By Sally Absher

On July 30, Knox County Schools issued a press release pertaining to the district academic achievement results for the 2013-14 school year reported by the Tennessee Department of Education. The data includes aggregate grade 3-8 scores on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) and End of Course (EOC) exams for school systems across the state.

According to the press release, Knox County Schools met seven of eleven 2013-14 Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) which are the academic performance targets set by the Tennessee Department of Education. This has resulted in the district earning the achievement accountability designation of “Achieve – Not Exemplary.”

The press release adds that results on the TCAP assessment were largely flat, with a few promising increases in proficiency, but there were some areas where the district experienced declines.”

“These somewhat modest results, which are inconsistent with the strong gains we have achieved the past several years, heighten concerns about Tennessee not having a fully “aligned” assessment in grades 3-8,” said Dr. Jim McIntyre, Superintendent of the Knox County Schools.

McIntyre further states, “Our teachers have implemented Tennessee’s rigorous Common Core State Standards, while our children are still being assessed by a TCAP test that was not designed to measure learning under the new standards.” Results on the high school level End of Course (EOC) assessments were largely consistent with the prior year.

Yet, McIntyre notes that “the Knox County Schools is projected to earn an overall TVAAS composite score of Level 5 (the highest level attainable) for 2013-14 and is currently expecting a slight increase in the high school graduation rate for the class of 2014 when those results are released later this fall.”

How can the District earn an overall Level 5 score, when only seven of the eleven 2013-2014 academic performance targets set by the state of Tennessee Department of Education were met? Where is the Conference of Concern letter for Dr. McIntyre and Knox County Schools?

BOE 6th District Candidate Terry Hill asked, “Is it even mathematically possible to have a value added system-wide 5 when test scores are flat or below last year? Am I missing something?” District 7 board member-elect Patti Bounds concured, saying, “I don’t understand either.  I am waiting for more clarification, and trying to get an explanation.”

Bounds added, “It is too simple and easy to blame flat scores on standards not being aligned to TCAP. I haven’t heard anyone asking or suggesting other possibilities. Could it be what or how teachers are being told to teach?”  Hill said, “In the meantime, teacher evaluations are suffering, not to mention our poor kids.”

Indeed, “alignment” may not be the issue. New York piloted the PARCC assessment, which is aligned to Common Core standards, in 2013. The results were not good.

According to State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. the percentage of students deemed “proficient” was significantly lower for the results of the April 2013 grades 3 through 8 math and English language arts (ELA) assessments than in 2011-2012.

Thirty-one percent of students in those grades met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard compared to 55 percent in the previous year; and 31 percent met or exceeded the math proficiency standard versus 65 percent for the prior year.

Concerns about Common Core include the fact that no early childhood educators or development specialists were involved in writing the standards, resulting in standards that are not age appropriate for grades K-3. Could it be that we are cheating our young students out of the foundational knowledge they need to be successful? Overall, reading and language arts saw the biggest drop, with the largest decline recorded for third grade.

“Some of the standards for third grade reading are not developmentally appropriate and we’re asking students to think in ways that they’re just not ready for yet and I think that’s going to explain some of your drop there too,” Halls Elementary school teacher Lauren Hopson said.

It is misleading for Dr. McIntyre to blame the decline in test results on the TCAP test not being aligned to standards. Release of TCAP scores was delayed to allow for “post equating,” the process by which the state “narrowed the assessments this year in order to eliminate focus on school performance indexes that are not aligned to state standards.”

Several years ago, Tennessee received an “F” in “Truth in Advertising” for student achievement. It looks like Knox County should receive an F again this year.