Sullivan Central, Blountville Middle School, Cherokee High on list for not meeting standards

Carmen Musick • Jul 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Three local schools are among those listed as “high priority schools” for failing to meet at least one benchmark set forth by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for two or more consecutive years.

The Tennessee Department of Education released the adequate yearly progress (AYP) report for the 2007-2008 school year on Monday. Overall, Tennessee reduced the number of schools on the high priority list from 139 to 134 — forward momentum despite raised proficiency benchmarks.

Locally, however, the results are mixed.

Kingsport City Schools are celebrating the announcement that the school system as a whole and all of its schools met AYP and are in good standing for the 2008-2009 school year.

“We are pleased to have met the AYP benchmarks, especially since achievement standards were raised this year,” Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller said.

Schools and districts must meet performance standards in 37 categories at each grade span to be deemed in good standing under the federally mandated NCLB. The performance benchmarks increased for just the second time this year, as states, systems and schools move toward the goal of 100 percent of students being proficient in reading and math, and a 90 percent graduation rate by 2014.

At the system level, Hawkins County Schools and Sullivan County Schools also met AYP and are in good standing for the 2008-2009 school year. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with all of the schools in each system.

Parents of Sullivan Central High School students will soon receive official notification that the high school failed to make its benchmarks for graduation rate for the third consecutive year and now faces additional sanctions and interventions that go with its School Improvement 2 status.

“I think it’s important to note that Central met AYP on academics. The only problem was the graduation rate,” said Sullivan County Director of Schools Jack Barnes.

Central’s 2007 graduation rate was listed as 86.3 percent, the second highest among the county’s high schools and up from 84.1 percent the year before. Still, because it failed to meet the benchmark required under NCLB, the school moved toward further sanctions and interventions.

The School Improvement 2 classification, designated as second year improvement status, requires that the director of schools for the school system make prompt parent notification and revise the school improvement plan to target the areas of need. It also allows, under state statute, the commissioner of education the authority to: “approve the allocation of state discretionary grants to the school; and/or provide technical assistance to the school through an outside expert.”

Central got a head start on some of that work, which officials hope to see reflected in 2008 graduation rates, with the addition of of two specialists — a graduation coach and an Exemplary Educator (EE) — who worked within the school during the 2007-2008 school year to help improve student achievement.

“The focus initially was on the seniors and finding a way to help them leave Central High School with something that would enable them to continue their education,” Barnes said. “Then, in turn, they also started working with juniors, sophomores and freshmen to better enable them to graduate on time.”

To count positively toward a school’s graduation rate, students must be able to graduate in four years and one summer.

“A student who repeats the ninth grade but then goes on to graduate normally will count against a school’s graduation rate,” Tennessee DOE spokeswoman Rachel Woods explained during a media teleconference.

To help facilitate that, Barnes said Central is also instituting a “freshman initiative” for the 2008-2009 school year. The pilot, akin to the freshman academies that have been launched in many systems, will identify 60 freshmen and offer them additional services and “nurturing” to help them avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with the transition from middle to high school.

“(The freshman year is) a crucial year not only for academics, but for habits of attendance and discipline,” Barnes said.

“The transition is something we need to work with more, throughout our system,” he said.

Sullivan County will also be directing a lot of its attention toward the students with special needs subgroup. Blountville Middle School failed to meet AYP in mathematics for that subgroup and is listed as a target school.

The target list, Woods explained, is not an official NCLB list but rather one Tennessee created to help “target” assistance for schools in danger of falling under NCLB sanctions.

The special education and economically disadvantaged subgroups are areas of concern for Sullivan County, Barnes said.

“We have a number of schools that either made (AYP) with Safe Harbor or the confidence interval,” Barnes said. “So while they weren’t officially targeted, they really are a target for us.”

In neighboring Hawkins County, the system and most of its schools are in good standing, and even one that isn’t is on the rise.

Rogersville Middle School, which fell into School Improvement 1 status a year ago for failing to meet the federal standard for math in the special education subgroup, made enough progress during the 2007-2008 school year to avoid Central’s fate and is now listed as School Improvement 1 — Improving status.

“Generally, that means they met their benchmarks but have to repeat that performance a second year before we take them off the list,” Wood explained.

Simply put, it takes two years to get on the high priority list and two years to get off of it.

Cherokee High School, targeted a year ago for its graduation rate, failed to meet AYP in that category again this year and moves into School Improvement 1 status.

For a complete list of schools and systems on the state’s high priority list visit the state’s AYP Web site at: www.tennessee.gov/education/nclb/ayp/.

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