County schools on state lists
 Jeremy Nash
The Tennessee Department of Education released a list last week with four Loudon County schools either showing overall progress or needing improvement.

Fort Loudoun Middle and Greenback schools were designated as Reward Schools, while Eaton Elementary and North Middle schools were tagged as Focus Schools.

Reward Schools are within the top 5 percent of schools for performance, measured by overall student achievement levels, and the top 5 percent for year-over-year progress. FLMS made the list for the second year in a row. Greenback made a return to the list after missing 2013.

“It shows that we’re doing things the right way if we’ve got schools that — especially Fort Loudoun Middle,” Mike Garren, Loudon County assistant director of schools, said. “You know, it’s really hard to make more progress than 95 percent of the schools in the state and once you do that to do it again is a tremendous feat in my opinion.

“Not to say that Greenback didn’t do well last year because they did, it’s just they didn’t get into the elite top 5 percent,” he said. “They still made great progress the year before when they weren’t on that list.”

Greenback and Fort Loudoun were two of 168 institutions considered a Reward School, and both were recognized for progress. Eighty-four in total were noticed for progress in overall growth.

The title is based off an annual one-year success rate, which is determined by adding the number of advanced or proficient students in each subject and then dividing by the number of test takers in each subject.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Mike Casteel, Greenback principal, said. “We actually got our Reward School based on growth and so we still have a lot of work to do. Growth is one of those things that has to turn into achievement at a certain point in time. You can’t do one without the       other, and so we’re real proud of our growth scores, but knowing that we’ve    got a lot of challenges to continue to move our kids to higher achievement scores as well.”

Eaton and North were recognized as Focus Schools for the first time. Listed every three years, this title is given to 10 percent of schools that show the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, including race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status and people with disabilities.

To qualify as a Focus School, the graduation rate must be below 60 percent, there is a noticeable learning gap between students or the school has a proficiency rating less than 10 percent. Eaton and North were noted for a gap between non-special education students and special education students.

“The reason they’re Focus Schools is not because of their achievement, their performance,” Garren said. “In fact, if you look at the state site they even tell you a lot of Focus Schools are high-achieving schools, which Eaton and North Middle School are both very high achieving schools and we’re very proud of their success.”

Garren said gap differentials based off Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores for Eaton and North were 35.7 percent and 46.3 percent, respectively.

North Middle School Principal Matthew Tinker said he was disappointed special needs students were not growing as quickly, but growth was still on par with others in the state.

TCAP results show North special education students scoring 23.8 percent in proficient or advanced in English and language arts, and 30.8 percent in math. The state averages for English and math are 27.9 percent and 28.5 percent, respectively.

“We have to focus on trying to get our students with disabilities to grow at a higher rate also,” Tinker said. “Our regular ed kids are learning at a high rate and we have (got to) focus on getting our students with disabilities to learn at a better rate also.”

Garren said steps were being taken to close the gap. Special education teachers are now receiving professional development on instructional practices, whereas before they only received instruction on a particular program, he said.

“We’ve already started a plan on what we can do to increase the number of students who are proficient and advanced in special education, but we’re definitely concerned about that,” Tinker said. “It’s just one area, it’s not — it doesn’t indicate that the school is in decline in any way.”

One hope is that Response to Instruction and Intervention will help close the gap for schools, Garren said.

Through a three-tiered system, RTI-squared aims to address unique learning needs for students in reading, written expression and math.

“Our biggest thing is looking at our staffing and schedules and make sure we’re providing the correct professional development to the special education teachers that provide instruction to those teachers to make sure (students do well),” Garren said. “And again, it’s not that they’re not getting good instruction, like I said, their performance is real close to the state average, it’s just that the performance of both Eaton and North in non-special ed students is well above the state average, so that gap has been created.”

Overall achievement for North students scoring proficient and advanced topped all surrounding schools in English and language arts at 68.7 percent, and was second only to Maryville Junior High School in math at 68.2 percent.

“Loudon County had planned and will continue with the plan to provide more instructional strategy professional development for our special education teachers,” Melanie Amburn, special education supervisor, said.