Tennessee releases report card for schools

Carmen Musick • Nov 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The Tennessee Department of Education released its annual comprehensive report card for schools and systems across the state on Monday and, for the most part, local administrators liked what they saw.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to celebrate their successes.

While parents may just today be getting their first look at how their schools fared on last spring’s tests, schools and school systems in Tennessee are staring down the barrel of major changes that promise to “increase the rigor and relevance” of the state’s curriculum and better prepare students to meet expectations in a global economy.

“I think, going forward, it’s going to be important to maintain complete communication that we’re moving along a path to increase rigor and make sure our kids are truly college and career ready,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Tim Webb said.

State-level results show Tennessee met federal achievement benchmarks in all but one category, increased the state’s graduation rate, and improved achievement in reading and language arts at the elementary level.

Locally, Kingsport City Schools earned straight A’s in achievement and writing assessment scores across the board. Sullivan County Schools had three A’s — the exception was a B in social studies — in achievement and all A’s in writing assessment at all grade levels.

“We are very pleased with the results,” said KCS Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller. “But we’re not resting on the A’s we’re getting on our achievement.

“We’re making adjustments based on the data, and we’re also making adjustments based on the changes we know are coming down the pike.”

The changes facing Tennessee public schools are multifaceted, Webb explained, and will not only alter graduation requirements, but greatly affect the overall depth and relevance of the entire educational curriculum.

“For years, we’ve been accused of having a curriculum that’s a mile wide and an inch deep,” Webb said. “We’re trying to pare those down into more compartmentalized, more mastery-based standards that dig into higher order thinking and more rigorous content.”

In the spring of 2007, a National Chamber of Commerce comparison report card of key education factors in all states gave Tennessee an “F” in the category of “Truth in Advertising” — comparing Tennessee proficiency through its state assessments to national proficiency measured through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

One of the key changes educators refer to as coming “down the pike” will include a transition toward measuring achievement by a national and, in some cases, international, standard keyed to the more rigorous NAEP, ACT and College Board/ACT standards.

“We’re not only going to have a new curriculum, all of the assessments are changing, too,” said David Timbs, supervisor of accountability and testing for Sullivan County Schools.

“The high school standards are driven by an ACT focus. Elementary and middle schools are going to NAEP. And all of those are much deeper standards than what Tennessee has had in the past,” he explained.

State officials fear “some slippage” or regression in scores may be inevitable during the transition as the bar is raised. However, both Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County Schools have embraced the changes. Each system has already implemented the new curriculum — a year earlier than they were required to — in hopes that they can prevent any future setbacks.

“We think that, on average and across the state, there may be some of those drops. But we’re not conceding that the scores will go down,” Kitzmiller said.

“We think if we do a good job — of starting early and supporting our teachers and supporting our administrators and supporting our students — that we can meet the rising standards without the scores going down.”

That, in large part, is where the report card data comes in. At the system levels, Timbs and Dory Creech, his counterpart in Kingsport, are charged with equipping the system’s principals and classrooms teachers with the knowledge and training they need to “drill down” to the core of the data and use it to improve the quality of instruction teachers deliver and students receive — all geared to improving overall achievement and growth.

“I think, overall, that Sullivan County should be real pleased with the report card,” said Timbs, who was recently named Tennessee’s Supervisor of the Year for similar work he did with Johnson County Schools. “I have been going out and have worked at well over half the schools now, really zeroing in on which students are achieving and which ones need additional attention.”

It’s a process he likens to peeling away the layers of an onion.

“For years and years we’ve just been looking at those outer layers. Mr. (Jack) Barnes (Sullivan County’s new director of schools) has really given us the directive and the tools to peel away as many of those layers as it takes to get to the heart of the issue.”

To view the state report card online visit the Tennessee Department of Education Web site: http://tn.gov/education/reportcard/. From there, viewers can examine results for all 136 of the state’s school systems and its 1,718 schools.

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