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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Deputy Superintendent Nakia Towns speaks during an overview presentation of the Hamilton County Schools' TN Ready results for the 2020-2021 school year at Woodmore Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hamilton County Schools outperformed the state in 24 out of 28 tested areas on the spring 2021 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exams, district officials said.

Grades three to five tested above the state average in all tests areas, with the district seeing an increase in proficiency for third grade English language arts from 35.6% in 2019 to 36.2% in 2021.

"I think if you were like me last year, I worried. I worried so much about our youngest learners, who we have to admit, it was not as easy to do remote instruction with our youngest learners," said incoming interim Superintendent Nakia Towns at a Wednesday news conference.

"When you think about those foundational years, this kind of disruption that we had, we wondered how would our children be able to keep that academic progress going and in fact, we found that particularly in grades three through five, we outperformed the state in nine out of nine academic content areas."

The statewide data indicates that students learning remotely saw bigger declines in scores compared to students learning in person last year. Hamilton County Schools operated in-person classes during 90% of the school days last year after beginning the school year in a hybrid setting last August.

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Towns told the Times Free Press on Monday that equipping more students with technology and internet access last spring, launching the initial three-week summer learning program last summer, professional development for teachers and collaboration with local organizations contributed to students' strong performances compared to state averages.

"I think that it's a tale of all the foundational pieces that we have been building that when it came time to respond to a crisis, we were able to activate in a way that some communities may not have been positioned to do," she said.

Overall, math and English proficiency dropped for the district — a statewide trend — but the drop in scores was not as pronounced as it was for the state average.

English proficiency for Hamilton County Schools declined 2.5% from 2019 compared to a statewide decline of 5%, while math proficiency for the district declined 8% from 2019 compared to a 12% decline statewide. The district also performed below the state average in eighth grade math, and middle school math is one of the subjects education commissioner Penny Schwinn identified as a priority area across the state.

The district outperformed the state average on nine out of 21 tested areas in 2019 or about 43%, compared to outperforming the state average on about 86% of tested areas this year.

Outgoing Superintendent Bryan Johnson told the Times Free Press on Monday that while he was surprised by the number of test areas in which the school system outperformed the state, the district should continue on an improvement trajectory going forward.

"This is what Hamilton County should be doing, and it should be doing even better," Johnson said. "As this new baseline is set, Hamilton County is where it should be academically and has room to move well beyond."

Statewide, overall performance among all grade levels on the tests decreased by 5 percentage points from spring 2019, and declines were expected by school districts and state education officials due to learning disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schwinn and Gov. Bill Lee said in an Aug. 1 news conference that the declines in TCAP scores were expected due to the pandemic, but that they could have been lower without the work of teachers and students.

School-level TCAP results for Hamilton County Schools will be available next month.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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