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MSCEA president Keith Williams addresses an assistant state commissioner during a June meeting about TCAP scores.

MSCEA president Keith Williams addresses an assistant state commissioner during a June meeting about TCAP scores.

Shelby County Schools could exclude late test scores from student grades

Responding to a series of state testing snafus, local education officials soon could take advantage of a new state law that allows them to exclude students’ scores from their final grades in certain situations.

A 2010 state law requires districts to count scores on Tennessee’s state tests as 15 to 25 percent of students’ final grades each year, although it does not specifically say how. Districts have used “quick scores,” or preliminary scores released ahead of the official ones, as the best option.

But after multiple years when following the law became challenging, the Shelby County Board of Education will review a policy proposal Tuesday evening that would allow the district not to weigh test scores if the scores don’t arrive at least five instructional days before the end of the school year.

“This is about giving administrative leeway to districts,” said board member Chris Caldwell. “It’s appropriate if the state can’t get the data to us in the right time frame to not hold up students’ grades and promotions.”

In the first years after the 2010 law was passed, the state passed along quick scores to schools before the end of the year and used the scores to predict how closely students had come to mastering the skills they were expected to learn.

But in 2014, the scores arrived later than usual, making it hard for districts to calculate students’ final grades. The state gave districts one-time permission to issue grades without factoring in test scores, which Shelby County took up.

Legislators formalized that permission this year, passing a law that gives districts across the state the power to negate the 2010 state law if test scores aren’t ready on time.

Now, Shelby County is considering taking advantage of that leniency, just weeks after the latest round of quick scores posed a new challenge for districts when they did not provide a realistic picture of students’ skills. (See Chalkbeat’s five takeaways from Tennessee’s quick-score flap when confusion erupted around this year’s standardized test scores, which came back higher-than-expected due to a new calculation formula that the state used.)

The policy revision at Shelby County Schools’ board meeting Tuesday won’t be voted on until a later date. But if it ultimately takes effect, it would apply to all grades and give the district an easy out if issues arise with next year’s scores.

Rep. Bill Dunn, a Republican from Knoxville, said he helped to draft the state bill so that districts would have more control over how student test scores are used.

“When state law that says that you have to factor these scores into student grades, but the state doesn’t come through, then you have to give your local school districts some relief,” Dunn said.

Districts across the state likely will be looking at how to incorporate this new state law, he added, though some may wait to see what happens with next year’s scores.