published Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Hamilton County Schools show modest improvement

  • photo
    Mike Evatt, the school board chairman for Hamilton County Schools
    Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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SCHOOL DISTRICTS

EXEMPLARY

• Blount County Schools

• Claiborne County Schools

• Fayette County Schools

• Fayetteville Schools

• Henry County Schools

• Hollow Rock-Bruceton School District

• Franklin Special School District

• Loudon County Schools

• Marshall County Schools

• McKenzie Special School District

• Milan Special School District

• Newport City Schools

• Rogersville City Schools

• Rutherford County Schools

• Sequatchie County Schools

• Sevier County Schools

• Smith County Schools

• South Carroll County Special School District

• Sweetwater City Schools

• Trousdale County Schools

• Union City Schools

Source: Tennessee Department of Education

IN NEED OF IMPROVEMENT

• Alamo City

• Richard City

• Union County

Source: Tennessee Department of Education

Hamilton County Schools' rating under Tennnessee's new assessment model was unremarkable, according to a state report released Monday.

The district didn't make the list of the 21 best school systems -- "exemplary school districts" -- or the worst -- "in need of improvement."

The report reflects this year's Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores for third- through eighth-graders, which showed that more than half of Hamilton County students are still below proficiency in reading and math.

Improvements from last year were meager, the report showed. In math, Hamilton increased scores by 4.7 percentage points and in reading scores improved 1.1 percentage points, data show.

Two Southeast Tennessee school districts -- Sequatchie County and Sweetwater City made the "exemplary" school list. One regional school system, Richard Hardy in Marion County, made the "in need of improvement" list.

Hamilton County Board of Education Chairman Mike Evatt blamed parents of children at struggling schools who aren't helping their children succeed academically. Children across the system are getting similar educational opportunities, he said, and throwing money at the problem won't help.

Student performance at some schools is "a culture thing," he said. "Until we get the parents on board systemwide, we are going to be spinning our wheels."

The announcement of state exemplary schools is the first wave of results under the new state assessment model, which went into effect in the recently ended school year. More school-specific information will be released in the fall.

Tennessee received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year to opt out of federal No Child Left Behind standards because state officials argued that all schools could not reach the law's rigid proficiency requirements.

Instead of expecting all districts to meet the same benchmarks, each district was judged on overall achievement and on how successful it was on closing achievement gaps among students. Districts that met more than half of their goals were classified as exemplary.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said local schools struggled to improve the proficiency of English language learners, students in poverty -- more than 60 percent of students in the county receive free- or reduced-price lunch -- and students with disabilities.

"For an urban school system (the gap closure) standards (are) going to be our challenge," he said.

Smith said he agrees with Evatt that parental engagement is a huge problem, but he said schools need to focus on addressing factors they can control.

The district plans to implement a pre-kindergarten program for children in some neighborhoods that would begin at age 3. The system also could offer differentiated pay for teachers in inner-city schools that meet standards, he said.

"We have got some strategies in place," he said.

Overall, some say the state's new measures show signs of hope in state education. Schools leaders and teachers can nudge numbers upward, even for troubled students, said David Mansouri, spokesman for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

Two-thirds of school districts improved in every subject on TCAP achievement tests, with more than 50 districts improving in algebra I, and 23 districts posting double-digit growth in math.

"This is a moment to stop, reflect and celebrate the successes," Mansouri said.

Contact staff writer Joan Garrett at jgarrett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601. Follow her on Twitter at @JoanGarrettCTFP

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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