Grants sought by focus schools
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Sep 26, 2012 | 805 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Each of the Bradley County Schools designated as focus schools according to new state accountability standards has applied for grants to meet specific needs of designated subgroups.

Charleston, Park View, Prospect, Taylor and Waterville were listed as needing improvement in either the students with disabilities or the economically disadvantaged subcategories.

The new accountability standards require that subgroups be at half the proficiency level of students outside the subgroup within the next eight years. Information about the grant process and how the schools are working to reach these subgroups was presented to the Bradley County Board of Education during a work session Tuesday.

“They (the principals) felt that that process of writing the grant had been very beneficial. It really made them focus on how to work with those subgroups and what they could do,” said Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel. “They told me regardless of if they get the grant or not there are some things they could do with little cost.”

Using teachers on extended contracts and making the schools’ breakfast programs more readily available were two of these ideas. McDaniel said while a breakfast program is at each of the schools, sometimes students cannot get to the school early enough to eat. The school system has been looking into delivering breakfast in class and whether this could be done without disturbing learning. McDaniel said a plan was being further developed that might allow this to happen.

The grant will provide $200,000 to the schools for two years, according to Moody.

“It’s a highly, highly competitive grant about 157 schools applied for across the state and they are awarding them to about a fourth of them,” said Shannon Moody, a data analyst for the Southeast Core Center.

Moody presented a detailed explanation of Bradley County’s data and what it means during the work session.

Many of the schools asked for similar training in their grant applications. Special services director Tena Stone said if one Bradley County school receives the grant it will share the training with the other schools.

“Some of those focus schools had the greatest growth in special education,” Stone said. “Focus school does not mean bad school.”

Moody said each of the schools would be given a consultant to help them moving forward.

McDaniel is also looking into what the system can do with Title 1 funding to close the gap between proficiency of economically disadvantaged students versus noneconomically disadvantaged students. Bradley County literacy coordinator Angie Gill said professional development aimed at keeping economically disadvantaged students engaged in the classroom is also in the works. Adding and effectively using technology and more personnel are also being discussed.

“We’re competing with the [video game] Wii’s at home, the iPads and all this technology, and then if we still teach the way we taught 20 years ago... we are not getting those kids attention,” Gill said.

She said added stress from an economically disadvantaged student’s home life adds to the difficulty of keeping such students engaged.

Students with disabilities were reported as seeing decline in three out of four categories at the district level, according to Moody.

This was largely due to the state not using many students’ scores who scored proficient or advances using a modified test. Stone said this modified test is grade level material, but it is modified to use straightforward language and give fewer choices on the standardized test.

“There was some miscommunication at the state level about putting students in MAAS (Modified Academic Achievement Standards). If you had too many students taking MAAS — even if they were proficient or advanced — they were put back to basic,” Moody said.

Originally, the modified test was only offered to a limited number of students, who meet certain needs criteria. Stone said after the state was not even close to reaching the 2 percent federal cap after its first year using the test, this option was made available to students whose individualized education plan team felt they would not pass the Tennessee CAP, but had made significant progress.

Stone said the 2 percent cap was switched to a district cap by the state after the data came in showing the state had given more than the limit on the modified test.

“The number of absolute proficiencies in students with disabilities in our district is going up each year,” Stone said.

The state department has since said that if a student is proficient or advanced, he or she should take the standard TCAP next year. McDaniel and Stone said this is a decision that would be made by each student’s individualized learning plan team to decide what is best for each.

For students who scored proficient in both sections of the modified test, the standard TCAP will be recommended for next year. Stone said this will be the guidelines the system will use when having the necessary IEP conversations. Parents are a part of the planning team for each special education student.

Using the MAAS test two years in a row has given the school system a way to measure student progress, Stone said. She explained many students did show improvement.

“Special ed is hard-fought success, and our students and our teachers have had hard-fought success,” Stone said.

Moody said the good news from last year’s scores is Bradley County did not miss any achievement score requirements and the value-added scores for the district were high. Bradley County also had two reward schools for academic performance. These were Michigan Avenue and North Lee elementary schools.