Editorial by Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham
September 13, 2012 —
The latest school scores from our Department of Education show promising results and continuing challenges as we work to raise student achievement in Tennessee. Last week, Governor Haslam and the Department of Education released the names of 169 schools statewide that were named “Reward Schools” based on their success. We can stop to enjoy a moment of celebration for these schools and the accomplishments of our students, teachers, parents and school administrators, while remembering we have much work to do to help our students receive a world class education in Tennessee.
Reward Schools are the top 5 percent of schools in the state for performance as measured by overall student achievement levels—and the top 5 percent for year-over-year progress as measured by school wide value-added data. These 10 percent of schools received recognition for their success under the accountability system set up by legislation I sponsored last year.
The schools’ recognition represents a remarkable achievement and we congratulate all of them. They stepped up to the challenge presented to them and the results can be seen in student scores. It is our hope that this success will catapult these schools and that their forward progress will continue.
I am also optimistic about the future of schools that were designated among the lowest performing in the state because they will finally receive the concentrated focus that has been needed for a long time to turn them around. This includes “Priority Schools” which are in the lowest 5 percent of schools in Tennessee in terms of academic achievement and “Focus Schools” which are in the bottom 10 percent.
There are 83 schools which are eligible for inclusion in the Achievement School District or in district Innovation Zones as a result of being classified as a Priority School. The Achievement School District was created by Tennessee’s “First to the Top” law approved in 2010. It was put into place to provide meaningful intervention in the state’s lowest-performing schools to create dramatic change and improvement. In other words, it focuses state resources on the schools which are in the most need of help.
Finally, Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners. The department has named 167 schools in Tennessee as Focus Schools.
Under the state’s new Reward Schools Ambassador Program (RSAP), the Department of Education will spark the development of robust partnerships between Reward Schools and Focus Schools. The program allows the schools with the largest student gains to serve as models of success for schools across the state so they can share information and best practices to help move students up the ladder of success.
We have good reason to be optimistic about the future of education in Tennessee! Working together, I know we can improve opportunities for all of our students and our state. Meanwhile, we should enjoy this moment of success as we congratulate all of our new Reward Schools and their parents, teachers and administrators who worked so hard toward education excellence. ###