'Stretch goals' set for Sullivan school systems

Rick Wagner • Dec 6, 2012 at 11:34 AM

KINGSPORT — Local school systems have some serious work to do on high school ACT science and math scores.

Doubling the percentage of students who reach college-ready science ACT test scores and making marked improvement in math ACT scores will be required for Sullivan County’s three public school systems to meet goals they and local economic developers have set.

“These are extraordinarily stretch goals,” Kingsport Times-News publisher Keith Wilson said Thursday as he presented benchmark results for the Bristol, Tenn., Sullivan County and Kingsport school systems against goals, as decided by the systems and NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership Education Committee.

One of the metrics close to being met is the graduation rate, which for 2010-11 showed that 1,608 of 1,786 students enrolled as freshmen in 2007-08 graduated, a rate of 90 percent compared to a goal of 92 percent.

Another goal, however, is not so close to achievement: for 50 percent of 11th-graders, all of whom are supposed to take the ACT, to meet proficiency standards in four subject areas that indicate a good likelihood they will be successful in college.

“We as NETWORKS are concerned with the whole” instead of the individual system results, Wilson told the board, which met at the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce for a Christmas luncheon.

He said meeting or coming close to the goals would give Sullivan and its cities a promotional edge in economic development, indicating to prospective and existing employers that a good local work force exists.

NETWORKS is a joint economic development effort of Bristol, Bluff City (whose students attend the county system), Kingsport and Sullivan County.

“No one’s doing this. We are the first,” Wilson said, predicting that success should garner Sullivan national attention.

For 2010-11, the latest data available, 907 of 1,384 juniors in the three systems — or 68 percent — got an 18 in English, while 666 — or 48 percent — reached 21 in reading.

However, only 497 — or 36 percent — reached 22 in math, and only 350 — or 25 percent — reached 24 in science.

And the total number of students who reached the benchmarks in all four subjects was 289 — or 21 percent — less than halfway to the 50 percent goal.

“This is a huge goal for our systems to be working toward,” Wilson, chairman of the NETWORKS Education Committee and a former NETWORKS chairman, told the board.

Another measure is the percentage of students eligible for the Educate and Grow scholarships at Northeast State Community College. Funded for Sullivan County students by Sullivan with help from Kingsport, it basically covers full tuition for a two-year degree at the school.

The goal is to have 80 percent of graduates eligible, which means making at least a 19 each in ACT English, math and reading, but as of 2010-11, only 561 of 1,384 juniors were eligible, which works out to 41 percent.

“A high school diploma isn’t sufficient in today’s workplace,” Wilson said.

Another measure is the number of students taking Advanced Placement and/or dual enrollment. The goal is 50 percent, but the result for 2010-11 was 633 of 1,679 or 38 percent.

Wilson said the plan is to use the benchmark year as a base and update the numbers every year, developing a trajectory.

Retired Northeast State President Bill Locke, who helped compile the data, said the 2011-12 results should be available in the first quarter of 2013 and that he hoped to get the results updated in a few months. Wilson said Nick Grabar and Roger Mowen were crucial to setting up the metrics.

Wilson told the group that the metrics already have a buy-in from NETWORKS and local school boards. But he said the communities and the Bristol, Kingsport and Sullivan government officials who fund school budgets need to get behind the goals, too. He said extra money may be needed to help collect and compile the data in the future.

Also, he said having a commonly shared set of goals means the boards of education and local governing bodies shouldn’t be so far apart on general education funding.

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