TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers: "We need to throw the entire wish list of gun-control measures at this problem, including assault-weapon bans, ammunition magazine restrictions, red-flag laws, universal background checks, higher age restrictions for gun purchases and waiting periods."

Tennessee’s TCAP Test results are being processed as we speak, and I, along with thousands of students, teachers, and administrators, are anxiously awaiting the results.

This is an incredibly stressful time of the year for educators as they await the results of their year-long efforts to improve educational outcomes for children.

As a principal, I always was a nervous wreck waiting on the test results to drop. As that time drew near, I became more agitated by the day.

Somehow my team would always find a way to get to see the results before I did, and they seemed always to have a plan for how they would share the news with me, especially if it were unwelcome news.

Thankfully, there were not too many unwelcome news moments.

This week, I thought I would take some time to fuss just a little about our attitude and approach to state testing and what the results really say about our children, and our seemingly lackadaisical attitude about the results.

The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) is the state’s testing program and has been since 1988. It includes TNReady assessments in math, English language arts, social studies, and science, as well as alternative assessments, like MSAA and TCAP-Alt, for students with special needs.

Each year we watch with great anticipation the results roll in, and each year we see truly little substantive change in outcomes.

Our district’s performance on these tests has been unimpressive, to say the least.

We seem to have gotten much too comfortable with the low levels of success our children are experiencing on these exams.

I do not see or feel any sense of urgency to improve our children’s results. Instead, we seem to have an “oh well” kind of mentality and response to what is clearly unacceptable and, in many cases, atrocious results.

For example, thousands of our children are promoted to the next grade level, having scored below proficient on state exams every year.       They continue to move from grade level to grade level without demonstrating they have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform adequately in higher-level classrooms.

Most children will never make up that loss of learning. I seriously doubt if schools have plans in place designed to address the learning loss exposed by our state testing processes.

But the numbers are staggering.

For example, in 2019 (pre-pandemic), the percentage of MSCS students who mastered English Language Arts was 21.2 percent. Based on a district enrollment that year of 106,377, that equates to only 22,552 students.

That means that 78.8 percent, or a whopping 83,825 students, performed below grade level.

In mathematics, 23.8 percent, or 25,318 students, met expectations, while 76.2 percent or 81,059 students did not.

In Social Studies, 22 percent, or 23,403 students, met grade-level expectations, while 78 percent or 82,974 students did not.

Finally, only 22.7 percent, or 24,148 students taking science classes in 2019, performed at grade level, while 77.3 percent, or 82,229 students, did not.

The point I am trying to make here is that these numbers represent thousands of elementary, middle and high school children, who performed below grade level and will still move on without remedial support to make up for the learning loss they have experienced.

In all likelihood, they will never catch up and will become part of this never-ending pattern of low performance, low expectations mindset we continue to perpetuate in our school system.

These results came before the COVID pandemic appeared on the scene. The numbers now, of course, are much worse.

So, the question is this: how do we dig ourselves out of this hole?

It is clear we as a school system are not performing up to our capability, and it is not the fault solely of the teachers, administrators and support personnel in our schools.

Parents bear a considerable chunk of responsibility as well.

Parents have a tremendous role to play in our children’s educational success and/or failure. But unfortunately, we clearly are not doing everything we can do to improve the learning success of our children.

As a community, we should never be happy with the results we see year after year.

Instead, we should demand both publicly and privately that our parents get involved more intensely in their children’s education. And give them the means and support they need to do just that!

There obviously is a lot of room for improvement by all of us. And I firmly believe our students and teachers can perform at a much higher level.

We will do a deep dive in the weeks to come on the results once they are available to the public.

 

(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected].)