TCAPS show need for subgroup advance: Both city, county schools look at ways to improve
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer and DELANEY WALKER  Banner Staff Writer
Aug 10, 2014 | 1018 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
School district-level results of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests for 2014 have shown that both local systems may still have work to do in closing the gaps between how certain groups of students do in school compared to others.

The TCAP consists of standardized tests designed to measure how students in third through 12th grade do in required school subjects.

Students in third through eighth grade take the TCAP Achievement Test, while high school students take TCAP end-of-course tests.

The results are reported as sets of data in the areas of achievement and achievement gaps, and the results of the Bradley County and Cleveland City school systems released by Tennessee Department of Education recently showed both had gaps still that needed to be narrowed.

In some cases, the gaps actually widened during the 2013-2014 school year.

The Tennessee Department of Education listed Cleveland City Schools as a district in need of subgroup improvement.

This means a particular population of the student body experienced a decline. A school system can meet the achievement and gap closure goals and still receive this designation.

The four subgroups in the Cleveland school system in need of improvement included white students, Hispanic students, students with disabilities and English language learners (ELL).

Director of City Schools Martin Ringstaff was quick to point out the school system did meet its goals in achievement.

He added the four subgroups in need of improvement have never been listed before on the District Accountability lists provided by the state.

"Most of our ELL population is Hispanic. So, if we can target ELL techniques, that will take care of that [subgroup]. The Students With Disabilities [subgroup designation] was from two or three students. That one is very fixable," he said. "The [white subgroup] is 70 percent of our school system."

Ringstaff said particular attention will need to be paid to the large subgroup.

Notable changes in Cleveland City Schools students’ achievement gaps include: a 11.2 percent decrease in the gap for black/Hispanic/native American students in ninth through 12th-grade English III, a 6.5 percent decrease for black/Hispanic/native American students in ninth through 12th-grade Algebra II, a 7.7 percent increase in the gap for English language learners in third through eighth-grade math and a 2.9 percent increase for Hispanic/native American in third through eighth-grade reading and language arts.

The Bradley County school system was also shown to be in need of subgroup improvement.

Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said the system had “placed significant emphasis on” helping economically disadvantaged students improve during the 2013-2014 school year, something that had been brought to the system’s attention as a priority after the release of test results the year prior.

The gap size for the category of economically disadvantaged students decreased in some subject areas, but it increased in others.

The subject areas of English III for ninth through 12th-grade students and Math and Reading and Language Arts for third through eighth-grade students showed gap decreases, meaning that economically disadvantaged students performed more similarly to other students. All the other areas showed gap increases.

Economically disadvantaged students saw gap decreases in the following areas: Ninth through 12th-grade English III, down 1.2 percent; third through eighth-grade Math, down 2.2 percent; and third through eighth-grade Reading and Language Arts, down 1.5 percent.

Gap increases for that population of students included: a 0.4 increase in high school Algebra I, a 8.6 percent increase in high school Algebra II and a 5.2 percent increase in high school English II.

Other areas in need of gap closure included English language learners and students with disabilities, according to the most recent TCAP results.

Notable figures in those areas include: a 8.8 percent decrease in the gap for students with disabilities in English III, a 19 percent gap increase for students with disabilities in English II, a 5.1 percent gap decrease for black/Hispanic/native American students in Algebra II and a 14.7 percent gap increase for English language learners in math.

The county schools director said the gap decreases showed what the system had done worked well for some students, and he would be looking for ways to help the system decrease the gaps rather than increase them.

“We look at the data and readjust,” McDaniel said. “We’re always wanting to improve across the board.” 

The director of city schools hinted a reason for the decline in such a large portion of the city student population’s test scores is due to the inconsistency between the Common Core state standards they learn in the classroom and the standards they are tested on in the TCAP assessment.

“I believe it is going to be a lot easier for every school system in the state of Tennessee once we get through this transition and we are tested exactly on what we are teaching,” Ringstaff said. “We are in transition right now where we know we are doing the TCAP End of Course test, but we are teaching Common Core state standards.”

He predicted areas of growth will be seen once the gap between what a student learns and what they are tested on is closed.

“I think it is a challenge for our teachers right now to say these are the standards I am supposed to be teaching, but we are going to use the test we have been using for eight or nine years,” Ringstaff said. “We switched the standards three years ago. We are going into year four of Common Core, but we are still giving a test from five, six, seven, eight years ago.”

He said he believed Cleveland did “very well” under the circumstances.

McDaniel echoed that sentiment, explaining the discrepancy between what students were taught and what the TCAP tested made closing achievement gaps more difficult than usual.

“We’re in a transition now with new state standards and ways of evaluating that,” McDaniel said.

However, he said he believed the county school system is ready to address those challenges by giving more training to teachers and having them spend more time preparing students for major tests.

McDaniel stressed that teachers do receive training at regular intervals, but this would be an additional area of focus.

“I’m looking forward to the teachers being a little more comfortable with the changes we’ve had,” McDaniel said.

Teachers knowing what to expect in terms of how the Common Core state standards match up with the TCAP tests will leave them better prepared to teach students what they need to do well on next year’s tests, he said.

Though the school-level TCAP results have not yet been released, McDaniel said he has seen evidence of some schools doing better than others.

He said the Bradley County school system will be looking at ways for teachers at schools with high-achieving students to share their teaching strategies with other schools.

Ringstaff said the Cleveland City school system will also be doing what it can to make sure there are fewer achievement gaps.

“We do have some subgroups we need to work on,” Ringstaff said. “We will target those in our score improvement plans, and we will focus on those. I think we will do a great job on those.”

More information on achievement gap data for school systems statewide can be found at http://tn.gov/education/data/tcap_2014_districts.shtml.