County students progressing in value-added grades

By Julie Fann and Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
jfann@starhq.com, twilson@starhq.com

   Elementary students from Carter County Schools posted modest gains in what they are learning, according to Report Card 2002, the third annual report card released by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) on Tuesday.
   County students in grades K-5 saw achievement scores remain unchanged from "C" in all six categories for achievement grades. However, the county posted improved scores in value-added grades from 2001.
   County students saw their value-added reading grades rise from "F" to "D" while science and social studies grades jumped from a "D" to "C" grade from 2001 to 2002.
   "Achievement looks at what students know and are able to do once we receive them when they come to school," said Dr. Connie Smith, Director of Accountability for the Department of Education. "Value added measures the impact or gain or growth that we give them once they get into school."
   The report card issues grades for six subject areas. The first, achievement, tests where the students themselves stand before they enter school, and the second, value added, grades how well the school has helped students improve.
   "When I looked at it all of our schools were in good standing and improving, so we feel real good about that," said Dallas Williams, County Superintendent on Tuesday.
   County students in grades 6-8 received a "D" in reading, math, and social studies and "C" grades in language arts and science in achievement scores for 2002. Those grades were categorically unchanged from 2001 grades.
   Value-added grades in the five subjects remain steady with reading and science receiving "B", language arts and social studies receiving an "A" and math a grade of "C".
   "(Grade) C is average," said Smith. "We're maintaining an average gain or growth in the five academic averages. The national average is 50, and we're from 54 to 51."
   The Report Card also found 36 percent of county students who took the state's Gateway exit examination rated proficient on the algebra section. Over 32 percent of county students taking the algebra exam were scored as advanced. Over 40 percent of county students who took the Gateway biology exam scored proficient while 56.5 percent scored at an advanced level.
   Elizabethton City School Systems saw most of their 2002 subjects remain unchanged from last year's grades except in reading for K-5 students where the grade dropped from a "B" last year to a "D" this year.
   City elementary students received academic achievement grades of "B" in reading, language arts, science and social studies equaling their 2001 grades. The K-5 students' writing grade rose from a "B" to an "A" in 2002.
   In the value-added scores, K-5 students' 2002 grades improved in two other academic areas over 2001 grades, according to the ECS report card.
   The science grade rose from a C to B and the social studies grade went from a B in 2001 to a grade of A this year. The value-added grade for language arts remained an F in 2002 as it did in 2001.
   Academic scores also remained constant for city students in grades 6-8.
   Valued-added grades in reading, language arts, science and social studies were given grade "A" -- unchanged from 2001 scores. The grades 6-8 math score in the value-added category were reported at "C", also unchanged from last year's grade.
   Over 28 percent of city schools' students in grades 9-12 were rated at proficient in the algebra portion of the Gateway proficiency exams and 60.5 percent were graded as advanced, according to the report card. Gateway biology scores reported 28.6 percent proficient and 70.8 percent advanced for city school students.
   City students equaled last year's grade of "A" on the SAT exams for 2002 but remained with a "C" for the ACT exit exam.
   Results were mostly positive across the state, except in language arts for grades K-5.
   In language arts, or grammar, school systems statewide received a failing grade in the "value-added" category, an anomaly that Elizabethton City Schools and Carter County Schools did not escape, according to their report cards.
   City elementary students received a "B" in language arts achievement grades while their counterparts in the county system received a "C" in the subject. However, both systems earned an "F" grade in language arts for grades K-5.
   "We've had this problem with K-5 Language Arts for two years in a row, and we're perplexed," said Judith Morgan, TDOE spokeswoman. "What it says is, we're not making as much gain in that area as we should be."
   Several contributing factors could be causing the low results, according to Morgan. She said a school may have had a tragedy occur on test day, or students may not be responding to the test due to the way it is designed.
   "Rather than depress us, this should simply cause us to question why this is happening and find the root of the problem," Morgan said. "The commission has asked Dr. Bill Sanders to perform an in-depth analysis to help determine where the problem is."
   Academic report cards have been posted on the Department of Education's Web site: www.state.tn.us/education.