by Danny Wade
Humboldt educators received some hard news to swallow recently when the state released the 2018-19 TN Ready assessment results. Humboldt City Schools did not meet the expectations of the state by one-tenth of a point.
Missing the mark designated Humboldt as a Focus school, Targeted Support and Improvement. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, TSI schools are those that fall in the bottom 5-percent for their weighted overall accountability score for any given student subgroup (i.e. Black/Hispanic/Native American, Economically Disadvantaged, English Learners, or Students with Disabilities), or any given racial or ethnic group.
“While the overall results were not what we wanted to see for our district, there were many areas where improvement was seen from 2018-19,” stated Dr. Versie Hamlett, director of schools. “There is a tremendous sense of urgency to continue to improve. We have an intense focus on improving elementary math and middle school math and literacy. We started our full improvement efforts with a rigorous curriculum to align with state standards and testing in 2017-2018. Significant literacy gaps were seen before the new curriculum was implemented and now, we are seeing improvements as the gaps are closing. All of our schools are receiving intensive coaching and ongoing support, providing powerful core instruction, creating more engaging learning opportunities and developing a community network around our schools to better support the whole child.”
“Our social studies scores for East were a level 5,” East Elementary School Principal Brittanie Doaks stated. “A level 5 is significantly above expectations based on state scores. We implemented a new curriculum last year and were able to maintain an overall three in literacy. This means our students scored a year’s growth as according to the state. Our goal is to continually improve student growth and proficiency. We have already implemented several new strategies to continue moving students in the right direction.”
One important factor that plays a huge roll in a school district’s overall score is chronic absenteeism.
Jason Newman, principal of Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School, said a student is labeled chronically absent for missing 18 or more days of school, even if there are excused absences. Additionally, being tardy or leaving school early on three occasions will add up equaling one missed day. Tardiness is an issue for Humboldt students and parents.
“Absenteeism has played a major role in the calculations of our district’s accountability, noted Dr. Hamlett. “Almost 15-percent of our students were considered chronically absent last year. This affects classroom instruction greatly. Our team has implemented aggressive measures to decrease student absenteeism, and we need parents to make sure students attend school daily.”
The number of absences for Humboldt students is staggering. At Stigall Primary School, there were 3,323 total absences for the 2018-19 school year. Of that, 57 students were chronically absent and made up 1,382 of the days missed. Stigall has pre-k, kindergarten and first grade students.
Dr. Hamlett said this tendency has to change. Students, early on in their education, can start a trend of missing days.
At East Elementary School (grades 2-6), there were 3,561 absences with 37 students chronically absent. These 37 made up for 824 of the total absences.
Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School (grades 7-12) saw a total of 4,819 occurrences of absenteeism. Of that, 2,376 were made by 71 chronically absent students.
“When discussing the scores, there are many factors to take into consideration,” Principal Newman said. “We can easily improve chronic absenteeism and the graduation rate. We are working with students, parents, and local physicians to guarantee that everyone understands the importance of each child being at school unless they are sick or running a fever. Quite naturally, when students are present at school every day, they will be better prepared for the tests. We can improve the graduation rate by getting students to school and taking ownership in their academics. Students need to understand the importance of a diploma.”
“The state offers early post-secondary opportunities (EPSOs) and has mandated that the majority of our students graduate as Ready Graduates to increase their probability of enrolling in postsecondary education and securing high-quality employment,” Newman continued. “We have added advanced placement (AP) courses, dual enrollment courses through Jackson State Community College, and dual credit courses through the Statewide Dual Credit Program. Other ways to satisfy the Ready Graduate qualifications is to score a 21 or better on the ACT, a 31 or better on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and through industry certification. Meeting these targets with the support of parents and community stakeholders, we can move test scores in the right direction. We have put things in place to increase student achievement. It is time for us all to work together to support the students of Humboldt Jr.&Sr. High School to ensure they are ready and prepared for the world upon graduation.”
With what seems like a new and different testing procedure from the state every year or so, all school districts are constantly tweaking the curriculum to align with state standards and testing. Humboldt is no different.
“School turnaround work is a five- to eight-year journey. We are encouraged by the growth seen thus far. I am incredibly proud of our teachers and administrators. We are in this for the long haul and we are working tirelessly to improve all of our schools,” concluded Dr. Hamlett.