District celebrates middle school’s Level 5 status

By Crystal Burns

High five’s are in order for students, faculty and staff at Trenton Rosenwald Middle School.

Trenton Special School District leaders are celebrating TRMS’ status as a Level 5 school.

The Tennessee Department of Education measures student growth using the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVASS), which ranks progress from 1-5 with 5 being the highest score. Three equals one year of growth: 4 and 5 show over a year’s worth of growth while 1 and 2 shows less than a year of growth.

TRMS was one of nine schools in Gibson County to achieve the mark.

“TRMS has been trending up for a while,” said TSSD Director of Schools Tim Haney. “There’s a plan that’s being executed.”

TVAAS measures student growth year over year, regardless of whether the student is proficient on the state assessment. In calculating a TVAAS score, a student’s performance is compared relative to the performance of his or her peers who have performed similarly on past assessments.

TRMS scored 3 in Literacy, 4 in Numeracy, 4 in Literacy and Numeracy, 5 in Science and 1 in Social Studies for an overall score of 5. Haney said it is the “ultimate professional team accomplishment.”

“We are a team here, but more importantly we’re a family,” said TRMS principal Paul Pillow. “We all get along. We help each other, and that carries down to the students. We’ve created an environment so the kids want to help each other grow too.”

To share the news with teachers, Pillow called an emergency faculty meeting for 7:15 on a Friday morning. He said he tried to act sad to throw them off, but then he brought out balloons and confetti cannons.

“There were hugs all around,” he said.

Teachers then passed on the news to their students, explaining as best as possible what the numbers mean.

“Our teachers celebrate these kids everyday,” Pillow said. “I can’t say enough how proud I am of our teachers and students. This is their accomplishment.”

Trenton Elementary scored a 3 overall, with 4 in Literacy, 3 in Numeracy and 3 in Literacy and Numeracy. Haney said the school is on the verge of Level 5 status.

Peabody did not fare as well, scoring 2 in Literacy, 1 in Numeracy, 1 in Literacy and Numeracy, 1 in Science and 5 in Social Studies for an overall mark of 1.

The state designated Peabody in its “safe harbor” category because of its past history of strong growth numbers. While Haney said he wouldn’t make excuses for the school, he said it was a transition year because he didn’t vacate the principal’s job for the director’s chair until September.

“It’s an anomaly,” he said. “This is not a trend.”

Overall, the district scored 3 in Literacy, 1 in Numeracy, 2 in Literacy and Numeracy, 5 in Science and 2 in Social Studies for a composite score of 2.

“You like them all to be 3, 4 and 5,” Haney said. “If all your schools are a 3, you’ve got a good district.”

Statewide, Trenton was fourth in growth in 3-5 English Language Arts (ELA), showing an 8.2-percent improvement over the previous year and 10th in growth in 6-8 Science, a 3.9-percent improvement. Students in grades 3-12 take TNReady or End of Course tests.

Achievement scores

The state Dept. of Education says that growth scores should be used alongside achievement scores to show the fuller picture of students’ performance.

The state offers the public access to the same data schools receive – an almost overwhelming number of figures measuring achievement and growth in subcategories including economically disadvantaged, English learners, students with disabilities, American Indian, Asian, Black or African American, Black/Hispanic/Native American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White and super subgroups.

All groups are measured using the terms Below (Average), Approaching, On Track, Mastered and a combination score of On Track and Mastered. To legibly print the Excel file that can be downloaded from tn.gov/education, you’ll need about 6,000 pages of copy paper the corresponding amount of ink.

Haney said he stacks up Trenton’s achievement scores against the state averages. To boil it down for readers, The Gazette is providing the percentage of TSSD students that scored On Track/Mastered with the correlating state figure (see chart).

Haney noted that three-fourths of state students are not on track in tested subjects. He said the questions at the state level are if the results are a function of student ability or a function of the new test. He said Trenton teachers push students in a “productive struggle” and use progressive grading to build increased rigor in the classroom.

“We’re trying to build a culture of it’s okay to fail,” he said. “We’ll give [students] an opportunity to fix it.”

Context for the results

On the state education website, a section titled “Context for the Results” notes that the majority of the 650,000 students who took TNReady this year did so on paper, but about 300,000 students took TNReady online. Since implementing online testing, the platform has been plagued with problems.

Haney said there has been no smooth administration of the online test at the high school level, so it’s difficult to trust the results.

The state hired a third-party – HumRRO – to do an analysis of the results to see if and/or how the disruptions impacted the scores and said HumRRO found minimal impact on the overall scores, but no adverse action can be taken against any student, teacher, school or district based on the 2017-18 data.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently announced new steps designed to improve the state’s TNReady assessment, one of which is adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing.

The original timeline for online testing had all students in grades 5-8 and high school taking TNReady online this school year. That has been modified so that students in grades 3-8 will continue to take TNReady on paper for math, English and social students. Students in grades 3-4 will TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online.

Students in high school and those taking End of Course exams will continue to test online.

For more information on TNReady, visit TNReady.gov. Test scores can be found online at tn.gov/education.

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