County school officials work to improve student performance

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

Although the Carter County School System fell below most state averages in an assessment released earlier this week, school officials are encouraged by the number of areas where improvements have been made. The county school system has been looking over the value-added assessment program results to find academic trends throughout the school system.
   Overall, county students' assessment results were much better this year than they were in 2001. However, county school officials are using the results to develop a school improvement plan that will bring students to a higher level of performance.
   Dr. Sheila Ellis supervises the testing for county schools and works to pinpoint areas of the curriculum that need improvement. After reviewing the results of the value-added assessment, Ellis noted Language Arts was one particular area of weakness for not only county students, but for students across the state of Tennessee.
   In an attempt to improve Language performances, the county school system has begun advocating the integration of writing across all of its high schools. Each school will be asked to develop students' persuasive writing skills in all subjects, and the staff will be trained in the use of the rubrics. "If the teachers are familiar with the rubrics, then they will be better equipped to grade in the classroom setting," Ellis said.
   Looking ahead county school administrators would like to place an added emphasis on language skills in schools. "We want to advocate verbal and oral communication skills and teach students how to do written correspondence and how to verbalize their thoughts," Ellis said. "That is the main plan right now as far as language goes."
   Language averages were low across the county, but some students were very close to the state norm. The juniors at Hampton and Happy Valley High Schools were only a few percentage points below the average for all Tennessee students.
   County school officials have taken significant steps to help students improve their performances in all subject areas. Administrators have purchased a computer system, PLATO, to help students improve skills in English, Science and Algebra. The PLATO computer system has been installed in all county high schools, where every student has access.
   Ellis stated that algebra is another area of concern for county students. The 2002-2003 school year is the first time that math classes have been reorganized according to content difficulty. By organizing math classes into different levels, school officials hope to significantly improve students' scores. "We are looking forward to the 2003 value-added assessment results. We are hoping to see some improvement in math," Ellis said.
   County teachers are being encouraged to teach the standard in math at each grade level. Ellis stated that the state issued standard will be addressed in every math classroom in Carter County.
   Although the value-added assessment results showed county students falling below state averages in all subjects except Reading, school officials remain optimistic about the future. "I think that our future looks brighter than it ever has," Ellis said. "We accept the fact that we need to do some work in Language and Math, and we are not putting the blame on any teacher or group of teachers. We fully accept the responsibility in the Carter County School System and we are working toward improvements."
   Ellis will be meeting with Kevin Ward, director of elementary schools, and Gary Smith, director of high schools, in the near future to discuss the value-added assessment results in more detail. She stated that they will look for trends and commonalties among schools, and will discuss the findings with principals and individual teachers.