A new state report lists Tullahoma City Schools as slightly behind the state average in overall academic success, but district officials say they aren’t using the state report as the “highest priority” metric in evaluating student success.
The Tennessee Department of Education released its annual “state report card,” which lists how well students across the state are performing, earlier this week. The annual report is compiled using data from the statewide student assessments, known as TNReady, which tests students’ academic readiness in several core subjects such as English language arts, science, history and mathematics.
According to the report, the statewide average of students who “scored on track or mastered” on the previous year’s TNReady exams is just barely under 40 percent. Only 39.1 percent of students scored in the “on track” or “mastered” level of proficiency, according to the report.
By comparison, only 32.1 percent of Tullahoma students were scored in the top two levels of proficiency, per the report.
However, school officials say the report card shouldn’t be used as the ultimate determination of student success due to numerous failures of the exams themselves over the years.
According to Director of Schools John Carver, the state report card is only based on the TNReady exams, which experienced massive failures over the last several years, meaning the data being used in the report is flawed.
“You have two flawed years of data and yet the state has gone ahead and used that to rank out our [students],” Carver said.
Both Carver and Director of Curriculum Susan Fanning said that using these flawed years of data to score the level of proficiency of Tennessee students is unfair to students.
“It is hard for me as the director of schools to even begin to make decisions about schools when there are faulty tests,” he said. “They’re all false reads.”
As an example, Carver said, a representative from the state Centers of Regional Excellence (CORE) office in Shelbyville came to him concerned about Tullahoma’s performance measures.
The CORE office representative shared a concern about Tullahoma City Schools being ranked 15th out of 16 in some of the TNReady exams, so he asked Fanning to run an analysis of the results in-house.
That analysis showed one student in particular was scored as “non-proficient” in the TNReady exams, Carver said.
“One of the students that would have been non-proficient this year is at [The United States Military Academy at] West Point.”
Two more students who were ranked as non-proficient in the eyes of the state scored a perfect 36 composite score on their ACTs, Carver added.
This discrepancy in student assessment and actual student achievement, Carver said, was obvious.
“That tells me there’s a disconnect,” he said of the state assessment tests.
Even though the tests were flawed and the data gleaned from them was an inaccurate picture of student success, Carver said the district is not wholly writing off the results given by the state report card.
While there were problems with the tests, Carver said the district is still committed to following all the guidelines set forth by the state department of education and preparing the children of Tullahoma for the future.
“We plan to fulfill our commitments to the state – whatever the state asks us to do – but at the same time we want to reach out to our community members … and figure out how we meet those needs,” Carver said.
In the meantime, Fanning said the district will put more focus on individual’s readiness for the future by way of their ACT scores, as Tullahoma’s average composite score is consistently higher than the state average.
“That’s been our consistent measure,” Fanning said.
The reason for putting more stock in the average ACT test score over the state report card is simply due to the inconsistent nature of the state assessment tests.
“The state test has been all over the place,” she said, “and the administration of the test is all over the place.”
In the last year alone, Fanning said, test proctors in Tullahoma have discovered numerous errors within the assessments themselves, such as incorrect instructions and incorrect answers.
“When we look at the test administration itself … things like the test directions were incorrect,” she said. “Last year, with the online piece, it crashed. It shut down. It froze. Tests got lost. Wrong tests were given to students when they would log in.”
When the tests are wrong, she said, how can the state accurately assess student proficiency?
“How can you hold anybody accountable,” she said, “even if it was a credible test to begin with? Even if was credible, even if it was valid to begin with, how could you hold anybody to any level of accountability or take any value from that?”
If the testing administration problems TNReady experienced last year had happened in a classroom with a standard teacher, she added, that teacher would not be employed for long.
“If a teacher assessed in a classroom like the state of Tennessee assesses, they probably wouldn’t be there very long,” she said.
An additional problem with the state report card is the time between assessments and results. According to Fanning, the state report card is based on the test results from the previous school year, meaning the data in the report concerns at least one group of students who are no longer in high school.
“You’re already into the next year,” Carver said, “so how do you make course corrections?”
Fanning and Carver both affirmed that while the report does contain information that the district can use, it is not what she or the district will be using to make all educational decisions for the students of Tullahoma.
Even the school board doesn’t put much stock in the results, according to Carver.
“They have said these scores have little meaning for them,” he said. “It’s just a number. It’s a snapshot – it’s like a picture that’s completely out of focus.”
The district is still acutely aware of where some schools may be underperforming, Carver said, but no firm decisions will be made with only the state report card in mind.
Instead, he said, district officials would be “reflective” of how they could better assist teachers with new methods of pedagogy.
The full report card can be found on the state department of education’s website or reportcard.tnk12.gov.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.