State Names DeKalb West a Reward School

September 26, 2018
By: Dwayne Page

DeKalb West School has been named a Reward School for 2018 by the Tennessee Department of Education.

The department released its 2018 School Accountability lists last week, which names schools that are excelling and those that need added support.

The DeKalb County School System received an overall “Advancing” status, the second best of the three designations the state gives for improvement. The best is “Exemplary” and “Satisfactory” comes in below “Advancing”

Reward schools are typically improving in terms of achievement and growth for all students and student groups, according to the department. There’s no cap on the number of reward schools.

A school cannot receive a reward designation if:

  • Any student group performs in the bottom five percent in the state for that group
  • The school is also designated priority or in need of comprehensive support and improvement, or additional targeted support and improvement.

This is the first year that the DOE has used a new framework to determine the school accountability lists. In past years, reward schools included the top 10 percent of schools based on the highest rates of performance and progress.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Reward and Priority schools are two key designations under Tennessee’s school accountability system..

Reward status is the top distinction a school can earn in Tennessee. Reward schools are those that are improving overall student academic achievement and student growth for all students and for student groups, and they are identified annually. In 2018, 318 schools in 85 school districts – about 20 percent of schools in the state – earned Reward status.

Priority schools are identified at least every three years, and they are the schools most in need of support and improvement. Priority schools fall into the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state test scores over the past three years and have low graduation rates. Following legislation passed this spring, 2017-18 TNReady data was not used to identify Priority schools. The 2018 Priority list includes 82 schools across eight districts, and these schools are now eligible for additional funding and will be supported by the department, in coordination with their districts, in developing a plan to improve.

“In this first year with our new system, it is incredibly encouraging to see more than 300 of our schools are earning Reward status for how they are supporting our students’ academic achievement and growth,” Commissioner McQueen said. “At the same time, we see a number of places where we need to improve. Our new school improvement model takes a student-focused, evidence-based approach to tailor interventions for our Priority schools, and we will be working closely with these schools and their districts over the coming year to improve academic outcomes and strengthen whole-child services that support student success.”

Tennessee’s new school accountability system was developed through a 16-month process of gathering feedback and hearing input from students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. Tennessee has designated Reward and Priority schools since 2012, but this was the first year with an updated methodology as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. As part of federal requirements, the plan was submitted to and approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

The new accountability framework is based on principles that all schools can be successful and all Tennessee students must be served well. It includes a variety of measures, including chronic absenteeism and discipline, ACT performance, and TNReady scores, to make a determination. All schools are rated both on how they serve the full student population and how they are specifically serving student groups that have historically been underserved: students with disabilities, English learners, economically disadvantaged students, and black, Hispanic, and Native American students. This fall, the department will publish more information about how all schools perform on these measures as part of a new school dashboard that will be posted online to offer additional information to parents, educators, elected officials, and community leaders.

As part of Tennessee’s new accountability plan, all Priority schools will move into an evidence-based school improvement model, ranging from district-led plans to intervention by the state’s Achievement School District. To better support Tennessee’s lowest performing schools, the state has invested $20 million into school improvement over the last two years. This funding is specifically devoted for Priority schools.