Tennessee Department of Education warns of lower grades on report cards

Rick Wagner • Oct 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

When Tennessee’s Report Card on schools comes out early next month, expect overall lower letter grade scores.

And trying to gauge the 2009 scores by scores from previous years is an invalid comparison.

Those were some of the key messages from state education officials, who told reporters Monday that the changes don’t mean students aren’t as smart or schools aren’t teaching students as well.

Rather, the state is re-indexing this year’s scores from 1998 to 2009.

And next year, the state will change the tests to make them more rigorous, reflecting the increased standards of the Tennessee Diploma Project.

The last time the standards of the tests were changed was in 2003.

Dan Long, assessment director for the Tennessee Department of Education, said the results this year will be a “bridge” between the old and new curriculum.

“The 2009 data are the last data from the previous CRT (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program Criterion Reference Test) assessments,” Long said.

“This gives us a ‘footprint’ in the previous curriculum standards and assessments,” Long said. “The 1998 baseline is over 10 years old and was based in the old assessments.”

DOE spokeswoman Rachel Woods said the 2009 letter grades are not comparable to the earlier years, although they will be comparable to a state average.

Both said grades generally will go down, although some could go up.

“We did not do the process for re-indexing in such a way that a bell curve would appear,” Long said, although he said the new results will tend to show a wider range of results.

“There is not a loss of learning,” Woods said. “The (lower) letter grade doesn’t mean your child is dumb.”

Systems, schools and students also can measure achievement based on No Child Left Behind scores, ACT tests and other measures, Woods said.

Long said “legitimate academic attainment and progress” has occurred over the past five years, since the state set the growth standards for each subject based on the 1998 progress rate.

Since then, however, all TCAP CRT scores have been converted into the Normal Curve Equivalents consistent with the 1998 calculations.

“The 2009 baseline provides a static transition point prior to the implementation of new curriculum standards and assessments,” Long said.

He said another bridge would come with a curriculum overhaul in the future, just as occurred in 2003. Woods said that’s the reason comparing 2001 to 2004 results is no more valid than comparing 2008 results to 2009 ones.

“It’s just resetting what the expectations are,” Woods said. “Is there a loss of learning? No.”

In all grades, achievement standards in the summer of 2010 will be set to make “minimally proficient” to “mastery” of rigorous content as proficient.

Categories will be advanced, proficient, basic and below basic, with not many initially making advanced or proficient.

“The TDOE has reset the growth standard to reflect the state’s average student performance in 2009. These new standards should be viewed as the minimal expectation for student academic progress and reflect the current status of educational attainment.”

Mastery of the subject matter will be required to be considered proficient, Woods explained.

“It will be much more difficult to score in advanced or proficient categories,” Woods said.

Starting in 2010 in grades 3-8, Long said regular assessments will have more reading/language arts items and slightly fewer social studies and science. All but social studies have a revamped curriculum, with social studies to be revamped later.

The state also will give quicker test results to the schools, before school is out, and simplify testing language for English language learning.

At the high school level, Algebra I, English II and Biology I end-of-course assessments for Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind program will change to reflect the Tennessee Diploma Project, and English I will join U.S. History in end-of-course assessments.

Algebra II end-of-course assessments will be field testing in the spring of 2010, followed by English III in the spring of 2013 and geometry, chemistry and physics later.

For more information visit http://tn.gov/education/reportcard/index.shtml.

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