Testing in Tennessee: An Overview
A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests
By GreatSchools Staff
Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2007-2008 Tennessee used the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP, pronounced "TEE-cap") to measure achievement in reading/language arts, math, social studies and science in grades 3 through 8, and in writing in grades 5 and 8. In addition, some schools chose to give a norm-referenced version of the TCAP to students in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2, in order to compare the performance of those students to their peers nationwide.
Tennessee also used the Gateway/End-of-Course (EOC) exams to test high school students in algebra I, math foundation, English I, English II, biology I, physical science, US history, and writing upon completion of relevant courses. Students must pass the algebra I, English II and biology I tests, called the Gateway exams, in order to graduate. The TCAP and Gateway/EOC tests are standards-based, which means they measure specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Tennessee.
How are the tests scored?
Tennessee test results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are assigned one of three levels of proficiency: below proficient, proficient or advanced. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level.
Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?
The TCAP reading/language arts and math results and the Gateway/EOC algebra I and English 2 results are displayed on GreatSchools profiles. The results displayed are for all grades combined for each subject. The scores reflect the performance of students enrolled for the full academic year. For each subject on the tests, the combined percentage of students scoring at the proficient level and above is displayed.
GreatSchools also displays subgroup results to show how different groups of students are scoring in comparison to the overall student population in a given grade and subject. The subgroups are identified by the Tennessee Department of Education; if there are a small number of students in a particular group in a school, data is not reported for that group.
Why do the tests matter?
Tennessee test results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. Students who score poorly on the TCAP may not be promoted to the next grade level, or could face other actions such as mandatory extra help. All EOC exams are required to count as at least 15% of a student's final course grade. The Gateway Tests are important to high school students because they must pass the tests in order to graduate. Students who fail one of the Gateway Tests are eligible to retake the test until they have achieved the passing score required for the state diploma.
The TCAP is also used to evaluate schools, and determine which schools are in need of improvement. Schools that consistently underperform may face sanctions, such as state intervention.
It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring and obtaining supplemental services.
A few parting words
Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final determination.
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