Tenn. Students Now Have Stakes in State Test Scores

April 23, 2012

Tennessee students in elementary and middle school will have a greater stake in the scores they earn on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests that start this week.

This is the first year that those scores will make up between 15 percent and 25 percent of the second-semester grades for students. Tennessee legislators wanted students to be just as accountable for those grades as their teachers, whose evaluations depend on how well students do on the tests.

The Commercial Appeal reports the exams start Tuesday in Memphis and Shelby County schools systems and in those districts, the exams will count for 15 percent of the second-semester grades.

Also in high schools this year, end of course exams in several subjects, including U.S. history, English and biology, will count as 25 percent of the second-semester grades, an increase from 20 percent last year.

TCAP scores now count for 35 percent of teachers' evaluation scores. Teachers and principals say the changes will make students take the tests more seriously and they've worked all year to prepare the students.

"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, a professor at the University of Arkansas' department of education reform, said it was common to hear that students didn't try very hard on these tests because they knew poor scores would hurt their teachers.

"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.

Now that the TCAP tests have become a key measure of teacher performance, "these exams start to have more meaning than just public information," he said.

During a rally Friday at Fairley Elementary, students wore ball caps and seed caps to show their commitment to "knocking the cap off TCAP."

"They are all going to be advanced and proficient," said principal Robyn Gorden. "They know the terminology and they have the mindset."

But the schools also have a vested interest in making sure the students do well on the exams. Under No Child Left Behind federal education mandates, Tennessee had to make gains of 20 percentage points in the number of students who scored as advanced and proficient in the subject areas tested.

Tennessee was one of 11 states to be granted a waiver last year, which means schools must now increase the number of proficient students in each subject between 3 percent and 5 percent each year.

Kim Douglas, a high school English teacher at Germantown High School, explained that in 10th grade English, there are 100 state standards they are responsible for teaching, from grammar mechanics to literary analysis.

"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," she said.

Justin Pearson, a junior at Mitchell High School in Memphis, has two end-of-course exams in May, but he said he wasn't aware until recently that the scores would be factored in his final semester grade."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," she 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," Pearson said.

Teachers said the importance of these tests should be clear to the students.

"Teachers and guidance counselors tell the students that the EOC counts 25 percent of their second-semester grade at the start of the school year," said Nina Gaddy, freshman and sophomore biology teacher at Collierville High.