The Hamilton County School Board met Thursday night in a special work session to discuss the district's low test scores released last week and to learn about the new state-mandated testing schedule for the upcoming school year.
Board members anticipated hearing a presentation and having a discussion about Hamilton County's low test scores, as students scored below state average in nine of the 10 tested categories on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, known as TCAP. But discussion over test scores was trumped midway through the meeting when the new state-mandated testing schedule for students was explained.
TCAP Hamilton County 2015
POLL: Should schools work harder on early-grade reading?
Hamilton County TCAP scores
Percentage of students who tested proficient or advanced.
Grades 9 through 12
Algebra I - Hamilton, 48.9; State average, 65.6
Algebra II - Ham., 43.6; State, 54.2
Biology I - Ham., 57.6; State, 65.2
Chemistry - Ham., 31.2; State, 44.2
English I - Ham., 67.6; State, 71.8
English II - Ham., 59.8; State, 64.8
English III - Ham., 33.1; State, 41.7
Grades 3 through 8
Math - Hamilton, 56.7; State average, 55.6
Reading/Language Arts - Ham., 44.8; State, 48.4
Science - Ham., 59.7; State, 64.5
Source: Tennessee Department of Education
"Basically seven weeks we have devoted to testing," said Kirk Kelly, director of testing and accountability for the school system as he explained the upcoming academic calendar.
Tennessee students will no longer take TCAP as an evaluator and will transition to a new test called TNReady, which is taken primarily on computers and consumes drastically more time.
Superintendent Rick Smith made it clear this was not the the school system's decision, but a state requirement and the district was just informed of the new testing schedule last week.
Board members erupted with outrage.
"How much of the school year is left? This [test] was not designed by educators," said board member Steve Highlander.
"I don't feel like I took this many tests in school. I just don't understand this isn't fair," board member Karitsa Mosley said.
"What can the board do? What are our options?" Martin asked.
"When are we going to be a board that is not just in compliance with the state?" asked board member Jonathan Welch.
Smith said he expected the board to have this reaction — it was the same reaction the district's principals had when they were informed of the news.
"They, too, were frustrated, angry and emotional," Smith told the board. " Really good teachers are going to look at this and say, 'I've lost 30 or 40 percent of my instructional time.'"
Smith said plans already are underway to figure out how schools will have adequate resources to conduct this amount of testing because many schools don't have the adequate amount of computers to test entire grades at the same time and can't disrupt other classes in order to administer the tests.
"We're not going to panic," Smith said. "We're going to bring you a plan on [technological] devices and a set of strategies to get us through this year."
This year's TCAP scores also were discussed in the meeting, and Kelly provided the board with a detailed presentation about the district's scores showing how Hamilton County students performed compared to districts of similar size across the state. He showed how the district made gains in five of the 10 tested categories and mentioned that six schools were recognized by the state for performance or progress.
"We are going to have to make some major changes," said board member Rhonda Thurman, in regards to the test scores. " The schools failing before are failing still. It's time we see results with the kids."
Kelly noted the statewide trend in the data that shows districts have lower scores when the percentage of kids in the districts receive free or reduced-priced lunches, like Hamilton County. He also talked about how the district missed all but one of the state's targets for closing achievements gaps between students with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged and minority students.
School board member Greg Martin voiced concern over only having six schools recognized by the state for performance and progress, citing previous years when the number of schools on the list were double this. He also questioned why math scores are increasing over the years and student's reading scores are decreasing.
"At the end of the day, we went backwards in reading," Martin said. "And I'd like to know that reason and what we're going to do moving forward."
Smith suggested that the board meet for a special work session before their next meeting on Aug. 20 to discuss questions such as these in more detail, and provide school administrators time to come up with some answers to the questions about this years test scores and the new testing schedule.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.