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Staff file photo / Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn delivers the keynote address during the 38th annual Superintendent's Honors Banquet at the Chattanooga Convention Center on April 29, 2019, in Chattanooga.

Students enrolled in Tennessee summer schools showed improvement in English and math, based on assessment tests given at the beginning and end of the programs, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Wednesday.

The tests showed an increase of about 5.97 percentage points in English language arts and 11.66 percentage points in math for elementary school students.

For middle school students, the tests showed an increase of 0.66 percentage points in English language arts and 6 percentage points in math.

The summer programs were designed in part to regain losses in instruction last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schwinn told lawmakers at an education committee meeting that the purpose of the tests — which used questions from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program — was to measure student improvement rather than growth.

"What we were balancing this year is to make sure that we were keeping assessments as brief as possible in maximizing instructional minutes, so what we did is we took TCAP questions for the most part and compiled those, like I said, into representative questions based on those foundational or anchor standards," Schwinn said.

Statewide standardized test data released by the Tennessee Department of Education in August identified early elementary school reading and middle school math as focus areas for schools across the state.

This year, 32% of elementary school students earned proficient scores in the English language arts test, while 27% of middle school students scored proficient in math, according to the data.

Schwinn told lawmakers 120,000 students across Tennessee enrolled in summer programs this year with an average attendance rate of 96%. In Hamilton County Schools, about 6,200 students enrolled in the district's summer program this year, or around 14% of students in the district.

Cleveland City Schools Superintendent Russell Dyer told the lawmakers 95% of students who attended the district's summer programs were priority students with the highest needs. He said the district saw growth in English language arts and math among rising fifth graders. The test data also showed progress in math among rising sixth graders and growth in both math and English language arts among rising seventh graders.

When asked if teachers and principals have seen progress this year, Dyer told the committee that educators have seen progress anecdotally, but it is too soon to say based on data.

"If I go back to my summer learning experiences that I shared a minute ago, the benchmarks that we saw, the growth we saw with the pre and post, that gives me hope for this year that what we're going to see is continued growth throughout the year," Dyer said.

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

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