Scoring our children's futures

Scoring our children's futures

September 11th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Kit Hagan reads "The Paper Crane" in Jennifer Lockwood's third grade readers workshop class at Thrasher Elementary School. Recent test scores show that Hamilton County is improving in math but still struggling in reading. Thrasher is an exception to this trend as it was one of three schools in Tennessee to be recognized for literacy growth and overall achievement.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


Here's how students fared on TCAPs. Results show the percentage of students performing at grade level for grades three through eight.

Hamilton County - 2011 - 2012 - 2013

Reading - 44.6 - 45.7 - 46.9

Math - 44.9 - 49.6 - 54.2

Tennessee - 2011 - 2012 - 2013

Reading - 47.5 - 49.9 - 50.3

Math - 41 - 47.2 - 50.7

Source: Tennessee Department of Education

Here's an in-depth look on how students fared on TCAPs:

2013 TCAP Hamilton County Scores

2013 TCAP Tennessee Scores

It's good to see Hamilton County students, on the whole, making gains this year on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests - TCAP, for short.

The TCAP tests form a set of statewide assessments intended to measure students' skills and progress.

The news is both good and bad, though.

It is good that Hamilton County youngsters appear to be learning more in math. The school system's overall score marks nearly 10 percentage points in improvement from 2011 to 2013. But reading is only slightly improved -- by just more than two percentage points -- and student reading in Hamilton County still lags behind the state average.

Yet the real shocker is the bigger picture of what these scores mean: Only 54.2 percent of Hamilton County students -- about half -- are performing at grade level in math, the subject where we improved. And 46.9 percent, or less than half, are reading at grade level.

Hamilton County has just over 41,000 young people enrolled in more than 70 schools, and half of them are performing below grade level.

And, no, the rest of the nation is not in the same boat. Tennessee ranked second to last on the ACT in 2011 and 2012. What's more, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which analyzes results culled from four separate tested areas, ranked Tennessee in the bottom 10 of 50 states in 2011.

By these measures, Tennessee students have no where to go but up. The state has plenty of dedicated teachers trying to help get us there, but clearly something is not working right, especially in reading.

It's been less than a week since Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was stumping in Hamilton County to raise support for his drive to move Tennessee's percentage of better-educated college graduates and technical certificate holders from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 -- a mere dozen years from now.

Haslam says that 55 percent of Tennesseans with higher education is the magic number for the state to have a workforce strong enough to lure new industry and prospective job creators.

To get there, we clearly are going to have to move at rocket speed with improved education -- not just at the college level but also in our K-12 classes. Looking ahead, even our math gains over the past two years, if sustained, wouldn't move the needle enough.

At present, nearly 70 percent of Tennessee students entering community college now need remedial classes before they can take college level courses. So what? It's just one more class, right? Not really. Remedial classes also are a dire predictor; of those remedial students, only 5 percent will eventually graduate from a degree program. With that in mind, having half of our K-12 students performing just at or below grade level is a doomsday predictor.

The potential is bright in the South, and bright in Tennessee, but only if we lay the foundation correctly in our elementary and secondary classrooms.

Right now we seem to be more than a few concrete blocks short of a load.