Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman this week announced 169 schools as the 2011-12 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for annual growth and the top 5 percent for academic achievement.
The Reward Schools are spread across 70 districts, located in major cities as well as rural areas, and 102 of the recognized schools serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations.
Westview High School was among those chosen as a Reward School based on performance from the previous academic year.
Many of the state’s schools celebrated by tuning in for a special webcast featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Haslam, First Lady Crissy Haslam and Huffman.
“Tennessee is leading the way in education reform, and these schools demonstrate two key focuses of education in our state: high levels of achievement and continuous growth,” Haslam said at an event held at Kenrose Elementary School in Brentwood.
“Job creation and education are inextricably linked, and continuing our momentum in education reform is important as we work to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. We are proud of the teachers and staff at each of these schools and excited to recognize their efforts on behalf of Tennessee students.”
Tennessee has set out to become the fastest-improving educational system in the country by raising student performance each year. For the first time, the state has recognized Tennessee schools that have shown the most progress year-over-year alongside the schools with the highest achievement scores on statewide tests.
Nearly a quarter of the 169 schools on the Reward School list actually earned both designations, rising to the top 5 percent for annual value-added growth while also ranking in the state’s top 5 percent for overall achievement, according to a new accountability system adopted through Tennessee’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
The 2011-12 Reward Schools made these impressive accomplishments during a year when Tennessee saw unprecedented gains on the statewide Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP.
As schools across the state made improvements and reached higher levels of proficiency, the 169 Reward Schools led the way.
Because Tennessee’s new accountability system rewards growth and recognizes schools’ varying baselines, every school in the state can strive for the Reward Schools designation.
“We believe that all students deserve strong schools where they can grow to high levels of achievement,” Huffman said. “At the beginning of each year, every school in this state should know that they have a shot at becoming a Reward School.”
While 169 schools were celebrating their newest label, schools such as Dresden Elementary were trying to sift through the meaning of their newest designation under the accountability system as a Focus School.
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 as Focus Schools.
The Weakley County School System has a whole was criticized for its District Accountability for the Black and Hispanic Subgroup.
Districts are measured on their abilities to raise overall achievement and close gaps between groups of students.
Districts reach Exemplary status for raising proficiency levels, narrowing achievement gaps and guaranteeing growth for all students.
Districts that fail to reach the majority of their targets for both achievement and gap closure are In Need of Improvement. These districts will meet in-person with department officials to set an aggressive, effective plan to meet the goals they missed the year prior.
Districts may successfully attain their goals in achievement, gap closure or even both, while experiencing declines among particular groups of students.
These districts are designated In Need of Subgroup Improvement. Weakley County was among those labeled as In Need of Subgroup Improvement.