Nearly 36% of Hamilton County students in grades three to 12 performed at or above grade-level expectations in English language arts and 44% in social studies for 2022 — the district's best performance in five years.
Hamilton County Schools' recent testing scores under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, released Wednesday, are on par with the state in average proficiency scores across all major subject areas: a 36.5% proficiency in English, 31.3% in math, 40.2% in science and 43.7% in social studies.
Like the state, Hamilton County saw improvement in most subjects compared to 2021. One exception was science, with 41.6% proficiency, a drop of about one percentage point.
However, unlike many school districts that suffered learning loss due to the pandemic, Hamilton County Schools stayed relatively steady in terms of proficiency scores, Shannon Moody, chief strategy officer for the district, said in a phone call.
"We saw in our data that there were places where we saw a dip for our students, but by and large, our students stayed steady when the rest of the state saw that decline or evidence of that learning loss," Moody said, adding that adopting a new English language curriculum contributed to preventing learning loss.
"And what it did for us last year actually pushed us ahead of the state in many more areas than we had ever seen before. And so we were actually outperforming the state," she said.
The district is still outpacing the state in some areas. In fourth and fifth grade math, Hamilton County students performed six percentage points higher than the state, 44% to 38%. The district also has a four-percentage-point lead in fourth-grade English language arts proficiency, 43% to 39%.
In other areas, the district is underperforming. In eighth grade math, Hamilton County students performed 10 percentage points lower than the state, at 21% proficiency compared to 31% for the state.
"That stood out to us to continue to dig into," Moody said.
"We're going to go through the process of digging and figuring out what that number is telling us," Moody said. "One of the biggest things we know we're going to be doing is being able to think through the needs of our students in middle school. Particularly middle school math and (asking if) are we adopting a curriculum that is set up to support and give high-quality materials to our middle schoolers."
The data released by the state also revealed another striking trend: Across the board, white students are outperforming students of color.
In Hamilton County, Black students in grades three to eight are particularly underperforming in math, with more than half of all test takers falling below grade-level standards. The same is true for Black students in grades nine to 12, with 23.7% testing at or above Algebra I grade-level standards. Hispanic students are also scoring below standards in Algebra I, with 31% passing.
Students with disabilities in Hamilton County are also underperforming, according to state data.
In high school biology, geometry and English language arts, more than 60% of students with disabilities failed to meet grade-level standards.
Moody said the district continues to find ways to serve historically marginalized students by revisiting its equity plan, which was adopted last year.
"We are committed to continuing to follow the steps in that equity plan, since that was put together by a team of people that we consider to be experts in our community around what we could do to support that work," Moody said. "And then we're constantly looking at our data. So, as we go through the year, our testing measures that we do throughout the year, our formative measures, we break down in terms of the subgroups of our students as well to monitor that performance and see if we can make in-time adjustments to allow our district to really see if we're changing the way we're serving groups of students."
Though the district has work to do, Moody said she's proud of what teachers and students have already achieved.
"(Teachers are) the drivers of the results that come out," Moody said. "And so to be able to sit here and celebrate the continued progress of our students in terms of getting towards our proficiency goals, the role that our teachers and the roles that our students play, I think their resilience through all of this has just come out time and time again."