Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 6, 2012

Schools focusing on reading, language arts following AMO report

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — While many Cumberland County schools show strong performance in math skills, reading for information is impacting test scores across the county.

Rebecca Wood, instructional facilitator, said, "We're working on bringing in a lady who is experienced in research-based strategies to improve reading and language arts. We brought a lady in for math and she worked with teachers on how to strengthen our instruction in that subject. We're excited to have this lady come and work with our staff and our teachers."

Wood reviewed the latest information released by the Tennessee Department of Information on Cumberland County academic performance, with this report focusing on individual schools.

Each school had benchmarks set for proficiency in reading and language arts and in math for grades 3-8 as a whole and in the 3rd and 7th grades individually, as well as English and Algebra I at the high school level. These benchmarks are called annual measurable objectives, AMO.

Brown, Homestead, Cumberland County High School and Stone Memorial High school all met their AMOs for the 2011-'12 school year. Other schools showed a need for improvement in different areas, while North Cumberland Elementary failed to meet any of its AMOs and Pleasant Hill Elementary missed the mark in reading and math at all levels except 7th grade reading.

"North and Pleasant Hill are very aware of what we see here," Wood told the Cumberland County Board of Education. "The strategies that I've been impressed with is sharing the data with the students. Both are incorporating this data in conversations with students. It's serious, but it's a pep talk. 'I want to help you grow. You did great, but we're going to focus on this and I'm going to help you.'"

Other strategies to help individual schools improve include recruiting students to participate in before- and after-school tutoring sessions; giving greater detail about specific areas of need, such as interpreting informational text, writing, and research; using STAR Enterprise for formative assessments; and providing more professional development for language arts teachers in grades 7-12.

That need for better skills in informational reading can be seen in value-added scores in science and social studies, which showed students did not grow as much academically as the state predicted. The value-added scores include a three-year score average as well as scores for the 2011-'12 year.

"Informational reading skills will help our science and social studies instruction because so much of that information is presented in informational text," Wood explained.

And while proficiency scores in Algebra I were very high, Wood noted value-added scores did not show as much academic growth as was expected.

"We did really well in proficiency, but this is about how much that child grew in knowledge during the year," she said.

The school system and individual schools also have goals to close achievement gaps between subgroups, including students with disabilities and Hispanic students. In that area, special education teachers are being provided data about where their students are academically to help them grow in knowledge and proficiency.

"I think that's opened a lot of eyes and put a focus on where our students are," Wood said.

There are also progress monitoring tools used throughout the year that measure proficiency of specific skills, such as vocabulary or reading comprehension.

A parent did question how the online testing programs can provide checks and balances, as this parent had requested an actual printout of the questions asked and answers provided to better help her child's academic performance, but was told that was not available because the program randomly generated questions based on performance and could only provide information on skill areas that needed improvement. Reports of those assessments can be provided to parents through a printout, or parents can access results online.