Tennessee education officials have begun their annual release of standardized test results. This year’s TCAP scores are mixed, with improvements in math and slight declines in reading. The explanation has less to do with teachers and test-takers and more to do with the test itself.
Elementary and middle school reading scores were an area of concern last year too, so 5,000 teachers were put through additional training. And according to the standardized testing, it didn’t do any good.
“I think there’s some level of a question of whether TCAP captures some of the work our teachers are doing in reading,” Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told reporters. “But we have to keep looking.”
Huffman says he doesn’t want to downplay TCAP results, but he points out that on the most recent NAEP test – widely considered the gold standard - Tennessee students scored better on reading than math.
State education leaders do consider the TCAP outdated. It doesn’t match up well with new Common Core education standards, which are supposed to stress higher-level thinking.
A multiple choice test can only measure so much, says David Mansouri, executive vice president of the education advocacy group SCORE.
“What we would say is it’s not necessarily a complete assessment of what students are learning in the classroom,” he said, adding that the state needs a test that allows students to give written explanations to show what they really know.
A test known as PARCC includes the interactive-type questions education leaders are looking for, and it’s designed for Common Core. But legislators have blocked the state from making the shift as Common Core has turned into a political hot button.
Tennessee is stuck with TCAP for at least another year. The state has formally withdrawn from the PARCC test and is now required by state law to go in search of a replacement.
2014 TCAP Highlights
In 3rd-8th grade, scores were within one-percent of 2013 results. So Governor Bill Haslam is taking the long view, looking back to the start of his administration.
“When you look at where we are now compared to four years ago, we are making a lot of progress,” he said. “And most importantly, we are sustaining that progress.”
STEM areas have shown the most improvement, with more than 75,000 additional students performing on grade level in math and 53,000 more students at or above grade level in science.
In high schools, where end-of-course exams are given, Algebra II has jumped from roughly a third of students performing on grade level in 2011 to now nearly half.
High school English II scores improved considerably after a down year in 2013.