Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
April 24, 2012
State test week in public schools has always been a high-trapeze balancing act. But the pressure is especially high this year.
The scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests now count for 35% of teachers’ evaluation scores. And with stakes that high, Tennessee legislators wanted to make sure students have some skin in the game, too.
So, for the first time this year, the scores elementary and middle school students get this week on TCAPs will count between 15% and 25% of their second-semester grade. The exams start Tuesday in Memphis and Shelby County public schools.
The decision of how much weight to give them was left to individual school boards. Most districts, including Memphis and Shelby County, chose 15%. Similarly, high school end-of-course exams in U.S. history; algebra 1 and 2; English 1, 2 and 3; and biology 1 will count 25% of second-semester grades, up from 20% last year, according to state Board of Education policy.
“The test wasn’t really anything that students discussed,” said Westside Middle teacher Frednardo Davis. “Now, there are more conversations about the test, which is a good thing. Kids need to be accountable because teachers are being held accountable.”
Gary Ritter, professor in the University of Arkansas’ department of education reform, says stories of kids not trying on state tests because they don’t like their teachers and know the results will hurt them are common. “If we want to be sure kids are showing as best as possible the extent of knowledge and academic growth, the only way to do that is to align the consequences, to make kids care, too,” Ritter said.
Because the tests have become not only a key way of gauging teacher effectiveness, but also a litmus for whether they get tenure or bonuses, “these exams start to have more meaning than just public information,” he said. “If we are using them as a measure of how much stuff kids have actually learned, the only way to make them effective is if kids take them seriously.”
In a TCAP rally Friday at Fairley Elementary, students in ball caps and seed caps roared their commitment to “knocking the cap off TCAP” with chants each class wrote. “They are all going to be advanced and proficient,” Principal Robyn Gorden said. “They know the terminology and they have the mindset.”
Gorden and her teachers set short-term goals for what students needed to work on. “We’re making growth. We made growth last school year. Our aim is to make even more this year.”
State test scores are the measure of progress in public schools. Until this winter, schools in Tennessee needed to make gains of 20 percentage points a year in the number of students scoring advanced and proficient to meet federal No Child Left Behind mandates.
Tennessee was one of 11 states granted an NCLB waiver this winter. Under the state’s new guidelines, schools must show 3-5 percentage points gain per year in the number proficient in each subject.
TCAP and the end-of-course exams are state-created tests that reflect what schoolchildren are expected to know when they complete a course or grade. While the tests change each year, the state standards for each lesson do not.
“In 10th-grade English, we have 100 standards we are responsible for—from grammar mechanics to literary analysis to picking out the mood in a picture,” said Kim Douglas, Germantown High English teacher. “The end-of-course test tries to address these specific standards set forth by the state, but you never know which standards are going to be on there.”
Justin Pearson, a junior at Mitchell High School in Memphis, has two end-of-course exams in May. Until last week, the college-bound student said he had no idea his results would be factored into his final semester grade.
“That’s shocking. That really ought to be disclosed to students,” he said. “It’s going to be a reflection of what the teachers have done throughout the year. But if they haven’t done everything to teach the standards on the test, then the student is going to be hurt tremendously.”
Teachers and principals find it hard to believe students don’t know the expectations. “Our students are fully aware of the stakes. They have been taking EOC tests for several years. They know it counts and that it is very important that they do well on their exams,” said Felicia Everson, Cordova High principal.
“Teachers and guidance counselors tell the students that the EOC counts 25% of their second-semester grade at the start of the school year,” said Nina Gaddy, freshman and sophomore biology teacher at Collierville High.
Bill White, executive director of the MCS school choice and student accounting office, says teachers are responsible for entering the state test scores in their electronic grade books, along with the rest of the coursework for the semester. “The student information system will then weight the TCAP grade as 15% and calculate the average for the semester,” he said.
Quality News Today is an ASQ member benefit offering quality related news
from around the world every business day.