By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Department of Education has something to celebrate.
Eight of Washington County’s 12 schools scored a five in its overall composite scores — the highest number possible for Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System data, which measures student growth throughout the state.
The Washington County School District also earned a five as its district-wide, overall-composite score.
“I believe it’s been since around 2012 that we’ve had a level five in growth,” Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said. “This is not something that happens on a regular basis for Washington County. This is landmark. It’s significant. We’re really proud of that.”
TVAAS was designed to measure student growth in education, whether a student was proficient on the state assessment or not. But Halliburton explained that the scores also help to measure the impact a school district, schools and teachers have on a student’s academic progress.
“Growth scores are very tricky, but really they’re an excellent measure of the future, in my opinion,” she said. “You can take a cohort of students and if they continue along that trajectory of growth, then years down the road we should have some really good ACT scores — we can become even better.”
Boones Creek Middle, Grandview, Gray, Jonesborough Middle, Lamar, Ridgeview, Sulphur Springs and West View schools all received fives in their overall composite scores. South Central and Fall Branch both received fours in their overall composite scores.
Halliburton told the Herald & Tribune that she felt new technology and an increase classroom rigor contributed to the increase in student growth. The director also felt that attention to the details of student data is a key component to adding to student growth.
“When you look at student achievement, you look at the big picture and peel back to the details,” Halliburton explained. “You have to really analyze the data and put your arms around the data. Try to determine what the data’s telling you. Then you just have to build your dialogue around that. You peel it down to a specific grade level and then you peel it down to the teacher.”
Throughout literacy, numeracy, literacy and numeracy combined, and science categories, a lower score in science was the trend for the county’s K-8 schools. When asked how the district plans to up those scores, Halliburton cited the literacy and numeracy efficiency as a vehicle to better science scores.
“It’s not that we’re not concerned about (science), but if you’re a stellar reader, and you are a stellar mathematician, then we can develop your skills in social studies and science,” Halliburton said. “If you’re a comprehensive reader, there’s not much you can put in front of a student that he or she can’t figure out.”
Halliburton also said science will take more of a front seat when it comes to reading content throughout K-8 schools.
“We are utilizing more reading opportunities in content areas like science. If we use more non-fiction literature in our reading lessons, if it’s geared towards science and social studies, we could see a great improvement in that,” she said. “You still have to do hands-on science experiments,, but you can also use that reading and literacy block of time each day to also do some reading in those areas.”
As for the high school level, Washington County’s Daniel Boone High School received a one on its overall composite score and David Crockett scored a two overall. To fix the low science, literacy and literacy and numeracy combined scores, the district is looking to zoom in on exactly what each student needs in order to better their skills.
“We’ve got to identify these specific skills sets, no matter what grade you’re in, no matter what assessment you’re taking,” Halliburton said. “Whether it’s TN Ready, end of course, pre-ACT test — we’ve got to look at that and be prescriptive with you as a student.”
In addition to TVAAS scores, Halliburton said she is also looking at other data to better student outcomes; the director has her eyes on other factors like time lost from not staying on task and being on time.
“Time on task is something we’ve stressed this year — students having their homework ready, completing assignments on time, getting to their locker in a timely manner. If you’re five minutes late for every class, that’s 25 minutes of instruction you’ve lost as a student. If your parents bring you to a K-8 every day and they’re 10 minutes late, that’s 50 minutes of instruction lost. You can’t get it back.”
Teacher attendance from the 2015 to 2016 school year is another data set Halliburton examined. She said she felt those numbers also have an effect on student outcomes.
“I’m waiting to see if our attendance data looks better for 2016 to 2017. That could have played a factor in this,” she said. “We value our substitutes, but no substitute teacher takes the place of that teacher who has a built-in relationship with that student. There’s some quality instruction that’s lost when their regular teacher does not report in a given school day.”
Now, the district is preparing to get to work on those areas that need improvement and to always prepare for the future.
“We’ll have some slim years where growth may not be all fives, but at the same time, you constantly have to look at you data. And when you get good news, you cannot rest on your laurels,” Halliburton said. “The message I want to send out to teachers is how much I value and appreciate them for all that they’ve done, but to also not lose that sense of urgency. That sense of urgency is so important.
“It is not a time to coast. It’s never a time to coast in public education. We’ve got a lot to prove.”