Trying to ladle out to the public in layman’s terms the alphabet soup associated with state accountability scores is sometimes considered a necessary evil. Following a formal presentation at September’s school board meeting, assistant superintendent Tim Harwell discussed what it all means for Bedford County.
The bottom line, the school district has to make progress, given that its in the middle of state rankings as “satisfactory.” Based on state standards, this is not the lowest ranking recently doled out among all 140 state districts, but is still one which demonstrates that Bedford County schools showed “satisfactory” success in everything from math scores to chronic absenteeism.
Incidentally, there are 16 schools to manage in Bedford County, which includes Bedford County Learning Academy and Bedford County Virtual School, which is located on the campus of Cascade Middle.
BC rates satisfactory?
“Satisfactory . . . obviously we want to do better than that,” Harwell said.
He told school board members during a recent presentation that Bedford County achieved a 1.58 state score for last year, which places the system in the middle of the state range of “satisfactory” standing within Tennessee Department of Education standards.
He advised, “As a district, we are responsible for six different indicators in regard to accountability by the state. Those indicators which determine where a system stands with the state are: 3-5 Success Rate, 6-8 Success Rate, 9-12 Success Rate, K-12 Chronically Out of School, K-12 ELPA and Graduation Rate. Districts earn between 0 and 4 points for each goal and indicator for which they are eligible.”
Then, there are letter grades. Yes, the system gets those too from the state.
Though Tennessee schools were designated to receive letter grades in regard to their performance in the 2021-2022 school year, the continual side effects of COVID and chronic absenteeism, the state deduced not to publicly release those letter grades.
“Even though the grades were not publicly released, all schools received data that indicated scores for all accountability indicators,” stated Harwell. “With this data, BCS would have as follows: A-1 school; B-6 schools; C-6 schools; and D-1 school.”
Like it or not, these are the rules that Bedford County Schools, under TDOE, are governed.
“We obviously want to improve in everything we do on a daily basis,” said Harwell. He mentioned also that effective teachers always want to improve with their instructional practices. As a result of their desire to continuously improve, he said that normally leads to better student performance and understanding of instruction and daily standards.
“We take this data, whether it be the achievement data or the growth data, [and] we start drilling down,” the educator advised. Part of the “drilling down,” he explained, may involve everything from conducting home visits to in-classroom visits by instructional staff.
“We want to be able to diagnose the issues. We identify the areas in need of improvement and develop a game plan that will support our teachers and students,” said Harwell. “Throughout the school year, formal and informal benchmark assessments are administered and the data we receive from these assessments helps us determine whether or not the supports we put into place were effective.”
The assistant superintendent said in addition, the system has in place for improvement what it calls Professional Learning Communities (PLC) model. All schools conduct these meetings throughout the year, he said. PLCs consist of teacher and school administrators, in the same grade or content, meeting together regularly. Their primary objective, he advised, is student learning.
“Teachers analyze assessment data, student work and discuss effective instructional practices,” he further explained.
“All of this is really determining where we are as a system . . . school by school.” The state rankings, he further stated, naturally drive a lot of conversations within and outside the school system. And it can certainly be positive or negative, but he hopes more is the latter, because he believes that’s what drives greater success.
Achieving higher success
The assistant superintendent discussed how in addition to academic scores, chronic absenteeism figures into the state’s accountability rankings. Bedford County did not score well when it comes to the number of students missing days of school in 2021.
Students that are absent 10% of the school year (180 days) are considered by the state to be chronically absent. There can be legal ramifications for parents or guardians, as a result.Superintendent Tammy Garrett added during the last school board meeting how the number of excused and or unexcused absences are figured.
Harwell recently explained, “There are some areas with chronic absenteeism. We did not score very well. But quite honestly, districts throughout the state did not score very well with chronic absenteeism, because we’re still suffering from the side effects of COVID.”
Harwell said he believes that adding Dulcie Davis, former principal at Eakin Elementary, as truancy officer in the attendance data office, along with Terise Rhodes, are already making a positive impact. The truancy team is doing home visits, in particular for students that are already showing tendencies of being chronically absent to school, according to Harwell.
“They are visiting with parents and students. In some cases, we’re transporting that child to school, in order to hopefully break some habits. I think COVID unfortunately established some bad habits with our students that we’re still trying to overcome.”
The assistant superintendent said he feels strongly, with the work the Central office is doing, that the county is going to see less kids with chronic absences. “I feel, as a result, we’re going to see better scores that will hopefully improve us to the next level.”
Other districts in the same boat
Harwell said state reports demonstrate that Bedford County is not alone in the “satisfactory” ranking. According to TDOE, most districts in Tennessee fell within this category, including Hamilton County and Tullahoma City.
The state did not report any districts in the “marginal” category. Districts listed in the “needs improvement” ranking included Tennessee School for the Blind and Perry County. Only 16 school districts across Tennessee, out of about 140, achieved the top rating of “exemplary” in 2021-2022. Over 60 districts are considered on the “advancing,” scale, including Franklin and Coffee County districts.
But Bedford County School System wants to earn that status, Harwell advised. “We had several [individual] schools that fell within that advancing category.” In order to get to that designation, a district has to achieve points of 2.1 and above.
Ever stalwart, the former Shelbyville Central principal stated with a smile, “We need to envision that exemplary banner on our front yard [Madison Street office.]
Harwell said reaching the “advancing” level, which is the next ranking above “satisfactory” is certainly obtainable here. But at the same time, this former coach knows it’s a difficult run to reach that goal line—that one which means the system has to score between a 2.1 to a 3.1.
Statisticians can do the math, given this year the system was at 1.58 or at ‘C’ level.
The state gave school districts sort of a bye the last couple years on accountability, due to the pandemic. So most have been held “harmless” since 2020.
Bedford County continued to take the TCAP tests, where many districts did not during the pandemic. The state gave this option but rewarded those who did with incentives and recognitions.
Harwell described the “game plan,” or academic improvement plan developed by Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kim Germany. This plan addresses areas in need of improvement in Bedford County—ways to improve overall instructional practices. See Saturday’s T-G for more information.