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Tougher curriculum and more difficult assessments

The implementation of Knox County Schools system’s strategic five year education plan Aug. 17 will mean a tougher curriculum and more difficult assessments this year for students, particularly those in high school.

Entitled “Building on Strength: Excellence for all Children,” the plan was proposed by Superintendent Jim McIntyre in June as part of the state’s participation in the American Diploma Project. The ADP’s mission is to make sure every student is prepared for either college or a career.

The ADP determined their educational standards after asking several business executives and college administrators what they expect from a student who has just graduated from high school. The majority requested more emphasis on math, science and communication skills.

Hardin Valley Academy’s principal Sallee Reynolds thinks it’s going to be a great plan.

“I think it’s a plan that looks at the best interest of students and where they need to be and what we need to do to get them there.”

The plan includes requiring every student be able to read at grade level or above. While most people would assume that would be a given need, only 48 percent of Knox County’s third graders were reading at grade level in 2008. Only 58 percent of fifth graders were scoring in the proficient or advanced range in language arts and reading on their TCAP assessments, and only 63 percent of eighth graders. Math scores on TCAPs tanked from 61 percent to 49 percent between fifth grade to eighth grade.

There will be several changes across the board to better engage students, since application is ultimately more vital to the new plan and to employers than theory. One program, Excellence in Literacy, will be in place to try to identify struggling students and assist them in placement. Literary coaches also will be available to help


The focus on STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — will be integrated into the curriculum instead of being a separate strategy. Students also will required to take a personal finance class to learn how to manage their money in the future.

Hardin Valley is ready and welcoming the new challenges in place for its students.

“We are implementing additional [advanced placement] courses,” Reynolds said. “We have asked our teachers to up the ante in the classroom, do things that are really relevant, and to build relationships with kids. That’s all a part of the strategic plan too. The kids really need to know that the teachers care before the teachers can win them over and teach them.”

Hardin Valley also has a plan for students who may be struggling.

“We have the ‘Language X’ program here for students that are several grade levels behind, to bring them up to speed. Our goal is to get them out of ‘Language X.’ We also have some credit recovery … for students that have maybe failed a course. We want to hold them accountable for that material and get it made up as soon as possible. This is a before school or after school initiative,”

Reynolds said.

Bearden High School is leaning on the three-year phase-in to the plan to help them fully execute it into their large student population.

“We are going to be at 2,000 students this year,

roughly,” BHS principal John Bartlett said. “For us to sit down and do individual learning plans properly, you can’t do 2,000 at one time. It’s sitting down with every student and every parent and going over their learning styles and their future goals … where they need to be. There are a lot of aspects to that that will take time to develop.

“Academically we’ve done well, but there are some areas of the plan that we don’t have in place yet. We are putting in an advisory program in this year. The individual learning plans … Those are some things that as the county decides what that is going to look like, and how that is going to be implemented, we will start implementing that. We haven’t seen specifics on that yet.”

Bearden will be adding more honors and advanced placement classes this year to bring a more immediate challenge to their students.

“We are trying to push those kids that should be challenged more into those advanced placement and honors classes,” Bartlett said. “We have lots of safety nets in place, such as tutoring and other intervention pieces, and credit recovery pieces.”

Reynolds and Bartlett both agree that however extensive the plan is, it will bring great results for Tennessee’s children.

For more information on the “Building on Strength: Excellence for all Children” plan, go to


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