Hamilton County Schools improves faster than the state in grades 3-8 literacy. Proactive changes show promise but much more work to be done
Posted on 07/19/2018
Student working on a computerTNReady results released today by the state show gains in literacy for Hamilton County Schools. In grade 3-8 English language arts (ELA) and high school math, Hamilton County Schools improved faster than the state. Overall, students have moved closer to state results in six of 10 grade level subject areas.

The rows shaded in gray in this chart below show grade levels and subject areas where Hamilton County Schools narrowed the gap with the state when compared to 2017 results. Statewide TNReady results showed declines in multiple subject areas. In grade 3-5 science, grade 6-8 math, and grade 6-8 science, the district declined slightly but with less of a decline than the state.

Chart for test scores

Changes to address challenges
Hamilton County Schools moved quickly at the beginning of last school year to improve literacy instruction. The district invested in professional development for teachers and launched the RISE reading intervention model. This upcoming year, the district will continue to focus on literacy with updated curriculum guides for K-12 ELA.

“Our school board has set a bold goal for us to become the fastest improving district in Tennessee and we are pleased that TNReady shows we have narrowed the gap with the state in 6 of 10 areas,” said Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. “The data affirms the needs for the changes that we recently made. We are responding with urgency to address areas of deficit and continue to improve areas that are on the rise. We appreciate the work of our teachers and leaders, as well as the support of our community. Working together, we are confident that our best days are ahead. ”

The Opportunity Zone was developed last fall and includes 12 of the district's schools with a history of low-performance on state tests. The resulting shift in focus and the implementation of academic changes showed enough promise to change Tennessee Department of Education plans from a potential takeover of five of the schools to seeking a partnership with Hamilton County Schools to continue the progress.

“When we launched the Opportunity Zone, we knew the work would be challenging,” said Jill Levine, chief of Opportunity Zone. “We have areas to celebrate and areas in which we need to continue to focus, but our teachers and leaders are up to the challenge. They have put in uncountable hours this summer in preparation for the new school year, and we are confident that these efforts will benefit children.”

More changes on the horizon to improve teaching and learning for children
Plans outlined in the new five-year action plan called Future Ready 2023 will bring a sharper academic focus to schools and improve achievement for students across the district. The new Learning Communities coming this fall will better connect schools, better align the K-12 experience and involve the community in improving academic success. Future Ready Institutes in high schools will engage students in real-world learning experiences and enhance their love of learning as the students understand why subject content is important in their world. New curriculum guides for high school English language arts teachers will include a greater focus on writing. There will be a focus on math performance improvement across all grade levels leading to more success for students in Algebra 1. The district will support teachers in the transition to the new science standards this year with new instructional materials for elementary and Discovery Education Techbooks for middle and high schools.

“We are encouraged by the continued improvements in ELA in grades 3-8 and by narrowing the gap with the state in all of our middle-grade areas, but we recognize that there is much work to do,” commented Dr. Justin Robertson, chief schools officer. “The teaching and learning team has developed curriculum guides aligned to state blueprints, and local school leaders and teachers have developed action plans at the school level to provide a roadmap for improving areas of focus.”

Middle schools closed the gap with the state on all TNReady areas, but Hamilton County Schools looks to boost overall middle school performance with Future Ready Preps coming this fall. The new focus in middle grades will seek to personalize learning to meet each child where they are academically, expose students to a variety of potential careers, and support the social and emotional learning of children. The goal will be to transform the student experience in middle school to better prepare them for high school and success after graduation. Technology will play a big part in the middle school change. The personalized learning plan for students will include a laptop for every child to use in the classroom as a vital part of instruction.

Online issues with TNReady
The state release acknowledged problems with online testing in the spring and addressed changes planned for the online component of TNReady. Students and teachers in Hamilton County experienced the challenges associated with online testing last spring, and the district looks forward to the state’s efforts to improve the process this year.

Available TNReady test results
The state release of TNReady results today included state and district information. School results have not been released at this time. We will continue to receive information in the coming weeks.

“TNReady is just the first element of many data points included in district accountability,” Dr. Johnson said. “We eagerly anticipate information on the graduation rate and TVAAS growth data to get a complete picture of academic performance in Hamilton County Schools.”