Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Tennessee
About the Program
3,221 students, 63% Caucasian, 36% Black, 38% special education, 100% free/reduced lunch
Exact Path, Study Island, Courseware
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (TN DCS) is the educational arm of the state agency that operates services for the children and youth of Tennessee. The education division works similar to a local board of an education central office, ensuring that children in state custody and foster children have their educational needs met in school and have help in transitioning out of foster care and state custody. The office oversees a number of schools across the state and supports a unique group of students, ranging across all age groups, grade levels, and educational backgrounds. As a result, its student population looks different from most traditional school districts.
“We’re kind of unusual in that we have a very mobile student population,” said Cyndi Chester, an education consultant at the TN DCS. “They're all in state custody, and some that are in state custody are also in our LEA [local education agency] if they are staying at a residential facility. We have approximately 40 residential schools that are Category I non-public schools in the state of Tennessee. And, we have one military academy and one youth development center in our LEA.”
To accommodate the highly mobile population, the TN DCS operates on a year-round, nine-week term schedule. Students essentially rotate through the TN DCS as they move through the state system. It’s rare for students to stay with the TN DCS for a traditional four-year cohort, and when they do, it’s usually because they are in state custody through the juvenile delinquent system.
“It’s difficult for traditional school people to wrap their head around,” said Ms. Chester. “It's so complex because [the students] are in and out, and they have such different backgrounds and experiences.”
According to Ms. Chester, the TN DCS is also unique in that nearly every student requires at least one period of response to intervention (RTI) every day.
“As far as the RTI pyramid goes, most schools deal with RTI 1 or 2 kids that don't require a lot of remediation, but our kids are always in that top section [tier 3] of the pyramid,” she reported. “Our pyramid's inverted because almost all of our kids require RTI.”
To rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of all of these different students at whatever stage of life, and of education they may be, the department needed a tool that could make students’ time count by closing skill gaps while in this school setting. That’s why in 2008, the TN DCS partnered with Edmentum.“Our students were coming into our schools at different times of the year, all year,” Ms. Chester stated. “There was the need for a program they could begin when they arrived.”
“I have heard a lot of positive feedback from the educators. We have kids that are earning credits based on that ability [to personalize learning]. Having that customized experience has heavily contributed to our graduation rate, to kids earning diplomas, to the kids earning credits. It has a huge impact there in all those areas.”
The TN DCS central office implements three Edmentum programs—Exact Path, Study Island, and Courseware—and offers students access to computers in their classrooms where, during an RTI period, teachers are available to help guide students as they work through their program’s curriculum.
“[Our goal is] to get them as caught up as we possibly can for the amount of time that we have them,” explained Ms. Chester. “It's also used as a reinforcer in class. A lot of our kids—for the most part, their grade-level equivalency in math and reading is far below than what their age-appropriate grade would be. Mostly, we use it as an RTI tool, a tool to catch them up.”
Achieving Growth with Exact Path
In place of standardized scores, Ms. Chester explained that the TN DCS uses Exact Path scores mainly to show growth in alignment with the LEA plan, the state-approved district plan for improving student academic performance using measurable goals.
“Exact Path is very important to us because of the population we serve,” Ms. Chester explained. “Many of our students have attendance gaps in their school history, and to be able to meet them where they are, for the amount of time that we have them, is extremely important. All the tools that we are [providing] through Edmentum are very important.”
Boosting Grade-Level Proficiency with Study Island
Study Island is used with high school students who are learning at a 7th grade level, or learners who have a reading or math level equivalency of 7th grade or below, to meet them where they are and help them build up standards mastery to get back on grade level. In addition to the digital practice and formative assessment, Ms. Chester explained that using Study Island printable assignments helps teachers spend more time building relationships with the students, which, as any educator knows, are vital to the success of students.
“I do know that the printout alternatives in Study Island do save teachers' time,” remarked Ms. Chester. “And, any time that is saved being able to print out the assignments helps [teachers] build those [student-teacher] relationships tremendously, even if it's a small sliver of time that is saved.”
Earning Credits with Courseware
At the high school level, Courseware is used for credit recovery and what the TN DCS calls credit mastery, where students can earn original credits they need to graduate or move grade levels. While the TN DCS has used Courseware for a number of years, Ms. Chester recalled how, in 2015, the department took steps to actively increase its usage of the program in order to help boost student performance, including increasing trainings at schools. Since then, program usage has not only increased around the board, it has also improved student achievement.
“I think [using a customizable solution] is vital,” she stated. “I have heard a lot of positive feedback from the educators. We have kids that are earning credits based on that ability [to personalize learning]. Having that customized experience has heavily contributed to our graduation rate, to kids earning diplomas, to the kids earning credits. It has a huge impact there in all those areas.”
Ms. Chester added, “We're just honestly trying to get our kids mostly through high school. If they want to go to college later, I believe in every one of them. It's never too late.”
Given the nature of the educational experience TN DCS provides, Ms. Chester said that it’s difficult to use traditional measures of success, like test scores or graduation rates, to track student achievement. Instead, it takes a more individualistic approach, celebrating the unique gains of each student who passes through one of its classrooms.
“We consider any graduation a success,” Ms. Chester explained. “Because we don't have a cohort—we have kids—it's very difficult to measure. We have to take into consideration our whole, entire school year and which kids were eligible [to graduate]. So, we measure success child by child, credit by credit.”
Ms. Chester said, “I know this is happening every day in one of our schools. A student comes in—they've been bullied, they've been abused, they've been neglected and traumatized. They've gone through their whole school career. They're 17, 18 years old. One student I'm thinking about in particular, he could not read, period. The end. He barely knew the alphabet, and he was the biggest bully. He was with us for about six months, and in that six-month period, after building a rapport with him and a relationship with him, he went from barely knowing the alphabet to being able to read at least the 3rd grade level. In real life, that's huge.”
She continued, “At least it's those little [things], which aren't little to those kids, because whenever they leave, they can at least read a street sign. I mean, that's a huge thing. That's one of those things that's not really measurable. But, I know that's happening every day in one of our schools.”
Thanks to the dedicated teachers working to produce successful student outcomes and the use of customizable learning programs like a Courseware, Exact Path, or Study Island with fidelity, the TN DCS has been able to better meet students’ individual needs and, ultimately, lead to success.
Programs that Drive Success
Learn more about the programs used by this school community to achieve results.
Digital curricula for grade 6 through adult learners help students reach graduation goals and beyond through flexible, personalized first-time credit, credit recovery, and expanded course access.
Courses & Curriculum
Diagnostic-driven learning paths and powerful teaching tools to scale interventions K–12 in math, reading, and language arts and empower educators to reach all students through personalized instruction.
Assessments, Supplemental & Intervention
Industry-leading K–12 [state]-standards-aligned practice, test prep, and assessments to advance grade-level proficiency in math, ELA, science, and social studies and build testing confidence for all learners.
Assessments, Supplemental & Intervention