Five Bradley County Schools have been listed as focus schools under the new Race to the Top accountability system that replaced No Child Left Behind in Tennessee this year.
Charleston, Park View, Prospect, Taylor and Waterville Community elementary schools were listed as needing improvement in closing achievement gaps between the overall student population and students with disabilities.
“The focus group doesn’t mean it’s a bad school,” Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel said. “A school is so much more than just a TCAP score. A school is about the care and compassion and the respect and the dignity that we share with students every day.”
According to a Tennessee Department of Education press release, “Schools on the focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year. Rather, the focus designation provides districts the opportunity to look closely at particular subgroups of students who may be underperforming and to provide specific support and intervention.”
The TDOE listed 167 schools as focus schools needing improvement in subcategories. Many of these schools did not reach the growth required in the students with disabilities subcategory. A school will have data for a subgroup if there are at least 30 students in the category.
“District-wide we had growth in every category,” McDaniel said.
Under the new measurement system, subgroups are required to have twice the percentage of academic growth on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test as the “all students category.
“Last year the state had encouraged the use of MAAS (modified academic achievement standards) to really get a better understanding of the progress of special needs students. Statewide it had not been problematic, but federal rule is statewide you can have no more than 2 percent of the population on a special (education) modified assessment (scoring proficient or advanced),” McDaniel said.
According to the TDOE, the department had received a grant to help in the development and encouraged use of the modified assessment.
McDaniel said this “became problematic” this year when more than 2 percent of the students with disabilities scored in the “proficient or advanced range” and could not be counted in the state numbers.
“It isn’t a bad thing to look at the growth of subgroups, I just don’t know how realistic it is to think that the subgroup will outperform the large group, and that’s what we’re being asked to do,” McDaniel said.
More than 70 student scores in elementary reading who scored as “proficient or advanced” were changed in the state data from to “basic or below basic,” according to McDaniel.
“Many of the schools are on this list for three students or four students,” McDaniel said.
Use of the modified test is by the approval of a student’s Individualized Learning Plan team.
“We believed that the MAAS was the best tool because it gave us consistent growth,” McDaniel said.
The director said the school would continue to focus on intervention and response to intervention programs in reading to help each student become more proficient. Schools across the system determine why students are not at the reading level they should be at, then an intervention is developed to help individuals reach that level of proficiency. Similar programs have also been started for basic math skills. Some elementary schools have also compartmentalized to have teachers stronger in math or reading teach all these subject.
Director of special services Dr. Tena Stone said she will be encouraging IEP teams for students who have been classified “advanced” when taking the modified test to consider switching the student to the standard TCAP starting next year.
“MAAS is grade-level standards,” Stone said.
A few of the Bradley County schools also did not reach the required percentage of growth in the economically disadvantaged category, McDaniel said. Because of multiple subcategory classification, student scores may be counted in multiple categories. Many of the special needs students are also economically disadvantaged. Therefore, the changed scores affect both subcategories.
Although not included in the state numbers, each student received his or her actual score from their tests. These are the scores retained by the system and released to parents.
“From the child’s perspective and the parents’ perspective nothing has changed,” Stone said.
Stone said special education students have made progress. In 2011, close to 200 students with disabilities in Bradley County were proficient in reading, with more than 200 proficient in math. In 2012, well over 200 students with disabilities were proficient in reading, and more than 200 students were proficient in math.
“Within special education our students have made phenomenal growth,” Stone said. “I am so, so proud of the teachers of special education in Bradley County. I am so proud of the students.”
She said the number of students who take the modified test each year varies and exact percentages were unavailable.