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Putnam & White Schools Director Concerned About Measurement In New School Grades

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Putnam & White Schools Director Concerned About Measurement In New School Grades

Putnam County Director of Schools Corby King said the state’s new system to grade schools needs to be clear and precise about the information being used.

The State Legislature implemented the grading system in 2016 calling for a letter grade system for schools. It was delayed by issues with state testing and then COVID. Now, the State Department of Education faces a November rollout.

The grading system will focus on achievement and growth. King told department officials Tuesday night during a stop at Cookeville High School that the recent third-grade reading score issue showed the need for clear communication.

“We need to decide, what are we trying to measure?” King said. “What do we want families to know? What are we telling families? What is important? Letter grades should measure what families think that they measure.”

White County Director of Schools Kurt Dronebarger said accountability is key in education and the state has swung too far in focusing just on achievement and just on growth in recent years. Dronebarger said the state has yet to determine the basis for assigning letter grades, yet has promised a transparent system where everyone knows what the goal is.

“We’re almost five years removed from when the legislation was passed, and we don’t even have a formula that we’re going to implement this year on students that aren’t even in school anymore on some of that data,” Dronebarger said. “So I don’t see that as being transparent and straightforward and easy for parents to understand. I think there needs to be a lot of clarity and if and when this rolls out, there needs to be a crosswalk for parents and directors of schools to understand how did we get to this point and to make sure that we’re not swing the pendulum too far back.”

King said with third grade reading scores, officials were too often telling students they were failing when they were performing where they needed to be. King said data gathered by the school system rather than just a state test shows the true picture of a student’s growth.

“So that we can then see how are we doing with this student and where they come in at the beginning of the year versus where they come or end up at the end of the school year,” King said. “By measuring students academic achievement and growth, schools and districts will have a more comprehensive picture of their own effectiveness in raising student achievement.”

Parent David Stout said however the state decides to grade the schools it needs to be simple. And the grading needs to show how one student will be ready to compete.

“I think it’s easy to get very complicated in that way and basically disengage the parents through too many measurements,” Stout said. “What they want to know is when my child graduates, will they be competitive when they go out in the job market? When they go out in the job market, it’s going to be competitive. They are going to be compared to their peers, they are going to be measured.”

Putnam County School Board Jill Ramsey said boiling down a school’s performance to A-F letter grade does not tell the story.

“It really bothers me that we have to label schools,” Ramsey said. “I don’t know what the purpose of this law was, but I remember my days as a principal and trying to ABCDF your school as a principal. And I think about when I got up every single day, the first thing I thought was, let’s really stress in academics. Stress in academics. It was so seldom about academics. Our day began and academics was on the back burner because we had to fix toilets. We have a high population of ESL students. We have a high population of students with special needs. How are you going to measure that in a school to narrow down every school in this state to a letter is demeaning to me because there’s so much more to it.”

State Education Department Communication Specialist Chelsea Crawford said the listening tour will help decide all of the factors that should be considered in applying grades. While achievement and growth were both included by legislators, other factors can be considered.

“We’re also interested to hear about those other indicators that we can include based on how this public engagement goes and what Tennesseans tell us they want or need to see represented in this A through F letter grade calculation,” Crawford said.

The department will end its 10-city tour in Shelbyville Thursday.


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