Hamilton County School Board member Kathy Lennon speaks during the Hamilton County School Board meeting Thursday, September 20, 2018 at the Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The school board names a new chairman and vice-chairman during the meeting.

Hamilton County school district officials and board members are encouraged and enthusiastic going into this year's TNReady testing season, thanks to data from benchmark tests the district has conducted throughout the school year.

Results from benchmark tests that students have taken at the end of each quarter this school year show growth in almost every tested subject, said Chief of Schools Justin Robertson at a school board meeting Thursday night.

In 2018, only 33.7% of the district's third-graders were on track in reading, but according to the final benchmarks taken before students went on spring break, 39.9 percent of students are now on track.

In Algebra I, another subject upon which district leaders were laser focused after last year's result, only 22.1% of students were testing on track last year. Now, however, 28.9% of students are on track.

"Thank you, this is the best news I think I've heard in a long time," said District 2 board member Kathy Lennon.

Though the district will only be judged by the state's assessment — and those results won't be available for several months — Robertson said the benchmarks are a good indication of how students should perform.

More importantly, he told board members, the district is able to make strategic decisions based on data that they've never had before.

"If you were to ask me, what do you think of our chances [on TNReady]," Robertson said. "I know more about where we are at than at any time in the past."

The district uses an external vendor, CASE Benchmarks, to develop and implement it's TE21 benchmark tests. Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy's CEO Elaine Swafford started using the tests a year earlier than the district and has said previously that they were the most predictive of TNReady scores.

In subjects like U.S. history, benchmarks show a 20.5% increase in how many students are on track. Robertson and Superintendent Bryan Johnson credited teachers and school leaders with that progress.

"When you talk about resources, we do have limited resources," Robertson said. "But we have this data set, and thanks to this data, our resources have been deployed strategically."

District 1 school board member Rhonda Thurman did share concerns that teachers feel overworked and burdened by additional testing, planning and increased demands, which Robertson said was justified.

"We've learned a lot internally about some adjustments we can make about testing windows first year we were doing it, first year teachers were doing it, so we can definitely make some adjustments," he said.

Johnson acknowledged that it was a challenging year for both teachers and students — but reminded the board that Hamilton County schools had been under-performing for years.

"I think we all know that this school system has been under-performing regularly. Change is hard. This year has been hard for everybody. Fairly significant academic and structural change is hard," Johnson said.

Johnson added that he didn't know what results TNReady testing might actually yield this year, but said he doesn't "care how TNReady is going to turn out." Instead, Johnson said he is focused on using data to improve the quality of teaching and student learning in the district.

District 6 board member Jenny Hill added she felt the board should be celebrating the results.

"As a board, I think it's really important to recognize how hard everyone is working. I hope that when the day comes that we get a document as great as this, that we can all pause and celebrate," she said.

"I'm ready to pop some bottles," Hill joked.

The three-week TNReady testing window across the state officially started Monday. Johnson said it has been smooth so far, especially compared to the past several years' testing fiascoes.

Hamilton County Schools are closed Friday and students will resume testing next week.

In previous years, TNReady results have not been made available to the public until July or August.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.