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Monday, July 22, 2024

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PERSPECTIVE: If we’re serious about improving TCAP scores, it’s going to take ALL of us

For school systems in Tennessee, part of the ritual of preparing for TCAP each year is establishing performance goals in each of the subject areas tested on the state exam.

Indeed, establishing performance goals is a fundamental exercise for any organization whose performance has significant consequences for individuals and their respective organizations.

After poring over Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) TCAP data, I wondered if district schools and the school system as a whole make it a practice to establish performance goals at the start of each school year.

If indeed that occurs, school systems usually do not share that information with the general public. However, that data would be very helpful when evaluating a school system’s performance at the end of the school year.

However, Memphis Shelby County Schools does provide such information. In fact, the district’s annual plan provides a treasure trove of such information along with their performance intentions across a broad spectrum of academic areas.

I have to admit I did not know this data was available for public consumption. The document contained TCAP performance targets for English Language Arts, Mathematics, and various other academic areas. However, there were no projections for any of the other TCAP subject areas, i.e., Biology, Algebra, Social Studies, etc.

While schools set their own performance targets each year, the district, I’m told, does not require its schools to submit performance targets for any particular academic subject area.

Setting annual performance goals for schools and school districts is crucial for driving continuous improvement and ensuring accountability in education, or any field for that matter.

These goals provide a clear direction and focus for administrators, teachers, and staff, aligning their efforts toward specific, measurable outcomes.

It would be helpful if the district published and shared school-level performance targets and district-level performance goals at the start of each school year.

These performance goals would serve as benchmarks for evaluating progress, identifying areas of strength and weakness, fostering transparency and communication with stakeholders, including parents, community members, and policymakers, and making data-driven decisions to enhance educational quality.

Establishing performance targets in areas such as student achievement, attendance, graduation rates, and even teacher effectiveness can help our community understand more fully what it takes to help schools achieve their goals and help prioritize their resources and initiatives more effectively.

While the district celebrated the gains made in various content areas and at various levels this school year, those numbers still did not reach the specific goals set by the district at the start of the school year.

For example, last year, MSCS set a proficiency goal of 32% (rounded) in English Language Arts and 24% in Mathematics (Source: District Annual Plan). The school system missed its performance target in English Language Arts by nine percentage points and its Mathematics target by four percentage points.

I would love to see a list of the schools that set and met their TCAP performance goals. Those schools deserve an extra dose of recognition and celebration.

But wouldn’t it be great if the entire Memphis and Shelby County community had specific, well-constructed involvement in helping our schools attain their performance goals each year, especially in English Language Arts and Mathematics?

We can do this as a community!

We can form powerful partnerships that can help boost academic achievement in our schools, especially on state TCAP exams. Schools can engage parents through workshops and various communication platforms, help answer questions about the TCAP exams, providing them with the tools and knowledge to support their children’s learning at home.

Faith-based institutions can offer tutoring and mentoring programs, supplement classroom instruction, and provide students with additional academic support and a safe space for learning.

Our churches can foster a sense of community and belonging, providing students with the emotional and spiritual support they need to overcome obstacles and stay motivated.

Many religious teachings emphasize values such as discipline, perseverance, and respect for authority, which are essential for academic success. Faith-based institutions can help instill these values in children, preparing them for the challenges of standardized testing and beyond.

By working together (schools and the community), we can create a comprehensive support system that will allow our children to achieve their academic goals and address some of their social and emotional needs as well, leading to improved TCAP performance at every level.

This level of collaboration won’t be easy, but it can be done.

It MUST be done.

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