School Report Cards: Blount schools celebrate successes, make plans for schools on ‘the list’

The State Department of Education released their annual report cards for all public schools on Friday, causing both celebration and disappointment for schools in Blount County, Maryville and Alcoa.

The best news is that no schools in Blount or the two cities hit the “High Priority” list, a list of schools that have had academic deficiencies and missed at least one academic benchmark at least two years in a row.

In Knox County, 15 schools are one the High Priority list. Anderson County has 1, as do Claiborne, Grainger, Hamblen, Loudon and Monroe counties.

Schools are measured on several levels -- Adequate Yearly Progress, Value-Added performance and Graduation being the most important to the schools and school districts.

Cause for celebrations were big among three Blount County schools and one city school, with Heritage High School, Heritage Middle School, Union Grove Middle School and Maryville Middle School achieving the Good Standing status for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for 2010 after being Target schools in 2009. Coming off “the list,” as teachers and principals often refer to being found a “Target” school is especially significant for Heritage High School, which hit the list as a Target school in 2006.

Adequate Yearly Progress is a measure of a school’s or school system’s ability to meet required federal benchmarks with specific performance standards from year to year. Requirements for this year’s federal benchmarks reflect the new academic standards, making coming off the list even more impressive, says Blount County Schools director Rob Britt.

The bad news is that Eagleton Middle School, William Blount High School, Alcoa Elementary School and Alcoa Middle School fell to “Target” status.

Blount County Schools director Rob Britt was happy to hear the good news for the three Blount County schools. “I’m proud of them and pleased for them, and they deserve to have a celebration,” he said.

Britt said Heritage High, Heritage Middle and Union Grove Middle schools shared a common strategy for improving their students’ performance.

“I think those schools rallied around the areas where they were found to have deficiencies, and the teachers and administration worked in concert with one another to address needs of those students in subgroups where they were having difficulties,” Britt said. “They were taking on a laser focus and ensuring that those students were making adequate progress.”

Heritage High School was first put on the list for school improvement in 2006. The schools director said that when a school gets on the list, the first stage is Target. If the school doesn’t make enough improvement to come off the list, it goes deeper into accountability measures and listed on the “School improvement one” category.

In 2007, Heritage High went to the “School improvement one” category, then to the “School improvement two” category 2008 and 2009. At 11 a.m. today, the school was listed as being in “Good Standing.”

Union Grove Middle hit the list in 2007, moving to School Improvement the next two years before coming off this year. Heritage Middle schools was on the list in 2009, moving back to Good Standing this year.

Britt said not only is it good news that the schools came off the list this year, but that this year is also significant because it is the first year of the new and more rigorous standards.

“It is more significant this year because they were also tasked with improving with more and more rigorous standards,” he said. “They had that battle to fight as well as a new more difficult tests.

Britt said the administrators and teachers at the three schools have spent a lot of time and given a lot of attention to moving their schools forward.

“Those folks have really been through it and spent a lot of time and attention in terms of serving their kids at a higher level,” Britt said.

Britt, who was principal at Carpenters Middle School before taking the director’s position, said he could empathize with the middle school teachers and administrators.

“I’m a little closer to that being from the middle school level, and I know how hard those folks work,” he said. “They used a number of new strategies and best practices to address the needs of their students.”

Mike Winstead, Maryville City Schools assistant director, said the increase proficiency standards mean each school has their work cut out for them. “We’re excited Maryville Middle was able to meet the challenges,” he said. “There was a lot of work and focus in making that happen.”

Winstead said it is gratifying the school got off the state list after just one year. “That second year of not making AYP standards puts you on a high priority list, and we wanted to avoid that, and the teachers and administrators wanted to avoid it,” he said. “I think they did what had to be done. Certainly it was the hard work of students, teachers and administrators. We knew we had to roll up our sleeves, and they have been doing that to meet the new targets.”

Winstead said Maryville Middle was on the list in 2009 because of deficiencies in the math category of the subcategory of students with disabilities.

For AYP, schools, school systems and the state must meet proficiency benchmarks in nine subgroups, including five race/ethnicity groups; students with disabilities; limited English proficient students; economically disadvantaged students; and the school as a whole.

“We have certain targets with reading and math. Each school is held accountable for meeting those targets. They were on the list because of the performance in math of individuals identified as Special Education students,” he said.

Winstead said in 2009, all schools had to have 86 percent proficiency in math and the special education students at Maryville Middle fell short of that target.

“Going into last school year, we had all new standards from the state and knew we were going to have a harder test and a new definition of proficiency,” he said.

The special education students were able to hit that new target in math. “The test is lot harder and made it more difficult to be deemed proficient, so the state reset Adequate Yearly Progress,” he said. “On the old test, it was a lot easier, so a lot more students had to pass it.”

Winstead said that with the old target, schools had to have 86 percent of kids rated proficient. “That was the number in 2009. The new test is much harder so the new target set for last year was 20 percent proficient and they achieved that,” he said of the special education students at Maryville Middle.

The bar, however, will keep getting higher.

“The target jumps to 40 percent this year, and it goes to 60 next year and so on until it hits 100 percent,” Winstead said. “We have similar targets in reading.”

Target schools

Moving to the Target list were Eagleton Middle School and William Blount High School in Blount County and Alcoa Middle and Alcoa Elementary in Alcoa.

Britt said parents, teachers and administrators at schools now on the Target list should first of all, not panic.

“I think the message we want to say to (parents) is let’s not overreact or jump to any premature conclusions,” Britt said. “Let’s study the results and see where our weaknesses in each subgroup are and work together to build a plan to address those areas. That’s exactly what those teachers are doing. The principals and teachers are really suffering over the fact their school is on this list, and they are going to take the right and positive attitude in looking at this. We are where we are, and we just have to address the issues we have and work toward improving every student.”

Britt was quick to encourage the teachers and staff at Eagleton Middle and William Blount High schools

“I think first thing you do is you tell them there is going to be some anxiety and trepidation and maybe even some hurt feelings,” he said. “It is always a blow to your school community when you’re placed on some type of list that says you’re not meeting adequate yearly progress. The first thing I tell them is this is not time to panic.”

Digging into the data also prints a clearer picture. In William Blount High School’s case, for example, Britt said they missed in one subgroup, students with disabilities.

“Let’s take a look and see why they got on the list and make sure we understand clearly what put us there. In William Blount’s case, they’re doing really well in most areas. The graduation rate is way up, and they are meeting Average Yearly Progress in every sub-category except one and that got them on list,” Britt said. “You take all those factors into consideration.”

Britt said the next message is for teachers and principals to come together and see things to do to address needs in the subgroup where the schools didn’t meet Average Yearly Progress. “You develop strategies you’ll use in the course of the year to take care of those deficiencies,” he said. “That’s drilling that data all the way down to individual students and make sure we’re addressing each individual student’s weaknesses.”

At Eagleton Middle School, students in the “All” subgroup, “White” ethnic subgroup and economically disadvantaged subgroup did not score well in the math category.

Britt said the state breaks down test results in every ethnic group. “As long as you have a subgroup, you have to meet minimum proficiency levels. If you have 45 or greater students of a particular ethnicity, that is a subgroup, and they report that as a part of your AYP,” he said. “There is no AYP for science and social studies.”

Alcoa Schools director Tom Shamblin said raising the standards made a difference at the two Alcoa schools and saw the year as one of getting adjusted. The same teachers who have done so well in the past are still teaching at the two Alcoa schools, Shamblin aid. “It wasn’t that the quality of the teachers dropped, the standards rose. It is just a different set of standards,” Shamblin said. “I think once we get adjusted to the new standards, we’ll be fine.”.

Shamblin said the news wasn’t entirely unexpected and that the State Department of Education warned school systems they could see a drop in scores because of the new standards. “It is a part of the process,” he said. “We’ll address it and bring those scores up.”

Alcoa Director of Administrative Services John Campbell said that at the elementary school, students in the African-American subgroup didn’t make the minimum proficiency requirements in reading. At the middle school, those in the Economically Disadvantaged subgroup didn’t make the minimum proficiency requirements in the math.

“There is really a positive side to this because while some schools get targeted and miss AYP in several different areas, we only missed it in one area at the elementary school and in one area at the middle school,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the system administrators and teachers saw three factors at work in putting the two schools on the state’s list: A new type of Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Profile test, the new, more stringent state standards and the fact that it is harder for students to achieve proficiency now.

“What we’ve done hasn’t changed, it is just the new standards, new tests and the way proficiency scores are calculated,” he said. “It is a higher bar to get over. We realize the terrain has changed in terms of how we are tested and measured, and we’ve got some work to do to become more accustomed to those standards and tests to help the kids do a better job.”

Campbell said the system’s administrators and teachers don’t equate whether they are doing a good or bad job with the students based solely on how TCAP scores and AYP come out.

“We feel there are other factors our teachers and principals work on that don’t ever show up on TCAP scores,” he said.

Campbell said students learn problem solving, collaboration and other skills that are just as vital to their education. “Kids can learn in ways that don’t show up on a multiple-choice exam,” he said. “We must address these areas showing up as weaknesses on the new tests by the way the scores are calculated. We’ve got some work to do in both reading and math.”

Campbell said math is a growing focus for the system’s teachers. “It is something we’re going to work harder on in terms of curriculum selection and how we’re handling standards. We have a spring meeting coming up to discuss those things.”

Campbell said the system’s leadership has great confidence in its teachers. “They really rise to a lot of different challenges, and they’ll rise to these challenges as well. We’ll be able to attack these challenges. Our teachers themselves are leaders and are competitive, and they want to see improvement.”

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