and growth. While proficiency looks at the number of students who crossed the finish line by meeting state standards, growth erases the finish line and sees how far students moved compared to where they started.
"We want to see more and more kids cross that finish line. That's our ultimate goal," Moody said. "But we also know we have to be moving kids forward regardless of if they started above the finish line or back below."
Filling the gaps
For all grades, in the areas of literacy and social studies, the district received a composite score of five. It earned a four in science and a two in numeracy, the state's descriptor for both lower and upper grade math.
Twenty-seven schools out of 79 in Hamilton County earned a five score.
Blake Freeman, Hamilton County Schools' chief academic officer, credited the district's focus on high-quality instructional materials, as well as academic success and personalization, for the improvement in growth scores. He also mentioned the continued emphasis on teacher development.
"Those are two very huge catalysts to help see the results we have," Freeman told reporters. "The hard work of our teachers, our students, our principals and staff — we can never overlook that. They've worked extremely hard to make sure our students are growing."
In math, which was the only area where the district's composite score fell below average growth, district officials said the pandemic hurt students' ability to build foundational skills. The district had 35.8% of students achieve proficiency in math last school year, a nearly 4 percentage point increase over the previous year and 2 percentage points higher than the state average, according to TCAP test scores.
"Math saw the most significant impact of the pandemic," Deputy Superintendent Sonia Stewart told reporters. "It's linear — you build upon it — whereas literacy is a lot more cyclical, so the math took a bigger hit. We're happy that we're outperforming the state because it means we're catching up faster, but we know we still have some opportunities to close some gaps."
In March, the school board adopted a new math curriculum, which Freeman said he hopes will help improve math scores. More than 90% of teachers have been trained on the new curriculum.
District officials said it is a common misconception that it's more difficult for higher-achieving schools to receive a high growth score than it is for lower-achieving schools. The state's model for measuring growth gives all schools the same ability to improve relative to where they started, Moody said.
"We want schools that are moving every single child forward," Stewart said. "If there's schools that are below a three, we know exactly who they are. We're differentiating our supports for them. We're finding out where are the places that they didn't get it done this year, so that we can help them make sure that they do in the future."
Level 5 schools
— Alpine Crest Elementary School
— Apison Elementary School
— Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts
— Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence
— Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence Middle
— Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy
— Chattanooga Preparatory School
— Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences Upper
— Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts
— Daisy Elementary School
— East Hamilton High School
— East Lake Academy of Fine Arts
— East Lake Elementary School
— East Side Elementary School
— Hixson Elementary School
— Hixson High School
— Loftis Middle School
— Lookout Mountain Elementary School
— Middle Valley Elementary School
— Normal Park Museum Magnet School
— Red Bank High School
— STEM School Chattanooga
— The Howard School
— Tommie F. Brown Academy
— Tyner Academy
— Westview Elementary School
— Wolftever Creek Elementary School
Source: Hamilton County Schools