TCAP scores up slightly in most areas, down slightly in reading

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee students made gains in the majority of the state’s 31 grade and subject-level tests, although some didn’t fare too well in reading, according to results released Tuesday.

The biggest increases in the 2013-14 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results were in high school, where students made gains on five of seven tests, Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said at a news conference.

Student scores held steady in grades three through eight, with slight gains in most areas, the results showed.

Students continue to lag behind in reading, where 49.5 percent of students in grades three to eight students are proficient, compared with 50.3 percent last year. In 2010, students in those grades were 44.8 percent proficient in reading, and the percentage gradually improved until 2013, before taking a slight drop.

David Mansouri, executive vice president of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, said recent focus groups the organization held across the state with educators and administrators actually revealed student improvement in reading.

He said that means it’s time to “analyze why teachers are telling us they’re seeing that improvement, and why we may not be seeing that improvement on the assessment.”

As for the gains at the high school level, Haslam said the success justifies the need for higher education initiatives such as his Tennessee Promise program, which will cover community college tuition for any high school graduate in the state.

The free tuition offer is part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55″ plan to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025. The goal is to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

“It’s about preparing them for the challenges they’ll face in higher education,” the governor said.

To help students stay competitive, the Republican governor said the state should continue implementing higher education standards — such as Common Core — that are intended to provide students with stronger critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills.

During the recent legislative session, lawmakers passed a measure to delay the testing component of Tennessee’s Common Core standards for a year, mainly because of criticism that the tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers need more study.

Under the legislation, the Education Department will put out a “request for proposals” for alternative testing. The state’s current testing program, TCAP, will continue in the interim.

“This is very hard work, but we can’t ever say that it’s too hard,” Haslam said Tuesday. “In today’s competitive world, high standards are just the price of admission. And so while we have to acknowledge that it’s hard work, we can’t ever say this is too hard for Tennesseans if we’re going to compete on the world stage.”

Note: The news release is below.

News release from state Department of Education:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman today announced Tennessee students made gains in the majority of the state’s 31 grade and subject-level tests.

The biggest increases seen in the 2013-2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) results were in high school, where students made gains on five of seven high school tests. The 2014 results mark the second year of strong growth in a row at the high school level.

Since Haslam took office, Tennessee students have made significant and sustained growth in academic achievement. More than 100,000 additional students are on grade level in math, and an additional 57,000 students are at or above grade level in science.

“Systemic change over time is hard work, but we continue to see evidence that shows our teachers’ efforts are paying off,” Haslam said. “The ultimate goal of our work is to send more students out of high school with higher skill levels, and today’s results show that we are making good progress.”

Tennessee teachers fully implemented the state’s new standards in math and English this year, and student scores held steady in grades 3-8, with slight gains in most areas. This year’s results showed improvement in math and science areas, with biology and algebra proficiency rates continuing to rise. In 2011 only 31 percent of Algebra II students were on grade level, and this year nearly 50 percent – more than 13,000 additional Tennessee students than in 2011 – reached that mark.

High school English scores grew considerably over last year’s results in English I and English II. The students on grade level in English II increased nearly 4 percent this year.

Additionally, achievement gaps for minority students narrowed in math and reading at both the high school and 3-8 levels.

Results continue to show the need for improvement in reading. The department trained 18,000 teachers this year on the state’s standards. Another 5,000 educators participated last year in reading courses offered by the department and its regional network of offices, Centers of Regional Excellence (CORE), and teachers across the state will have access to those classes again this year.

“The state assessment is not the only barometer, but it is an important way of looking at our work,” Huffman said. “What it shows is that we are teaching our students to read more closely and think more critically than ever before.”

Tennessee students will continue to take TCAP during the 2014-15 school year. Complete statewide results for the 2013-14 TCAP are available at http://tn.gov/education/data/tcap_2014.shtml