Delay in TCAP scores won't delay local report cards

Nathan Baker • May 27, 2014 at 9:45 PM

When report cards go home this month, the final grades for hundreds of students in the area will not include scores that were mandated by the state three years ago to be averaged in as achievement measures.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Education notified all 140 school districts in the state that the TCAP scale scores for students in grades 3 through 8 would be 10 days late, pushing the date local school systems will receive them past the last day of school.

Karla Kyte, Washington County Schools director of elementary education, said Wednesday morning that system Director Ron Dykes was seeking a waiver from the state to allow grades to be calculated and sent home with students Friday without the standardized test scores.

“They call them quick scores, but now the state is saying it takes 10 days for them to process them,” she said. “Why even have a quick score if it takes that long?”

According to local school administrators who received the notification letter, the state blamed the delay on an external committee formed this year to analyze the scores prior to their release.

Earlier this year, the Education Department made changes to the benchmarks measured by the standardized tests to better align them with the Common Core State Standards districts have been implementing the past two years.

The external committee was tasked with equating the test scores to give districts figures to average into students’ final grades.

High school scores were equated first and were delivered to districts on time, but schools statewide are now deciding whether to delay report cards or calculate the grades without the scores for students in lower levels.

In 2010, a law packaged with the state’s sweeping education reforms required districts to average the scores into spring semester grades, allowing local school districts to weight the test results to make them between 15 and 25 percent of the final grades on report cards.

Critics of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and the reforms he and Gov. Bill Haslam have initiated in the last few years were quick to point out the failures they saw as demonstrative of changes that occurred too suddenly.

The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus issued a statement imploring the governor to take control of the situation, and the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the delays put schools in an “absurd” position.

“This delay is unacceptable and further illustrates the many consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and teachers,” TEA President Gera Summerford said in the release. “School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students.”

In Washington County, the TCAP scores count for 25 percent of third- through eighth-graders’ spring semester grades.

Kyte said students’ grades will be calculated based on classroom performance, and report cards will be sent home as scheduled.

Washington County is also still expecting teacher accountability and district performance data to be released later this summer, as will the final scores that go home to parents.

Johnson City Schools weights the scores as 15 percent of students’ grades.

City schools’ Supervisor of Instruction and Communication Debra Bentley said Wednesday afternoon the district was granted a waiver by the Education Department to leave those scores out of report card averages when students leave for the semester next week.

“We prefer not to hold up report cards and send them out in the mail, because many would not get their report cards if we go that route,” Bentley said. “Dr. (Richard) Bales was one of many superintendents submitting for a waiver today, because this really impacted all of the districts in the state.”

Education Department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said Wednesday the department plans to grant waivers from the weighted grades requirement to all districts that properly file requests for them.

Bentley said the removal of the scores from city students’ averages should have a minimal impact on their grades.

“We feel from talking to some of our principals and looking at the history of how that 15 percent has affected grades that its absence most likely will not be detrimental,” she said. “In the past, it hasn’t been a significant factor in determining students’ grades.”

Kyte said this year’s delays are worrying some administrators who are looking to future years, when the state will be considering a new standardized test.

“Right now, we have a lot of questions, but we don’t have a lot of answers,” she said. “After what’s happened this week, we don’t know if the process will be rethought or if this will become common practice.”

Follow Nathan Baker on Twitter @JCPressBaker. Like him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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