Bredesen warns parents of 'reality' in TCAP scores

Gov. Phil Bredesen issued a shock warning to parents Monday that the standardized test scores Tennessee students bring home over the next few weeks will be low.

New, higher benchmarks for Tennessee's standardized assessments mean "harder tests and lower test scores, there's no getting around that," Bredesen said.

Now is the time "when the reality of all this starts to sink in," he said. There will be some "standards anxiety" among parents and students, he predicted.

Bredesen and education officials have toured the state over the last couple of months to get the word out on expected dismal test results from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) students took last spring.

Statewide, records show only 30 percent of sixth-graders, 29 percent of seventh-graders and 26 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded the new benchmarks on last spring's TCAP test. On 2009 tests, 91 percent of all elementary and middle school students were scored proficient or advanced in math and reading. Last year, students were advanced, proficient or below proficient; the new standards add a category.

The governor spoke Monday at the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate offices as part of events planned in cooperation with the First to the Top Coalition, an alliance of more than 30 business, community and education organizations. Chattanooga was the last stop in a major city for the governor and the group, which launched the "Expect More, Achieve More" campaign in July, to increase awareness among parents before the scores are released.

NEW TEST SCORE CATEGORIESNew benchmarks and grouping of test scores are intended to give parents a better idea of how their children are performing in Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) testing in grades 3 through 8.Under new scoring categories, any student who is rated "basic" or "below basic" needs help. Those who are rated "advanced" or "proficient" are on track.* Advanced: Student demonstrates superior mastery in academic performance, thinking abilities and application of knowledge. Student is significantly prepared for the next level of study.* Proficient: Student demonstrates mastery in academic performance, thinking abilities and application of knowledge. Student is well prepared for the next level of study.* Basic: Student demonstrates partial mastery in academic performance, thinking abilities and application of knowledge. Student is minimally prepared for the next level of study.* Below basic: Student does not demonstrate mastery in academic performance, thinking abilities and application of knowledge. Student is not prepared for the next level of study.Source: Tennessee Department of Education

The new standards will help students succeed in the long run and counter years of giving the mistaken impression that Tennessee students are well prepared for college and career, Bredesen said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2007 gave Tennessee "an 'F' for truth in advertising," because of the difference between internal test scores and scores on national standardized tests, he said.

"The example that really struck home for me was [that] we gave eighth-graders a test in mathematics and told them that they were 83 to 84 percent proficient," he said.

"When the same students took the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] test we found the numbers were about ... 23 or 23 percent," he said.

"We are doing our children no favors by telling them they're proficient" then let them find out in college or the workplace that they are not, he said.

Hamilton County Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales said officials want to temper parents' "shock" when the scores are released the week of Oct. 11.

Scales said it is important for parents to understand students did not perform at a lower level, but they were measured against a higher standard.

To answer the new standards, local educators are "working hard on our literacy framework, our math framework making sure that our curriculum is aligned," he said.

Staff development is critical to meeting the demands of the new standards, he said. Currently, some teachers are ready for the new standards and some need further training, he said.

About 75 percent of Hamilton County's Race to the Top funding will be directed at staff development over the next four years, he said.

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Tim Webb said rather than dwell on the past "we're going to roll up our sleeves and go to work" and $527 million in Race to the Top funding will be invested "very heavily" in teacher development.

The changes to proficiency levels are intended to "indicate a mastery of subjects rather than a minimal understanding," state Department of Education spokeswoman Amanda Maynord Anderson said.

Anderson said the state Report Card will be released in mid-November.

Georgia and other states have also suffered under new No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks.

A higher graduation rate benchmark and the academic benchmark for third- through eighth-grade math caused more schools to miss goals in last spring's testing than in previous years, the Georgia 2010 Report Card shows. Georgia Department of Education officials warn that next year all the AYP benchmarks increase at once creating a strong likelihood that many more schools will miss federal goals.

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