This story was updated Sept. 21, 2018, at 5:46 p.m. with more information.
Sixteen Hamilton County public schools rank among the top schools in the state this year, while nine schools are on the state's list of most-in-need, failing schools.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced the 2018 Reward and Priority schools Friday — two key designations under Tennessee's school accountability system.
Reward schools are those that are improving overall student academic achievement and student growth for all students. In 2018, 318 schools in 85 school districts — or nearly 20 percent of schools in the state — are reward schools.
HAMILTON COUNTY REWARD SCHOOLS
Apison Elementary School
Bess T. Shepherd Elementary
Chattanooga High Center For Creative Arts
Chattanooga School For Arts And Sciences CSAS Upper*
Chattanooga School For The Arts And Science CSAS Lower*
Hamilton County Collegiate High at Chattanooga State
Loftis Middle School
Lookout Mountain Elementary
Normal Park Museum Magnet School
Signal Mountain Middle/High School
STEM School Chattanooga
*The school district distiniguishes Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences Upper and Lower schools as two separate schools for reporting purposes, pushing the number of reward schools from 16 to 17.
"It is encouraging to have 17 schools recognized as Reward schools by the state, and the district will work to build on the success of these schools," said Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, in a statement. "As we look at the report, the challenge is how to leverage our partnership with the state and community to reduce the opportunity gap between schools and ensure brighter possibilities for the future of all children in Hamilton County."
The district distinguishes Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences Upper and Lower schools as two separate schools for reporting purposes, pushing the number of reward schools from 16 to 17.
Priority schools are schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. Eighty-two schools in eight districts — the Achievement School District, Campbell, Davidson, Fayetteville, Hamilton, Madison, Maury and Shelby counties — received that designation.
In Hamilton County, the nine priority schools are schools that fall within the Opportunity Zone, which does not surprise district leaders.
"The Opportunity Zone was created based on the cusp data in 2017," said Jill Levine, chief of the Opportunity Zone. "The recent data from the state just confirms we made the right choice."
The Opportunity Zone was launched in fall 2017 shortly after Superintendent Bryan Johnson was hired. It encompasses 12 schools in The Howard School and Brainerd High School feeder patterns that had been threatened with state takeover after decades of poor performance. Earlier this year, five of those schools entered into the State Partnership Network, which is a collaborative effort between Hamilton County and the Tennessee Department of Education.
Levine added that improving schools takes time, and the district does not expect to see schools improve drastically overnight.
"All of these schools are receiving intensive coaching and ongoing support in the recruiting of top teachers, providing powerful core instruction, creating more engaging learning opportunities and developing a community network around our schools to better support the whole child," she said. "School turnaround work is a five- to eight-year journey We're in this for the long haul. We're going to improve these schools."
This year's accountability list is not without controversy. The state's new accountability model, developed in accordance with the most recent federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, typically includes measures such as chronic absenteeism and discipline, ACT performance and TNReady scores, as well as how a school serves specific student groups such as English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged students and students of color.
HAMILTON COUNTY PRIORITY SCHOOLS
Brainerd High School
Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy
Clifton Hills Elementary
Dalewood Middle School
Hardy Elementary School
Orchard Knob Elementary
Orchard Knob Middle
The Howard School
After weeks of testing fiascoes this spring, though, lawmakers determined schools and districts would not be held accountable based on this year's TNReady testing data. Therefore, schools could not be placed on the priority list based on 2018 TNReady scores.
Instead, schools were evaluated based on 2017 testing data, but a school could be placed on the priority school list if its 2018 graduation rate dropped below 67 percent.
"In this first year with our new system, it is incredibly encouraging to see more than 300 of our schools are earning Reward status for how they are supporting our students' academic achievement and growth," McQueen said in a statement. "At the same time, we see a number of places where we need to improve. Our new school improvement model takes a student-focused, evidence-based approach to tailor interventions for our Priority schools, and we will be working closely with these schools and their districts over the coming year to improve academic outcomes and strengthen whole-child services that support student success."
Priority school lists are made every three years, but schools can move off the list annually. Shelby County has seen a decrease in the number of schools on the priority school list, according to the state Department of Education, but more Nashville schools have moved onto the list.
In 2015, Hamilton County had five schools on the priority list: Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary.
The same year, the district only had six schools designated as reward schools.
Priority schools are eligible for additional funding to support evidence-based intervention and initiatives to improve student performance. The state set aside $10 million in 2017 and another $10 million in 2018 to allocate to school districts though priority school grants. Low-performing schools also are eligible for more federal funding.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.