BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
AND SARAH GREGORY
The Greeneville and Greene County school systems enjoyed largely sustained growth in student performance in 2012-2013, which was a trend for school districts across the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Education (DOE).
The DOE released the 2013 district-by-district Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) and End-of-Course (EOC) performance data on Monday.
"Sustained improvements across the state show that our efforts to raise student outcomes are working," Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said in the release.
"Our students, teachers and administrators worked incredibly hard. These results prove that, if we continue to maintain high expectations and quality support for our teachers, our students will continue to grow."
The state focuses much of its attention on improving the percentage of students scoring well enough to demonstrate a "Proficient" or "Advanced" understanding of the materials.
Scores below this level fall into categories of "Basic" or "Below Basic."
GREENEVILLE TCAP RESULTS
Across the state, more than 115 school districts showed improvement in math scores in grades 3-8.
"For the first time since standards were reset, more than 50 percent of students are on grade level in every TCAP subject," according to the DOE website. "Students made gains in 22 of 24 tested subjects. Math scores grew by 3.5 percentage points."
In Greeneville's system, there were significant gains in the percentage of students scoring Proficient and Advanced in math in grades 3-8, at nearly 10 percent, but small losses in 3-8 reading, science and social studies.
"We continue to be extremely proud of the academic accomplishments of our students, teachers, and families in Greeneville City Schools," said Director of Schools Dr. Linda Stroud in a recent news release.
"We are blessed that the education of our children -- a community responsibility -- is being embraced in Greeneville city."
"Again in 2012-13 our standardized test results show outstanding achievement levels for students at all grade levels. Our students' high achievement in math is particularly impressive," Stroud said.
COUNTY TCAP RESULTS
In the Greene County School System, there was a similar gain in math, at nearly 5 percent, and also gains in science and social studies.
"The math gains were significant," noted Dr. Julia Lamons, Greene County's K-8 data assessment/evaluation supervisor.
"That shows that we've had a great focus there. Now we're going to shift to make sure those gains are aligning with reading as well."
The county system saw a small loss in reading, which was on par with other districts across the state.
"Many school districts across the state have discovered that reading is harder to move; Greene County is no exception," Lamons said. "We are working on many initiatives to address our reading needs within the county.
"Response to Intervention (RTI) is a countywide focus for all schools to help improve individual student performance in reading.
"In addition, we have many teachers who are leading the way for our system by receiving specialized training to assist all of our schools in the efforts to improve this area.
"These teachers are working as reading specialists, learning leaders, and academic coaches to provide support in reading for our schools," Lamons concluded.
Each district must calculate any significant student populations (those of 30 or more students) that fall into certain subgroups, including students with disabilities, Black/Hispanic/Native American students, and economically-disadvantaged students.
This practice is in keeping with the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, in that it requires school systems to ensure that students within these subgroups score at the same level as the student population as a whole.
Ensuring happens -- a process often known as "closing the gap" -- requires students in these subgroups make annual improvements in their scores that are substantially greater than that of the general student populace, since subgroup scores are typically lower.
"The majority of districts across the state closed the achievement gap between black, Hispanic, and Native American students and their counterparts in the majority of subjects," according to the DOE release.
"As seen in state-level data released last month, a majority of districts had growing gaps in achievement between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.
"This is an area for improvement at the state level as well as in districts for the 2013-14 school year," the release concluded.
The news release from the Greeneville City School System said that all subgroups showed improvement over the previous year in the percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced.
"Even though the gap did not narrow between black, Hispanic, and Native American students and all students, both groups of students had positive growth," the release said.
Student improvement in the general student population grew at a faster rate than in the individual subgroups, which also had positive growth, the release noted.
"We are encouraged by the fact that all students in Greeneville City Schools showed academic growth, regardless of state and federal 'subgroup' status," Stroud said.
COUNTY SCHOOLS GAPS
In Greene County, the gap in scores between the overall student population and those in the subgroups narrowed for Black/Hispanic/Native American students and for economically-disadvantaged students in both 3-8 math and reading.
However, the gap in both subjects widened between the general student population and students with disabilities.
"We will be examining the data further and are working with individual schools to provide support needed in this area," Lamons said.
"As we strive to grow all students, one of our focuses going forward will be students with disabilities."
HIGH SCHOOLS TESTED
The TCAP results also include scores in core high school end-of-course exams (EOCs), focusing especially on scores in Algebra I, Biology I and English II.
According to the DOE, there were significant improvements across the state in Algebra EOC results, with many districts seeing double-digit gains.
In the Greeneville City Schools, there was a nearly 20 percent gain in students scoring Proficient or Advanced in Algebra I, with gains in Biology I as well.
There was a small loss in English II.
The same changes were reflected in Greene County's results as well, where Algebra I and Biology I saw significant gains and English II saw a smaller loss.
Lamons was very pleased that the percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced remained above the state average in every subject.
"The high schools are working hard," the supervisor said.
"With the shift to Common Core, everybody's collaborating and working hard, and we're seeing that in the percentage of students that are scoring Proficient and Advanced.
"We're working on the transitions into high school and then throughout high school with curriculum development, the new Pathways initiative, and using data to drive their instruction."
Despite major challenges related to the ongoing implementation of new curriculum standards related to Common Core, spokesmen for both school systems expressed pleasure with their respective system's results and their focus.
"In a year of unprecedented change in educational policy in our state, students in Greeneville City Schools continue to flourish under the leadership of their teachers and all educators in our system," Stroud said.
"Not only are students in Greeneville learning at high levels, they are also singing, playing instruments, creating beautiful pieces of art, and growing and competing physically through extra-curricular and athletic opportunities," she said.
She again emphasized earlier comments about enhancing students' overall learning experience, and not only certain academic areas.
Similarly, a spokesman for the Greene County Schools pointed to a new path that Lamons said is producing marked improvements in students' progress.
"We are very proud of the educational progress we are making in Greene County," Lamons said.
"We are on the right path, and our growth scores show the progress we are making. Our achievement scores will continue to rise with the growth patterns we are seeing.
"Thank you to all principals, teachers, staff and students for your hard work."