Three Weakley County Schools Achieve Reward Status

Three Weakley County Schools Achieve Reward Status
Posted on 08/14/2019
This is the image for the news article titled Three Weakley County Schools Achieve Reward Status“Report cards” are in across the state of Tennessee but this time schools and districts are the ones receiving scrutiny. In Weakley County, the news is good as three schools gained Reward status and the district as a whole jumped to recognition as an Advancing system.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Education released the achievement information listing Weakley’s Dresden Elementary, Greenfield School, and Westview High as Reward Schools. 2018-19 was the second year the state implemented this new school accountability model, which looks at multiple measures of success including test scores, growth of those students who have shown progress even if their test scores are not exemplary, attendance, and, for high schools, graduation rate and Ready Graduate data like ACT scores and college credits offered. Schools across the state with the highest overall combined scores are considered Reward Schools.

“Reward status is the top distinction a school can earn in Tennessee,” explained director of schools Randy Frazier. “While the term ‘Reward’ is not new, the means by which schools are measured have changed. We have had Reward schools before – Martin Elementary was recognized in 2017-18, for example. But to have Dresden Elementary, Greenfield and Westview all included on the list is a cause for celebration.”

According to the Department of Education’s website, in 2018, 318 schools in 85 school districts – about 20 percent of schools in the state – earned Reward status.

Betsi Foster whose role in the district includes collecting and analyzing data for federal programs shared that in addition to achievement (whether students are on grade level or "passed" the test), educators in Tennessee analyze and reflect on another measure -- growth.

“Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) or "value-added," growth measures students based on their own prior testing history and their rank among other students in Tennessee,” she noted. “Measuring and analyzing growth helps educators identify effective teaching practices for all students. For example, a 6th grade student may enter a teacher's class in the 20th percentile in reading. By the end of the year, that student may score in the 40th percentile. While the student may not ‘pass’ the test or yet be on grade level, that student did show significant growth, which means the curriculum and teaching methods were effective.”

Tennessee has been measuring growth with TVAAS since the early 2000s. The state ranks districts on a scale of 1 to 5 for growth, with 5 being the "highest level of effectiveness." In 2018-19, Weakley County was deemed a Level 4 Advancing district.

In Tennessee, a school district can achieve one of five designations -- In Need of Improvement, Marginal, Satisfactory, Advancing, or Exemplary. In 2018, Weakley County was a Satisfactory district. For 2019, the Advancing designation equates to notable achievement on state tests, growth of individual students, graduation rate, absenteeism, and Ready Graduates. Students are considered Ready Graduates if they graduate with an ACT score 21 or have a combination of college coursework while in high school, earned industry certifications, or a good score on the military entrance exam.

According to the state results, Weakley County schools’ achievement improved in 3rd grade reading and math, 4th grade math, 5th grade reading and math, 6th grade reading and math, 8th grade reading and math, Algebra I and II, Geometry and English I and II.

When asked about what attributed to the significant strides made at the Reward Schools, principals and teachers had several observations.

“Solid instruction is a key component,” said Dresden Elementary principal Melanie Needham, adding that at Dresden every teacher has common planning time with other grade level teachers and is offered professional development twice a month to discuss best practices.

“Teachers work to find what is best for the students,” she concluded.

Greenfield assistant principal for K-5 Jamie Doster turns to a new tool for Weakley County – the Collaborative Assessment Solutions for Educators (CASE) program -- as a means of providing the needed information for teachers “to dissect and use data to drive our instruction.”

“CASE is a benchmark assessment tool, closely aligned with our standards,” said Supervisor of Education for grades 6-12 Donald Ray High. “When we use the tool, students are exposed to questions similar to what they will see on the state assessment but they are seeing it throughout the year. While the program is a significant financial investment, it is proving to be an investment in our students’ success.”

At Westview, principal Jeromy Davidson acknowledged the program’s impact.

Davidson said that initially teachers were reluctant to embrace another tool. “But they did. We’ve grabbed ourselves by the bootstraps and pulled up. We couldn’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results,” he noted and went on to praise the students who rose to meet greater accountability and teachers from both the subject areas that are tested by the state and those that are not.

“The entire faculty bought in. I am as proud of our teachers as I can possibly be,” Davidson acknowledged.

Westview Algebra teacher Ed Baker, in response to the initial reluctance, explained that teachers are “covetous of our instruction time” and were concerned that another new program could have negative results.

“But CASE keeps you from teaching to the test,” he said of the often-expressed concern of educators. “You are actually teaching to the kids’ abilities and inabilities because you have individual evaluations available.”

Baker went on to credit the students “because the number one factor is how much they care.”

“Achievement is great, but we also want to see our students grow,” observed Doster, and looking to what’s next, added, “Teachers are going to play close attention to growth scores, see what worked well and tweak what didn’t. With more information they can see areas of strengths and weaknesses and grow their students even more.”

Designations like Reward School and Advancing can be of benefit to schools when applying for grants or recruiting teachers, Foster responded when questioned about what the recognitions meant overall for Weakley County. She also said Reward Schools are often seen as resources to study effective practices.

“Collaboration is key to see the kind of advancement we want to continue to see in the district,” added Frazier. “We are pleased to see our schools encouraging it among the teachers there and our district-wide efforts being accepted and adopted. We look forward to sharing what is happening here with other systems across the state.”

Scenes from our Reward Schools

Dresden Elementary students and Pam Cooper

Dresden Elementary principal Melanie Needham explained reaching Reward School status comes as teachers build a foundation for students to become learners. “Even before testing grades, we emphasize skill mastery and student success.” IPads and laptops for third and fourth graders to use in class are among the tools used for class instruction but teachers like Pam Cooper say collaboration among the teachers is also a contributing factor. Shown here are Carli Vermillion, Pam Cooper, Kris Guy, Brenden Butts and Aubree Brackett.



Westview students with Kristen Vernon

As a 2010 graduate of Westview, English teacher Kristen Vernon now teaches with those that once instructed her. She says that she focuses on helping students become better writers in preparation for college, technical school, and readying their resumes. “A lot of reading is not ‘can you tell me the definition but can you apply what you’re learning,’” she observed. Her students now define her active involvement in the classroom as teaching. “I tell them I’m never going to be in my seat. I’ll be up giving you my all and that’s what I expect you to give to me,” she said. Vernon is shown here with (from left) Maddie Moore, Anna Jo Smith, Sophia Shaw, Ami Kang, Gloria Hogan, Channing Covington and Bryce Garner.


Greenfield 5th graders with Missy Galey

Missy Galey’s fifth graders at Greenfield School experience the emphasis on growth as they work individually – complete with private “offices” – that allow for focused attention and instruction on what they are reading.