Mayfield and Arnold Memorial elementary schools were listed as needing improvement in closing achievement gaps between the students who have free or reduced lunches and those who do not.
At Mayfield there was a 19.2 percent gap between the two groups. Arnold Memorial had the largest gap at 40.3 percent between the two subgroups.
“Ironically, we did very well in our TCAP scores at Arnold,” Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland schools, said of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.
“Arnold had the best growth in the city. The schools are not necessarily on the focus lists because of low achievement.”
A press release by the TDE supports Ringstaff’s statement.
“Schools on the focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. ... Rather, the focus designation provides districts the opportunity to look closely at particular subgroups of students who may be underperforming and to provide specific support and intervention.”
The new Race to the Top accountability system replaced No Child Left Behind in Tennessee this year. The change was made, “to allow the state to focus goals on growth in student outcomes, particularly for high need students.”
The focus lists allow schools to see achievement gaps between their students.
According to TDE’s website, focus lists should ensure faster growth for those students furthest behind.
Ringstaff said the city schools are determined to close the gaps between their students.
“I think we will do very well because now we know what the issue is for our students,” Ringstaff said. “We will be sure to target the issues and do whatever is best for the students.”
Part of Ringstaff’s confidence stems from the small number of students who missed the marks needed to keep the city schools off the focus list.
“We only missed the mark on 75 kids in third- through eighth-grade reading, with a total population of 2,395 students,” Ringstaff said.
“Reading is our largest category and we were so close on the marks. We need to identify the students and find out why they failed.”
Administrators and principals met Thursday to discuss a strategic plan.
“We plan to utilize professional learning communities, what we call PLCs. These ‘communities’ will be pathways between the teachers that show the progress of a particular student in their studies,” Ringstaff said.
“For example, a third-grade teacher will be able to monitor their students’ progress and address areas of need. When the child advances the next year, their fourth-grade teacher will know what they have accomplished.”
Ringstaff said the PLCs will encourage an open discussion between teachers educating students in the same subject. The communities will also operate by bringing together teachers from the same grade level.
One way the progress of students will be monitored is through benchmarking on SchoolNet. Students will take several online tests throughout the year to measure where they are in their studies.
“I think our teachers can do it. I believe they are dedicated and will respond to the challenge. We know where we have to go. This includes reaching the parents,” Ringstaff said.
According to Ringstaff, parents are a vital part of helping students achieve in school.
“The goal is to invite parents to have a larger part in their child’s education. If we can win the parents over, then we can reach the students,” Ringstaff said.
“We need to work with parents to make sure our goals for the students are the same. We have to get the message out that ‘success for all’ includes the parents.”
Beginning-of-the-year enrollments have shown an increase in the Latino student population in Cleveland schools.
Ringstaff said measures are being taken to ensure proper resources — like English as a second language teachers — are in place.
“Anytime you have students with limited English proficiency you’ve got to make sure tools are in place to help them be successful,” Ringstaff said.
“These kids are as cute as buttons and we love having them in the building, but we have to make sure we relate to them and parents who may not speak English.”
Ringstaff said the surge in Latino students has brought a new challenge, but he is not worried.
“We have a lot of new challenges heading our way, but I like challenges. If there were no challenges then life would be boring. So, bring on the challenges. Our teachers are phenomenal and they are knocking it out of the park.”
Cleveland schools will be eligible for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gaps.