Today is Wednesday, August 23, 2017

State report card released, may look worse next year

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By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post

The report card that grades the progress for the school districts in the state, as well as the state average, was released Tuesday and the grades, while not terrible, were not as great as some would hope.

“We are setting a baseline for the future,” said Dr. Timothy Webb, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education. “We are trying to help our state compete nationally and globally.”

The baseline Webb referred to has been raised considerably from its previous level set in 1998. Tennessee had been accused of setting standards too low in order to boost test scores and graduation rates.

With the new changes, Tennessee has the second toughest grading standards in the nation behind Massachusetts.

“The baseline needed to be changed,” said Mike Davis, director of Wilson County Schools. “Now we are using a different measuring stick. What used to be an A will now be a B, and what used to be a B will now be a C.”

Davis added that with the new, tougher curriculum, this year’s third graders will be tested on what last year would have been fifth grade material and this year’s fifth graders will be tested on what last year would have been eighth grade material.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Davis said. “The textbooks are not set with the new curriculum so the teachers are having to improvise and teach from multiple sources.”

Davis said that the teachers will be benchmarking, which means periodic testing to make sure that the students are proficient with the information. If the students do not understand the subject matter, then the teachers will go back and review until they do.In Wilson County Schools, the report card said, students in grades K-8 scored B’s in Math, Reading and Social Studies and an A in Science for TCAP testing. Students scored A’s across the board in writing. The average for ACT scores is a 20.7 composite.

However, county K-8 students received C’s in value added, which measures student progress within a grade and subject demonstrating the influence of in-school factors on the student’s achievement. This diagnostic tool is designed to improve educational opportunities for students in various achievement levels.

Lebanon Special School District is now 100 percent accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is in Good Standing on AYP (Average Yearly Progress).

LSSD students received B’s in Math and Reading and A’s in Science and Social Studies as well as A’s in writing, the report card said. In value added, students received C’s in Reading and Social Studies and B’s in Math and Science, which was better than the state average.

“We look forward to the new higher expectations for student learning and the opportunity to better prepare all students for the future,” said Dr. Sharon Roberts, LSSD director of Schools.

“Teachers are working hard every day with new tools that focus on ways to maximize learning for every student,” said Jeanne Ray, LSSD associate director of Learning. “The state report card helps LSSD’s principals and teachers determine what is working well for students and what areas need to improve.”

“Tennessee is now number one in reduction of dropouts and increase of graduates,” said Dr. Connie Smith, director of Accountability and Teaching & Learning with the state Department of Education. “We had a graduation rate of 51 percent in 1993 and this year we graduated 82 percent statewide. We are definitely making progress.”The state goal for graduation is 90 percent. Wilson County is at 89.4 percent, while surrounding counties are above the goal.

Smith County is at 94.6 percent, Rutherford County is at 91.3 percent, Trousdale County graduates 96.2 percent, and Williamson County graduates 95.3 percent. Davidson County is below the line, only graduating 73.1 percent.

“Because of the jobs in Wilson County and our proximity to Nashville, we get lots of students moving in that are already behind,” Davis said. “These other counties do not have the turnover that we do, so that helps their graduation rates.”

Smith said that people can expect a dip in progress on next year’s report card because of the new, stricter standards. She added that they have made a state of urgency to keep students in school and help them graduate.

“We have started freshmen and sophomore academies, which is a school within the school, that give at-risk students a mentor to help them learn the information and stay in school,” Smith said.

Davis echoed this occurring in Wilson County schools as well as having graduation coaches who encourage students to keep working and not drop out.

Smith and Webb said that they are concerned about reading in grades 4-8 because schools stop teaching reading in third grade and focus on literature.

“We are taking a more proactive approach,” Webb said. “We will be focusing on literacy and reading longer so that we can reverse this trend.”

“I have always believed that reading is the master key to the storehouse of knowledge,” Davis said. “If you can read, you can access more knowledge than if you cannot read. We will be teaching more vocabulary, reading by phonetics, and reading comprehension so that we can improve reading scores and help our students later in life.”

To see the report card, visit www.tn.gov/education and click on the Report Card tab on the left side of the screen. On the next screen, click the icon that says TDOE Report Card, which will take you to the report card.

Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at ben@wilsonpost.com.

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