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White County School Director Sees More Problems Coming With Grades

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
White County School Director Sees More Problems Coming With Grades

White County Director of Schools said he can see multiple issues with the state’s new school letter grade system.

Schools will be assigned letter grades in the coming days with a public announcement set for December. Director Kurt Dronebarger said he is concerned with how the letter grades could affect public perception.

“There are conspiracies that this is all about vouchers and privatization of schooling and taking public school dollars and pushing them into private schools,” Dronebarger said. “Our new commissioner has made no bones that that’s the job she’s been tasked with and that’s what we hear from our governor’s office and so there’s a lot of push there that this is about money.”

Dronebarger said other states have already implemented this system, and it is not going well. He said some school systems have even taken legal action in some cases.

“It’s going on Texas where our commissioner came from,” Dronebarger said. “There are about 100 school systems in Texas that are suing over this very letter grade situation. I know several directors in Tennessee investigated that, and I think just because of the rushed nature in which this is being changed and pushed through now there’s not really time for any legal action, but it’s certainly been discussed. There’s just not an appetite from school superintendents across the state for this.”

The letter grading system puts a heavy emphasis on “overall success rate for achievement.” Dronebarger said that is measured by one standardized test taken by a student at the end of the year. Overall growth, or student improvement over a school year, is also part of the letter grading system, but is not as heavily weighted as achievement. Dronebarger said another concern is the public might perceive schools with a lower grade as a failing school.

“You can take the worse school arguable by data in the state of Tennessee, but they still have students that are successful there,” Dronebarger said. “They’ll still turn out a valedictorian. They’ll turn out people who are successful there. To label a school based on one test is just disingenuous to the process.”

Dronebarger said the letter grading system may also make staffing and retention an even more complicated issue than it already is.

“Hiring is becoming increasingly more difficult as we’ve got into this post-COVID era,” Dronebarger said. “There are less and less students going into that profession now, so its hard to get teachers. When you start pitting schools against each other with that kind of labeling, it’s certainly a concern. It’s something we are all going to have to deal with.”

Dronebarger said with such a focus on letter grades, it may force school districts to move teachers from higher graded schools to lower graded schools.

“We’re going to have to look at teacher scores a little more closely,” Dronebarger said. “We may have to move some of our personnel to make sure that we are spreading out our A,B and C teachers adequately across the districts, so all of our schools can score that way.”

The grading system was suppose to be rolled out in the 2018-19 school year. Testing issues and COVID-19 delayed the roll out until now. Dronebarger said the issue is the criteria of the grading system was changed since then and only revealed to educators a month before they would be getting their first grade.

“I’m concerned that based on this fully achievement model they are pushing out, or heavily-focused model on achievement, that some of our schools that in the past have shown great growth might be adversely labeled, but we’re going to tout the fact that they were listed as Rewards Schools last year under the growth model,” Dronebarger said. “So schools at this same department that is going to label them as a D and F possibly, was saying last year they were one of the best schools in the state.”

Dronebarger said he believes schools districts across the state are united on this issue.

“I think superintendents across the state are pretty much using the same voice here,” Dronebarger said. “We’re not against accountability by any means, but we want it to be fair accountability that tells the whole story.”


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