Reward, Priority, and Focus Schools

As part of Tennessee’s accountability system, the state runs a list of Reward Schools every year, and a list of Priority and Focus Schools every three years. The next lists will be run in 2017.

For more info on these state designations, see the Tennessee Department of Education.

Reward Schools

Reward Schools are in the state’s top 5% for either performance (overall academic achievement), progress (student growth), or both. In 2015, 41 out of Tennessee’s 170 Reward Schools were located in Shelby County. The majority of those schools were recognized for student growth. What does this mean for you?

  • This list of Reward Schools in Shelby County contains a good mix of traditional, Optional, iZone and charter schools, proving that no one model has a monopoly on success.
  • It’s nice to note that a lot of schools being recognized for academic progress (or growth) are serving a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students. These schools are beating the odds for their students.

Priority Schools

Priority Schools are the lowest-performing 5% of schools in Tennessee, in terms of academic achievement. They are eligible for turnaround by the Achievement School District or the Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone. A majority of the state’s Priority Schools are located in Shelby County. In 2015, the state announced a new category called “Priority Improving,” which includes schools demonstrating growth, but not enough to be removed from the Priority list yet.

  • While the number of schools located in Shelby County on this list is somewhat discouraging, more hopeful is the fact that the number has decreased since the list was last run.
  • Many schools on the Priority List are already receiving “treatment” as part of the ASD or iZone, so you don’t necessarily need to write these schools off just because they’re on the Priority List. It pays to investigate for yourself what changes may have happened in the past couple of years that may or may not be reflected in the test scores that put them on this list.
  • As always, a visit to the school and an interview with the principal is always a good idea.

Focus Schools

Focus Schools are the 10% of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between certain subgroups, like those from racial or ethnic groups, the economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities or English-language learners. In 2015, the state announced a new category called “Focus Improving,” which indicates schools that are making progress in closing gaps, but not enough to be removed from the Focus list yet.

  • One of the common factors in these schools tends to be greater racial and/or socioeconomic diversity than in many other schools, which may actually be something you’re looking for. However, if your child is a member of one of the sub-groups that the school is seeing low achievement from, you may want to consider whether that particular school is the right choice.
  • Within Shelby County Schools, most of the Focus Schools are Optional Schools. In many cases, these schools are actually designed to have groups of students with different achievement levels, so it’s not surprising that they would end up on this list.
  • Potential interventions are not as dramatic for Focus Schools as those for schools on the Priority List. Focus List schools may get extra teachers to address their specific gaps, or new tutoring programs. The bottom line is that many of the Focus List schools remain high-demand schools.