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UPDATE: School board members discuss how to improve standardized test scores

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Strong words from District 1 school board member Rhonda Thurman during Thursday’s work session over the district’s standardized test scores. 

“Everybody else in the state of Tennessee took the same test we did and our scores dropped and our scores are below the state average and we’re not going to blame it on anyone else except the people in this room,” she said. 

Hamilton County’s TCAP scores were below the state average in every category except elementary and middle school math. 

The biggest drop, in reading and language arts for grades 3-8. Scores fell nearly two percentage points. 

“After all the extra money we’ve put in and all the extra help we’ve given our schools, for our reading scores to tank the way they did really disturbed me because without reading nothing else matters,” she added. 

“Obviously Hamilton County has done much better. We aren’t pleased with this last year’s TCAP of course, but it doesn’t define us as a system and it certainly doesn’t define our teachers or students,” Superintendent Rick Smith said. 

It was the topic for nearly two hours as leaders discussed possible solutions. 

Smith says the district is reallocating literacy coaches to schools with the biggest need. 

“Before we’ve had them regardless of performance at all of our schools and they still will have time at all of our schools but now they will be reallocated to the greatest need,” he added. 

This school year, students will be assessed on a new online standardized test called “TN Ready.” Smith says it will bring a new set of challenges. 

“It’s not just about student knowledge now, it’s about the ability to work on a computer in a defined window of time. They have to operate on a keyboard,” he said. 

It’s important to note Hamilton County did make gains in Algebra II and math scores for grades 3-8.

Hamilton County Schools made some gains, but "still have some work to do," according to Dr. Kirk Kelly, the system's Director of Accountability and Testing. Scores were below state averages in every category except elementary and middle school math.

Dr. Kelly cited strong gains in Algebra II (with 43.6% scoring "proficient and advanced" skills) and grades 3-8 math scores, now up to 56.7%, but a decrease in biology (57.6%, down from 61.4 last year) and Algebra I (48.9%, well below the state average of 65.6%).  He said Hamilton County's best showing was in English I (67.6%), with high scores also in English II and III.  The largest increase was in chemistry at 31.2%, which showed a 5.7% jump from last year.

In grades 3-8 reading and language arts, scores dropped from 46.9% last year to 44.8% this year. Dr. Kelly said this appears to be a statewide trend.

He said while most accountability goals were met, "we still need to decrease the achievement gap that exists from our highest performing schools to our lowest performing schools."  

He said while the five I-Zone schools (Orchard Knob Elementary and Middle, Woodmore Elementary, Dalewood Middle and Brainerd High) have not made enough gains to move off the list, no additional schools have been added. He said the five schools are making significant progress.

Here is the press release from the Tennessee Department of Education, which concludes with a link to district and school scores from around the state:

The Tennessee Department of Education today released district-level results from the 2015
Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), which show strong gains in high school and
significant gains in grades 3-8 math.
A majority of students in nearly 100 districts were proficient in math, compared to 2011, when the majority of
students were proficient in math in only 24 districts. Districts showed significant gains specifically in grades 3-8
math with 121 districts out of 144 improving. In addition, for the first time since the test was given in 2011, the
majority of students were proficient or advanced in Algebra II in more than 65 percent of districts.

“The support districts have offered to teachers and students has evolved as we have raised expectations for
learning across the state,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “The sustained growth in high
school and math and science shows us that the strategies and practices districts are using work. Now we have
an opportunity to understand what has helped move student learning and replicate this in all grades and
subjects, ensuring that Tennessee students have every opportunity to succeed.”
The majority of Tennessee districts continued to make gains in science across grade levels. Notably, nearly 100
districts made gains in Chemistry. As seen in state results, growth in grades 3-8 English language arts declined
across districts, while the majority of districts made gains in the high school courses of English I and English III.
Historically underserved students also narrowed gaps with their peers in districts across the state. Black,
Hispanic, and Native American students narrowed gaps in both math and English language arts in the majority
of districts. Economically disadvantaged students also narrowed gaps with their peers in high school, making
gains in English II in 65 percent of districts and making gains in Algebra II in 77 percent of districts.

District results also highlighted growth in historically low-performing schools. Students in the Achievement School District (ASD), a state-operated school district created by the Tennessee General Assembly to improve Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent of schools, showed faster learning gains than their peers across the state in math and science. Additional analysis of the ASD data shows that the district’s first and second year cohorts of schools – those in their second and third year of operation – earned the state’s highest possible student achievement growth rating.

Tennessee students have made notable gains over the past four years. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade level in math, and nearly 60,000 more students are on grade level in science.

To see additional district-level TCAP results as well as school-level TCAP results, visit: http://www.tn.gov/education/article/2015-tcap-district-results

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