Maryville and Alcoa school districts earned an “Exemplary” rating from the state Department of Education under results released Thursday, while Blount County Schools ranked at the next level, “Advancing.”

All seven Maryville schools were named “Reward Schools,” as well as two in Alcoa and five in Blount County.

Two Blount middle schools, Heritage and Eagleton, were state-designated “Targeted Support and Improvement Schools,” which means they are in the bottom 5% in the state in at least one student subgroup, such as economically disadvantage students.

Loudon County also was on the list of 20 “Exemplary” districts across the state.

The Tennessee Value Added Assessment System ratings are based on several factors, including student achievement and growth on TNReady assessments.

Maryville’s third

This marks the third consecutive year for Maryville to be named an “Exemplary” district, and the first time all of its schools were named “Reward Schools” in the same year.

The state Department of Education’s news release also noted that Maryville City Schools was the only district in the state to increase English language arts (ELA) results for all students across grades three through eight.

“There’s a lot to celebrate,” Director Mike Winstead said.

The district is seeing an impact from its work in recent years, and he said, “we expect to see more growth.”

Maryville was a Top 10 district in ELA and math, and No. 1 in the state in Algebra 2, Winstead said.

The average ACT score in Maryville also rose by more than a point, to 22.6. “It blew me away,” Winstead said. “I’ve never seen an increase like that.”

Last year, most MHS juniors took a new ACT preparation class at the school.

Comparable results at Maryville’s two intermediate schools should make conversations about a proposed rezoning of students easy, Winstead said, since the district can say with confidence it doesn’t matter which school a child attends.

One focus area for Maryville will be a gap in ELA performance by gender. “We’re seeing more growth in our female students,” Winstead said, although boys performed higher on social studies assessments, which also rely heavily on reading and writing. The district will look closely to ensure it is engaging students with reading and writing assignments, he said.

Although Maryville saw rapid growth in many subgroups, Winstead noted there’s still a gap to close.

He also noted that the district has one of the lowest numbers in the state for students who are chronically out of school, at 4.2%. However, the rate is 13.3% for economically disadvantaged students.

Alcoa’s overall rate for chronic absenteeism was 6.2%, and Blount County’s 8.5%. Among economically disadvantaged students, the number was 11.7% in Alcoa and 11.9% in Blount.

Alcoa closing gap

Director Brian Bell called the results, “Alcoa exceptionalism on display.”

This is the second time in four years that Alcoa has been rated “Exemplary,” the third time Alcoa High has been a “Reward School” and the first time Alcoa Intermediate earned the honor. Last year Alcoa was an “Advancing” district, the second-highest level.

Closing the gap in achievement between students in general and subgroups of students was a factor, Bell said. “Our subgroups across the board had really good growth.”

One of the biggest gains was in math at Alcoa Intermediate School. “More than anything else, they really dug deep into the data,” Bell said of teachers’ efforts to reflect the depth of new standards for math.

Seventh grade math results also showed significant growth.

One area for improvement is ELA in grades six through 12, Bell said, noting a dip in sixth and seventh grade results as an area of concern. “The alarm bells aren’t going off, but it’s just one area we have to address.”

Alcoa saw gains in third through fifth grade ELA results.

Blount rose

A year ago, the Blount County Schools system was ranked in the lowest district category, “In Need of Improvement.” In 2017, all three local districts had been named “Exemplary.”

BCS made strong growth in ELA and math in grades three through five, and both high schools improved achievement in all “End of Course” exams over the previous year, Director Rob Britt noted in a news release.

The district’s overall weakest performance was in middle school ELA and math, and Britt said in a phone interview that discussions already are underway to focus on all four, not just Eagleton and Heritage.

Eagleton also was named an “Additional Targeted Support and Improvement School” last year, and in January began a “Crown Academy” program that offers extra support to students after school.

While this was the first year Rockford, Middlesettlements and Mary Blount elementary schools have been named “Reward Schools,” it was the fourth time for Friendsville Elementary since 2012 and the second consecutive year for Prospect Elementary.

Educators also said they are seeing the results of more rigorous state standards in place for a few years.

Plus Tennessee last year finally had a smooth administration of online tests after a rocky experience in previous years. This spring, however, students will be going back to paper and pencil tests.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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