By Sally Absher

Standardized Tests – the Good News.

Statewide TCAP (grades 3-8) and high school End of Course (EOC) results were released last week. District and School-level results will be released later this month. The Department of Education touts the statewide 2014-2015 TCAP results:

•              We continued to see strong gains in our high school End of Course exams. Students made gains in all high school subjects. This is particularly exciting given our state’s goals around postsecondary transition and attainment.

•              All individual grades made gains in math. We have nearly 22,000 more students on grade level in math than last year.

•              Compared to 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade level in math.

•              Students have continued to show strong growth in science as well. Nearly 60,000 more students are on grade level in science compared to 2011.

•              3-8 grade students made gains in 13 of 18 tests in math, reading, and science.

•              This year students also made strong growth in English III, which resulted in more than 2,300 students on grade level than last year.

•              Our historically underserved minority groups, black, Hispanic, Native American, and economically disadvantaged students, made gains in all high school subjects.

•              Black, Hispanic, and Native American students also made gains in both 3-8 grade math and reading, narrowing the achievement gap with their peers.

•              Reading in the early grades continues to be a challenge. While high school students and seventh and eighth graders made gains in literacy, in grades 3-6, the state average in literacy declined.


Standardized Tests – the Bad News.

If you are one of the few people who still believe that standardized test scores tell the whole story, the statewide 2014-2015 TCAP/EOC results are great news. But our kids are more than data points. The unintended consequences of the over-reliance on standardized tests was illustrated by Steven Rogers during last Wednesday’s BOE Public Forum.

Rogers, who teaches music at South Doyle High and South Doyle Middle Schools, told the School Board about his middle school Jazz Band group, which met during the RTI2 intervention/Enrichment time at the beginning of the day. These kids are primarily honors students, taking advantage of the extra “enrichment” time to hone their music skills.

It was the end of the school year. There was one last round of standardized tests. The kids, who had voiced their burn-out and test fatigue, were told the test wouldn’t be used against them. Since it wasn’t going to be used against them, Rogers said, “they didn’t take the test, they just filled in answers.”

However, it was learned that this test is used to place kids in the Tier system for intervention. So a “whole slew of honors student, who are just burnt out, but otherwise absolutely honors students, are now scheduled for Tier 2 and Tier 3 (intervention) classes.”

“But”, Rogers said, “It gets better, because life is cruel.” Because it takes eight data points to get out of the RTI2 Tier, and those data points have to be collected two weeks apart, these kids are going to be in that until CHRISTMAS.

Rogers pointed out that getting honors students out of the Tier 2/Tier 3 would allow a lower student to teacher ratio for the kids who genuinely need the intervention. Rogers implored the BOE to encourage principals to have the flexibility to make rational decisions, not just based on the results of one test at the end of the year, when students are feeling burned out and over-tested.


Why Johnny Can’t Read.

The TN DOE reported last week that TCAP scores in English/Language Arts were down for 2014-2015. There was an interesting letter written by a Rosemont High School (Minnesota) teacher in the 12/4/2014 Star Tribune, titled “Can Your School-Aged Child Read? The letter is printed in entirety below:

“I teach high school English, and I am begging you to please read to your children. Read everything. Read baby books when they are babies. Read picture books when they are older. Ask your middle-schoolers to read street signs, billboards and marquees during every car ride. Ask your teenagers to read your water bills, junk mail, newspapers, magazines, recipes and catalog descriptions. Read everything like your life depends on it.

Why? Because your children can’t read.

We are in the midst of one of the greatest literacy crises ever encountered, and we are fighting an uphill battle. Every day I experience firsthand what it means to be illiterate in a high school classroom. At best it means sleeping away a unit; at worst it means depression or aggression. Average students with average abilities can fervently text away, but they cannot read.

Recently, I gave a unit test where students could use all their notes and their short story on the test (not my standard practice). The results: abysmal. I didn’t think the test was too difficult until I started doing some investigating and made a shocking discovery. They couldn’t even read the test. Don’t think it’s your child? Ask your high school teenager to define the following: superior, ridicule, flippant or mundane. Now imagine your child taking the ACT or SAT. Now what?

I teach nearly 200 high school juniors each day. If we give them all the same book to read, they often do not read it. Ask them why, and they say: “It’s boring.” Translation? “It’s too hard.” They also may say they have no time. As educators, we can only do so much with the limited resources we have. I understand I have an obligation to teach in an exciting and rewarding way, but my tech-savvy students are beating me down, and I need your help.

What can you do? Model reading in the home. Visit the library. Go to the bookstore. Share your reading experiences with them. Encourage them to read their assigned work. Offer your help with comprehension. If you struggle with reading, please share how you face this difficult challenge with success. They need your help. I need your help. To succeed in school, students must read on their own. Our future depends on it.”

KIM DALLAS, Rosemount