City school system achieves rare air

With latest evaluation Clinton leaves behind Top 20, named to Top 10

You get used to good news and high marks from the Clinton City School System.

Being ranked as one of the Top 20 school districts in the state annually will have that effect.

The last TNReady assessment, however, has changed that.

Clinton City Schools are no longer just a Top 20 system. They are now also a Top 10 system.

And last year was a year like no other. A global pandemic hit, educators were forced to think outside the box to find the best way to utilize and to accommodate virtual classes, and everything they knew about running a school system was placed in a box, shaken up, and dumped on the floor like puzzle pieces.

And in the midst of this there were concerns shouted from on high about “learning loss.”

The results from the TNReady assessment, however, show Clinton City School System flourished under the most-trying of circumstances.

TNReady is a part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, and is designed to assess true student understanding, not just basic memorization and test-taking skills.

“In the previous year, we did not administer the test (TCAP),” Clinton City Director of Schools Kelly Johnson said.

“They (the state) still ran everything through the accountability formulas and through all of the protocols so we would have an idea of where we stood, and the areas where we still were lacking and areas we needed to address.”

No negative scores were given. There were no negative assessments that might affect a teacher’s evaluation. This was used solely to try to get a handle on how COVID-19 affected education.

For non-educators wrapping, one’s head around the testing periods can be, well … Testing.

There were no TCAP tests administered for the 2019-2020 school year because there was no “school” in the spring of 2020.

But for the 2020-2021 school year, systems like Clinton’s came up with a plan to have school in the midst of a pandemic.

That’s also when the concerns about “learning loss” started to be heard. The latest TCAP was administered in spring 2021.

There was a lot of concern about what the results would show.

“The testing was not used to judge students — after all, 2020 was a strange year — but to be used as a marker for where we are in recovery,” Johnson said. “We talk a lot about recovery, but we’re still in the midst of COVID.”

The TCAP was, literally, a test to see where the school system stood.

Clinton City School System (to use a baseball term) knocked it out of the park.

Scores by grade level showed CCS fifth- and sixth-graders scored in the Top 10 in the state in English Language Arts and math.

Composite growth (in learning and comprehension) was a five — the highest level that can be achieved.

Because 2020 was so different, the composite score — based on achievement and academic growth — was based on 2018-2019 testing. Simply put, the 2019-2020 shutdown year didn’t set CCS back.

And two out of three of the CCS schools are earmarked as Reward Schools: Clinton Elementary and South Clinton Elementary.

“We were one of the fortunate schools who were able to say open — 177 days last year,” Johnson said.

“I think our test scores show we made the right decision, having the kids in class. School is so much more than academics. You have the social and emotional aspect.

“When schools shut down, it was a very isolating time for students.”

But CCS found out it was no longer just a Top 20 district. Out of the 146 school districts in the state, CCS ranked 10th.

And academics is only part of that designation.

“They (school systems) have to prove themselves academically — performing academically — and also growing academically,” said Jamie Jordan, assistant director of schools/supervisor of school health, interventions, and testing.

“But even in the middle of a global pandemic, they (the state) were still looking at absenteeism.”

Johnson noted the state did provide support in this area — that as long as students did their assigned work and checked in with their teachers daily, they qualified for distance learning.

Johnson gives her teachers and staff credit for the work they put in last year.

“It did not come easy,” she said. “Teachers will tell you. Staff will tell you. We agreed as a staff and community that opening schools was the most important thing we could do. We took it one day at a time and it’s just a testament to our staff students and parents.”

And parents are a huge part of CCS’s success.

“Parents have done a great job,” Johnson said. “If there is a suspicion of COVID contact, they have kept their kids at home until they get their test results and that allowed us to stay open. It’s been a whole community effort. You see that time and time again with our parents. Our parents have done a remarkable job.”

Jordan said parents were also very important in the testing process, and Clinton’s came through with flying colors.

“In the midst of all the craziness last year, the state was really worried about getting all the students in to test,” Jordan said. “We tested 99.6-percent of our students. Everybody was testing. There again, parents were committed that we needed this information.

“Our virtual families brought their kids in to test.”

And not just parents. Jordan heaped high praise on the system’s three nurses (one for each school).

“They’re the boots on the ground,” she said. “They made the phone calls for contact tracing, they called parents. They really did a tremendous job.”

When it was said and done, Clinton City School System had the third-highest testing participation rate in the state.

And a “Top 10” school system designation because of educator, staff, and community efforts.