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FAQ: Shelby County School’s 2013-2014 TCAP scores

There’s a lot riding on the 2013-14 TCAP scores that were released Wednesday. Schools that end up in the bottom five percent when it comes to passing rates might be taken over and restructured by the state’s Achievement School District. School-level results won’t be released until mid-August, but the district-level results tell us how schools in Shelby County are faring in the midst of still-new standards, increased school choice, and a restructured school system.

Here’s a FAQ to help you understand the results.

Wait. How can we know how much Shelby County Schools improved since last year if the unified school system didn’t exist? It takes a little imagination. State officials took an inventory of all the schools in the Shelby County Schools district for 2013-2014, and grouped them together, as if the 2013-2014 version had existed in 2012-2013. They calculated the passing rates for that grouping of schools in 2012-2013, and then compared them to this year’s to determine student growth. That being said, it’s hard to put too much stock in comparisons, since the 2013-2014 school system was a one-time deal.

Which subject is Shelby County Schools’ students’ best?  It appears to be social studies — or maybe the test wasn’t that hard. Zero percent of Shelby County Schools students scored below basic on U.S. History and social studies tests — in fact, zero percent of students failed those tests statewide. As we reported earlier this month, this could mean that the state has set the failing score so low that guessing on every question still would not cause a student to score below basic. Fewer students take the U.S. History test than any other end of course test in high school.

Which subject did Shelby County Schools’ students struggle most on? The largest share of students performed below basic on the English III exam.  The English III test also had the largest share of students statewide score below basic.

Based on today’s test scores, where does the state want Shelby County to focus its efforts? Shelby County Schools met 10 out of 11 of the state’s goals around achievement and gap closure — kind of. Six of the goals were met through “safe harbor,” which means that the goal wasn’t actually met, but the district improved enough that the state is giving them a pass. Those goals are part of the state’s accountability system, which is a stipulation of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver.  State officials found that Shelby County Schools saw declines in its white, Native American, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders subgroups, and needs to reverse declines for those students. Only three districts in Tennessee met all of the state’s goals.

What was missing from today’s data? This data doesn’t include school performance information, which is expected to be released Aug. 18.  But the state also held back a few other key numbers. We don’t know how many students in each racial subgroup took which test, and we can’t compare a number of subgroups. For example, black, Hispanic, and Native American students are all lumped together, and we didn’t see district averages for white students, even though we know from the state that their scores declined. We also don’t have the average or median raw scores, just the percentage of students’ performance at various levels. That means we can’t get nuances like how many students are close to performing at basic level or barely performing at basic level.



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