Tennessee Names Priority and Focus Schools

Monday, August 13, 2012 | 04:11 pm

NASHVILLE -- In accordance with Tennessee’s new accountability system, designed through the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, the Tennessee Department of Education today released a list of Priority Schools and Focus Schools to the State Board of Education.

Priority Schools are the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Tennessee, in terms of academic achievement. These 83 schools are eligible for inclusion in the Achievement School District or in district Innovation Zones. They may also plan and adopt turnaround models for school improvement.
 
Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners. The department has named 167 schools as Focus Schools.
 
Schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year. 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.
 
Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.
 
Tennessee strives for all students to improve every year, with students who are furthest behind improve at a faster rate. By naming Priority Schools and Focus Schools, the department of education enables districts to assist these schools and create improvement plans tailored to the areas they need to grow. Districts may also work with the state’s Centers for Regional Excellence (COREs) to share effective strategies for raising achievement levels and closing gaps.
 
“We want all schools to be intentional about improving student achievement, especially for students who are the furthest behind, and this year, we have been able to offer more nuanced measures of school accountability,” said Kevin Huffman, education commissioner. “We believe these measures will lead many schools to create effective intervention programs and ultimately address their needs for improvement.”
 
The Priority and Focus Schools lists, as well as an information sheet explaining the state’s new accountability system, can be found here. Schools identified as Priority and Focus will retain the designation and varied support for three years, from 2012-13 through 2014-15. The department will announce Reward Schools, the top-performing schools in the state, in the coming weeks.
 
Earlier in the summer, Tennessee named its 21 Exemplary Districts, which successfully raised student achievement and narrowed gaps under the new system. District accountability information can be found here.
 
For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.
 
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