Educators in Carter, Johnson counties mostly pleased with state school report cards

John Thompson • Nov 2, 2012 at 8:50 AM

ELIZABETHTON — School systems in the easternmost parts of the state were able to celebrate their successes and identify areas for continued effort after learning the results of the latest report cards issued by the Tennessee Department of Education.

“It is like a coach after a football game,” interim Director of Carter County Schools Kevin Ward said. “You go into the next practice after the game by concentrating on your weaknesses and that is what we are focusing on.” Ward said there is already a plan in place.

Mischelle Simcox, supervisor of K-12 curriculum and instruction for Johnson County Schools, said “I am very proud of the Johnson County School System and very proud of our teachers.” She said she was pleased with the system’s scores on achievement, which continues a trend of several years of nothing but A’s and B’s, but said “there is always room for improvement.” The area where Johnson County must concentrate on improving is in the value-added portion of the report card, which included some D’s and F’s.

Edward Alexander, superintendent of the Elizabethton School System, said the high scores reflected on his system’s report card was just one of several areas where there has been significant progress over the past six years.

“I thank our teachers, principals and supervisors for their efforts in a very difficult period with so many changes. Our system has flourished in difficult economic times,” he said.

Ward said the report card showed Carter County students made good progress in math, which has traditionally been one of the weakest subjects. This year, the school system received an A on value added. The bad news was that in an area where the system has been traditionally strongest, reading and language arts, the system received a D in value added.

“In the process of bringing up our math scores, we seem to have slipped on our reading and language arts,” Ward said.

Another area the school system was working to improve is in closing the gaps between the performance of two subgroups: economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

Ward said Carter County has already several steps to strengthen the areas of weakness, using federal Race to the Top money and other federal funds. These were used to hire three mentors to work with teachers. He said these mentors have demonstrated their ability to improve student test scores. One of the mentors will coach teachers in grades 4-8 and high school in math, a second will coach teachers in 4-8 and high school in reading and language arts, and the third will coach K-3 teachers in Common Core curriculum.

There is also a plan to help individual students who are struggling. Ward said there is a 45-minute open period built into the school system’s block schedule. That can be used to provide reinforcement for students who need help in any subject area.

Alexander would not comment on the specifics of his system’s excellent results on the report card. He said Eddie Pless, the system’s director of testing, data, and early learning services, handles the details. They report card shows the system made A’s and B’s on all subject areas and only nothing less than a C in value added, with an A in math.

While Alexander would not talk about specifics, he said “I have been here a long time (more than 35 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent) and I don’t think our schools have ever been better. Our teachers a doing a tremendous job.”

He said the outstanding achievements have come in every direction, from high academic performance to athletic accomplishments to musical excellence, including a recent state championship for the band and high finishes in the state for several athletic teams and individuals.

While Simcox was pleased with the continued high achievements reflected on Johnson County’s report card, she said the difficulty in showing continued progress is seen in the value-added portion. The system’s achievement has improved over the past two years, going from two A’s and two B’s on the subject areas in 2010 to all A’s this year, except for a B in reading and language arts. In spite of such high scores, the best score on value added was a C in math and the system got an F in science.

That will be areas for the school system to show improvement next year.

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