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State scores schools

In World
January 12, 2024

Jan. 11—Brown Elementary achieved an A on the state’s new letter grade formula, released Dec. 21.

It was the top mark among the county’s 12 schools.

“We knew which schools had higher achievement and which ones we’re still working on. We have areas where we have opportunities for success,” Director of Schools William Stepp said.

The grades are based on data from the 2022-’23 school year end-of-year standardized testing. For elementary schools, it considers student achievement — how well the students have mastered academic standards — and academic growth — how student learning increased from the year before. The grades also look at the academic growth among the “high need students.”

“It’s not designated by special education or economically disadvantaged,” Stepp explained. “It’s the bottom 25% of students … This is achievement tests at the end of the year. So, however that kid felt that day is what they got.”

High schools are also scored on college and career readiness of graduates.

Schools were assigned an indicator from 1 to 5 for each measurement, and that was used to determine their final grade.

Cumberland County schools earning a B were Crab Orchard Elementary, Homestead Elementary, Martin Elementary, South Cumberland Elementary and Stone Memorial High School.

Schools earning a grade of C are North Cumberland Elementary, Pleasant Hill Elementary, and Cumberland County High School.

Schools receiving a D were Pine View Elementary, Stone Elementary and The Phoenix School.

The state also recently released graduation data for high school students. Cumberland County reported a districtwide graduation rate of 92.6% on state measures. That rate fell to 85.3% when using federal graduation rate requirements, which have differed from the state’s reported information.

Cumberland County’s graduation rate was 94.3% and Stone Memorial High School was 92.8%. The Phoenix School was 86.7%. The Phoenix School accepts students as sophomores or above who are at risk of not completing high school within the four-year time frame. Students meet the same graduation requirements as students at the other two schools, except for foreign language and fine arts credits.

Statewide, the graduation rate was 90.6%, the highest graduation rate on record since 2012.

“We track every high school student, so we know who is keeping up and who we need to get back on track,” Stepp said. “The counselors do a great job tracking that. It’s a lot of work at the high school.”

However, graduation rates weren’t part of the formula. Instead, the state looked at the percent of graduates leaving high school considered “ready” for college or careers. That includes how well students score on the ACT test, how many earn industry certifications, and how many take college-level courses through dual credit or dual enrollment.

Before the grades were released, Stepp said plans were already in place to help schools make improvements. The data used in the grades had been released earlier in the fall.

“We knew where the great stuff was and some of the weaknesses that we wanted to work on,” Stepp said.

Schools already have school improvement plans they’re implementing.

“We’re seeing growth across the county, and we’ll see more growth this year,” Stepp said. “We’re targeting those areas very specifically. Teachers and administrators have a sense of urgency and they’re doing a great job.”

Schools are using a new math curriculum this school year, and professional development has continued for the English-language arts curriculum introduced in 2020-’21.

Crab Orchard Elementary started the year with a new grading system based on academic standards and real-time data from students showing if they’re achieving those benchmarks.

Pine View Elementary and Pleasant Hill Elementary adopted the system after the first nine weeks.

“We’re seeing success. We’re seeing significant growth with the teachers that are using that with fidelity,” Stepp said. “It was a strategy that we saw working in some other school systems.”

But Stepp said there is something to celebrate in every school in the county, and he pointed to the school staff.

“Our employees are doing a great job taking care of the kids,” he said.

Legislation passed in 2016 required every school in the state to receive a letter grade beginning in the 2017-’18 school year. Implementation was delayed after testing issues in 2018 and the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stepp said the school system wasn’t sure what the formula would be for the grades until just before they received their preliminary data mid-December. There was a short window for schools to lodge any appeals of the data, though Stepp said Cumberland County did not have any material issues to appeal — in that piece of the state’s accountability program.

“We had to learn the formula,” Stepp said. “We didn’t know what it was going to look like until the beginning of November.”

And, because the formula uses growth twice, schools that didn’t see a lot of growth as measured by the tests were “hit” twice, Stepp said.

“Or, if it’s really good, you benefit twice,” he added.

It’s also a different set of accountability measures than what has been developed for outcome funding on the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement. These bonus payments are awarded based on early literacy for elementary students and how well middle school students perform on the TN Ready exams. At the high school level, outcomes are determined by how many students meet college and career readies measured by earning early college credits or completing an industry credential.

Cumberland County is due to receive just over $600,000 in outcomes funding this school year, Stepp said during committee meetings Jan. 9. That money has not been budgeted as the school system did not know how much to expect during the budget process.

SCHOOL GRADES

Brown Elementary — A

Crab Orchard Elementary — B

Homestead Elementary — B

Martin Elementary — B

North Cumberland Elementary — C

Pleasant Hill Elementary — C

Pine View Elementary — D

South Cumberland Elementary — B

Stone Elementary — D

Cumberland County High School — C

Phoenix School — D

Stone Memorial High School — B

tdepublicschools.ondemand.sas.com/grades

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at [email protected].

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