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Kennedy, Lincoln and Sevier targeted due to achievement gaps

August 15th, 2012 12:43 am by Rick Wagner

KINGSPORT -- Three Kingsport public schools and two in Sullivan County made a Focus Schools list released Tuesday by Tennessee because of gaps in achievement among different subgroups of students.


Elsewhere in the region, Hawkins County had one, Bristol had one and Carter County had five on the list from the Tennessee Department of Education.


"We want all schools to be intentional about improving student achievement, especially for students who are the furthest behind, and this year, we have been able to offer more nuanced measures of school accountability," Kevin Huffman, education commissioner, said in a Tuesday news release. "We believe these measures will lead many schools to create effective intervention programs and ultimately address their needs for improvement."


The Kingsport schools are Kennedy Elementary, Lincoln Elementary and Sevier Middle, while Sullivan County's Bluff City Elementary and Holston Elementary also made the list.


"While any achievement gap is disappointing, we welcome this analysis by the state to help us further identify areas where we can strengthen our academic programming," Kingsport Assistant Superintendent Dory Creech said in an e-mail interview Tuesday.


"The achievement of every individual student is our goal, as we focus on providing a world-class education to every child that attends a Kingsport City School. Administrators and teachers have already begun implementing plans to address these gaps, and are identifying specific children to receive targeted support," Creech said. "As the notification from the state mentioned, schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement."


She said the three schools in Kingsport all showed significant growth and high levels of both value-added and raw achievement scores.


"However, this information will help us in providing intentional and focused support where needed," she said.


Michael Hubbard, director of performance excellence, said at Sevier and Lincoln the listing was for the economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, and the racial/ethnic subgroup, while Kennedy was held accountable for the economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities.


"Ours is special ed," Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said by phone Tuesday. "Two schools had great gains and outperformed the group of special education."


Yennie said the two schools have a higher concentration of special education programs because programs were set up there. He said the long-range plans are to spread out the special education programs across the system.


Others on the Focus list locally were Anderson Elementary in Bristol, Cherokee High in Hawkins County, and Central Elementary, Unaka Elementary, Valley Forge Elementary, Cloudland High and Unaka High in Carter County. No schools from Johnson City or Washington County were on the Focus list.


Focus Schools, according to information from the DOE, are the 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps among groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities, and English-language learners.


The department has named 167 schools as Focus Schools.


The state also released a list of Priority Schools, but no area schools made that list, which was dominated by Memphis area schools.


Priority Schools are the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in Tennessee in terms of academic achievement. These 83 schools are eligible for inclusion in the Achievement School District or in district Innovation Zones. They may also plan and adopt turnaround models for school improvement.


Schools identified as Priority and Focus will retain the designation and varied support for three years, from 2012-13 through 2014-15.


The two lists were released in accordance with Tennessee's new accountability system, designed through the state's waiver from No Child Left Behind.


Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.


However, Yennie said he doubted Sullivan County would use those resources since he said system officials already are aware of the situation and have been working to correct it.


Asked if the city system would use any of the state resources to help close the gaps, Hubbard said: "Each Focus school is currently in the process of creating a plan to address their gap closure targets. Each plan will be tailored to meet the individual needs of the school. The system plans to actively work with the state to secure any available funding resources."


By naming Priority Schools and Focus Schools, Huffman said the department enables districts to assist these schools and create improvement plans tailored to the areas they need to grow. Districts may also work with the state's Centers for Regional Excellence (COREs) to share effective strategies for raising achievement levels and closing gaps.


The Priority and Focus Schools lists, as well as an information sheet explaining the state's new accountability system, can be found at http://tn.gov/education/accountability/.

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