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Rhonda Thurman "Astounded" At Low Performance By Hamilton County Schools On TNReady; Dr. Johnson Say

Source: Chattanooga.com County School Board member Rhonda Thurman said Thursday she was "astounded" by low performance on TNReady scores that were just released.

Noting that the county schools are below state levels in many areas, she said, "I am blown away. I am just astounded. We spend millions and ten millions and this is what we get."

She said, "If people want to know why so many students go to private schools, this is the answer."

Ms.Thurman said students should not be promoted beyond the third grade if they cannot read at a third grade level. She said, "That is a no-brainer."

Supt. Bryan Johnson said he has only been here a short time and said the problems "did not happen overnight and will not be solved overnight."

But he said the schools are making some progress, especially in the literacy area.

He stated, "The gap is getting closer between us and the state. We are not where we want the state wants to be or where we want to be."

Dr. Justin Robertson said of the results, "I don't think anyone is more upset about it than we are."

School officials said the TNReady results show gains in literacy for Hamilton County Schools. In grade 3-8 English language arts (ELA) and high school math, Hamilton County Schools improved faster than the state. Overall, students have moved closer to state results in six of 10 grade level subject areas, it was stated.

Statewide TNReady results showed declines in multiple subject areas. Officials said, "In grade 3-5 science, grade 6-8 math, and grade 6-8 science, the district declined slightly but with less of a decline than the state."

Officials said, "Hamilton County Schools moved quickly at the beginning of last school year to improve literacy instruction.  The district invested in professional development for teachers and launched the RISE reading intervention model.  This upcoming year, the district will continue to focus on literacy with updated curriculum guides for K-12 ELA."

Dr. Johnson stated, “Our school board has set a bold goal for us to become the fastest improving district in Tennessee and we are pleased that TNReady shows we have narrowed the gap with the state in six of 10 areas. The data affirms the needs for the changes that we recently made. We are responding with urgency to address areas of deficit and continue to improve areas that are on the rise. We appreciate the work of our teachers and leaders, as well as the support of our community. Working together, we are confident that our best days are ahead. ”  

Officials stated, "The Opportunity Zone was developed last fall and includes 12 of the district's schools with a history of low performance on state tests.  The resulting shift in focus and the implementation of academic changes showed enough promise to change Tennessee Department of Education plans from a potential takeover of five of the schools to seeking a partnership with Hamilton County Schools to continue the progress."

Jill Levine, chief of the Opportunity Zone, said, “When we launched the Opportunity Zone, we knew the work would be challenging. We have areas to celebrate and areas in which we need to continue to focus, but our teachers and leaders are up to the challenge. They have put in uncountable hours this summer in preparation for the new school year, and we are confident that these efforts will benefit children.”   

Officials said plans outlined in the new five-year action plan called Future Ready 2023 "will bring a sharper academic focus to schools and improve achievement for students across the district.  The new Learning Communities coming this fall will better connect schools, better align the K-12 experience and involve the community in improving academic success.  Future Ready Institutes in high schools will engage students in real-world learning experiences and enhance their love of learning as the students understand why subject content is important in their world.  New curriculum guides for high school English language arts teachers will include a greater focus on writing.  There will be a focus on math performance improvement across all grade levels leading to more success for students in Algebra 1. The district will support teachers in the transition to the new science standards this year with new instructional materials for elementary and Discovery Education Techbooks for middle and high schools."

Dr. Robertson, chief schools officer, said, “We are encouraged by the continued improvements in ELA in grades 3-8 and by narrowing the gap with the state in all of our middle-grade areas, but we recognize that there is much work to do. The teaching and learning team has developed curriculum guides aligned to state blueprints, and local school leaders and teachers have developed action plans at the school level to provide a roadmap for improving areas of focus.”

Officials said, "Middle schools closed the gap with the state on all TNReady areas, but Hamilton County Schools looks to boost overall middle school performance with Future Ready Preps coming this fall.  The new focus in middle grades will seek to personalize learning to meet each child where they are academically, expose students to a variety of potential careers, and support the social and emotional learning of children.  The goal will be to transform the student experience in middle school to better prepare them for high school and success after graduation. Technology will play a big part in the middle school change.  The personalized learning plan for students will include a laptop for every child to use in the classroom as a vital part of instruction."

Dr. Johnson said 1,086 students have signed up for the Future Ready Institutes. There are 66 students who plan to provide their own transportation to Future Ready sites outside their school zone.

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Hixson, Tennessee