Clyde Riggs Elementary School and Oakmont Elementary School were both named 2019 Reward Schools based on data from the recently released TNReady assessment scores.

Reward Schools are those that show significant growth in test scores and academic achievement. Clyde Riggs earned the designation for the first time, while Oakmont has now received it three years in a row.

"Last year we set a goal to (add 6% to achievement scores), which is extremely difficult," Clyde Riggs Principal Melissa Robbins said, noting that schools generally aim for 3% growth. "When we did that, our staff all got on board, and we made sure we used every moment of every day to teach. We believed that our kids could achieve it, and we made it happen. Our kids did the work."

In celebration, the school's Parent Teacher Organization hosted an ice cream party and schoolwide recess on Sept. 4.

Sumner County Board of Education member Glen Gregory, who represents Portland's district, also attended to show support for the students' accomplishments.

"When you see your teachers, principals and parents helping students to achieve at that level, it's very rewarding," Gregory said. "We as a board try and provide resources for that to happen, and it's a great honor for the school and for Portland."

Robbins sees the Reward School Designation as a source of positive reinforcement for the school community.

"I think it develops a sense of pride in us, in our teachers, in our students and in our families," she said. "It shows that we can achieve anything we set our minds to."

Students and teachers at Oakmont are familiar with that feeling, as earning the Reward School designation has become an annual goal for them.

"It feels great (to have earned it again)," Oakmont Principal Bryant Brewer said. "Now it's become a culture and expectation for the school. As bigger and bigger portions of students are achieving on a high level, it's hard to get that growth year in and year out, but our teachers are always up for the challenge."

To meet that task, the staff works throughout the year with a focus on individualized instruction.

"On a regular basis, we're looking at students who are considered right on the bubble to mastery (of the state's achievement standards)," Brewer said. "Individual teachers reach out to those who are struggling during Response to Intervention time, which all of our students have."

In addition, the school's third, fourth and fifth grade teachers measure test scores from the previous year to spot areas that need more attention.

"Intervention is focused across the board, whether in RTI or in the regular classroom setting," Brewer said. "Even students who are on track or achieving, we take time to help them in specific ways so they can go even further."

Moving forward, Oakmont hopes to continue its trends in academic growth and

"(Being a Reward School) lets the community know we have excellent students and teachers here," Brewer said. "We're one of the smallest schools in Sumner County, but we're doing some of the biggest things."

Portland's schools received even further accolades when Clyde Riggs was named Portland's only Level 5 school -- the highest possible designation -- under the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.

"That measures the growth of individual students," Robbins said. "Whenever we look at the students from one year to the next, in a basic way, we grew them a year's worth, and some students more than a year's worth."

TVAAS scores calculate a student's performance relative to their peers' scores on past assessments, and the Tennessee Department of Education recommends using them alongside the TNReady achievement scores (which track a student's performance compared to subject and grade-level expectations).

"It's very exciting," Robbins said. "We focused on that growth of students, and I think that's why we met Level 5. We tried to close gaps for students who may not have achieved a year's worth of growth in the past. It's evaluated every year, so we would need to grow again exponentially to be a Level 5 school next year."

Despite that, the staff at Clyde Riggs is ready to take on the challenge.

"We're going to continue to believe that all students can learn and grow," Robbins said. "We're going to continue to hold high expectations for all of them, and our teachers will plan (lessons) and work together as a team because that's how they are. I know they're going to do great things again next year."

What makes a Reward School?

Tennessee's Reward Schools previously included the top 5% of schools showing the most academic achievement, along with the top 5% showing the most annual growth.

In 2018, the state Department of Education introduced a new set of criteria so that every school can potentially earn the designation. They includes the following:

• State test scores/yearly academic achievement growth

• English Language Learners (ELL) meeting state proficiency standards

• Attendance rates

• Graduation rates and ACT scores

Sources: Tennessee Department of Education, Chalkbeat

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