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TCAPs now to count as 25 percent of students’ grade

Low TCAP scores can result in dire consequences for a school system, but previously had no direct effect on the test-takers. Now it seems Tennessee students will also feel the pain.
During the Dec. 2 meeting of the Washington County Board of Education, Director of Schools Ron Dykes announced that individual scores earned by students on the annual achievement test, taken each spring as part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, will affect 25 percent of their semester grade average.
This change accompanies the new curriculum introduced last year by the state.
The TCAP achievement test is a timed, multiple-choice assessment that measures skills in reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
The test is mandated for all students in grades three through eight.
Dykes said the state now requires school systems set an amount between 15 to 25 percent of the final exam that will come from the students’ TCAP scores.
“Washington County schools decided to start at the highest point for immediate accountability,” Dykes said.
The new statewide curriculum is much more rigorous, according to Dykes.
“We are now expecting fifth-graders to know what sixth-graders knew three or four years ago,” he said. “We have fourth-graders who are learning to write research papers in MLA style.”
The increased impact of the TCAP scores will place more accountability on public education and will now affect teacher evaluations, too, Dykes said.
However, it’s not just teachers and students who will be making the grade.
“The state has promoted for two years the need for families to help the school district,” Dykes said. “Each player has a role, and if one is not effective, everyone suffers.”
Dykes said the faculty, administration and parents in Washington County have been supportive of the new curriculum.
“I think they understand the rationale behind the increased rigor,” he said.
At one point, Tennessee students were graduating with less mastery of subjects than 36 other states.
Dykes said the system is making sure the students are prepared to address the new curriculum.
“We are in the process of teaching higher-order thinking skills,” he said. “We’re teaching our students to analyze and rationalize, rather than just memorize. It’s part of an instructional technique because this test is a different animal than in the past.”
The rest is up to the students, who will have an active stake in the process.
Board member Mary Lo Silvers said she remembers once asking a student how he did on the TCAPs.
“He said he didn’t read it, he just marked answers because he knew it didn’t affect him,” Silvers said.
“Now the students have a vested interest in wanting to do their best on the TCAPS,” Dykes said.
Eighty percent of jobs will require a post-secondary degree within the next six years, according to Dykes. “An educated workforce also attracts industry to a community,” he said.
“Our students will be competing in a world workforce, and they must be prepared to meet career or college demands when they graduate from high school.”
The TCAP achievement test is used in conjunction with measuring progress statewide by the federal government. If a school fails to meet the required benchmarks for one year, the school is assigned the status of “Target” and must address the deficiencies. If a system has a “Target” school in both the K-8 and 9-12 divisions, the entire school system is labeled “Target.”