Local school officials dispute state data, say teachers working overtime to make sure students don’t fall behind

Keeping Schools Safe

(WJHL) – Several school systems have made the transition as difficulties with virtual learning continue.

Wednesday, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner said students, especially those in the younger grade levels, are struggling to meet learning standards because of school closures.

News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun looked into how school systems locally are working to prevent this kind of delay in proficiencies.

The school systems News Channel 11 spoke with were Greeneville City Schools, Johnson City Schools and Kingsport City Schools. The school administrators from each district said they never submitted any kind of report to the state. They also said their respective districts have taken a proactive approach in diminishing a learning gap while students have been out of the physical classroom.

“To make a prediction or projection based on only 4% of the students, to me is premature,” Greeneville City Schools assistant director for instruction, Dr. Suzanne Bryant said.

Doctor Suzanne Bryant, with Greeneville City Schools told Kassahun that school officials made sure students kept their devices during the summer so learning never stopped.

“We have lots of programs that the students can work on independently, in the summer to continue their learning. Also, we had our 21st Century Grant tutoring also students were able to have enrichment in tutoring through our 21st Century Grant throughout the month of June. So, our learning didn’t exactly stop in the summer. It continued,” Dr. Bryant said.

Teachers were quick to support students as soon as the new academic year began.

“Even though we’re fully online, we’ve invited some of our highest-need students back into school for some extra help,” she said.

Greeneville City Schools transitions into an A/B day for K-12 grades on September 28. Pre-K and kindergarten are the only grade levels in the district who are on in-person learning.

“They have regular day meetings with the students. They’ve recorded those Zoom sessions and put those in the Canvas Learning management system for our students who can’t access that learning,” Dr. Bryant explained.

The same goes for Johnson City Schools.

Johnson City Schools Director of Instruction and Communications Dr. Debra Bentley said: “We were already positioned with the assessments that we were going to administer to gauge immediately where students were coming to the school year, with their learning needs.”

Bentley said this year’s fall of 2020 4th grade students, shown in orange, scored in the 60th percentile. This means the students scored better than 60% of other 4th grade students in the country who took the assessment. The graph in blue shows those same students in the fall of 2019, as third graders with a similar percentile.

Courtesy: Johnson City Schools

“We were able to see very quickly an intervention, the focus on the classroom teacher, but other specialists in the school could assist that student in learning,” Dr. Bentley said. “We have begun after school tutoring services for not just in-person learners but also remote learners. In elementary, middle and high school to connect with a teacher.”

Bryant said Johnson City Schools never submitted information to the state, nor were they requested to do so.

Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Moorhouse said the same.

“There’s not been data requested or submitted,” Moorhouse said.

Moorhouse said Kingsport City Schools does not participate in the Northeast Evaluation Association (NWEA).

“We identified the standards that didn’t get covered in that last- uh, during the shutdown, and in our pacing guides for this year, we’ve embedded those standards for our pacing for this year,” Moorhouse said.

He said the teachers in the region and across the state have put in the extra work to ensure students do not suffer in the classroom.

“I can’t be more proud of a group of individuals than I am of our educators, our principals. They have taken responsibility of this,” Moorhouse added.

Meanwhile, Bryant said she would like to know where the data came from.

“We’re just a little bit concerned about that data that was published yesterday. It’s based on an estimate and I think they had tested 30,000, which that only represents 4% of the students in the state of Tennessee,” Bryant said.

According to Ballotpedia, in 2013, there were approximately 994,000 students in Tennessee.

News Channel 11 reached out to the TDOE for more information on when and where the data was collected. A response has not been received at this time.

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