Student Test Scores May Dip This Year Under New, Higher Standards

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CHATTANOOGA — Governor Phil Bredesen, Education Commissioner Tim Webb and First to the Top Coalition partners today held an event to raise awareness about the effects Tennessee’s new and higher academic standards may have on student test scores.

The Chattanooga event was hosted by Vicky Gregg, President and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which is a member of the First to the Top Coalition.

This year’s TCAP scores, resulting from tests administered statewide in April 2010, will be the first to reflect Tennessee’s new, higher standards.

Because the bar has been raised with more rigorous coursework, this year’s scores — compared with those from previous years — are expected to show a drop-off in student proficiency in key subjects including reading and mathematics.

“Raising standards in the classroom is the most important thing we can do to make sure students are career- and college-ready,” said Bredesen, who co-chairs Achieve Inc., a national organization committed to high standards. “But higher standards mean harder tests, and maybe lower test scores in the short term.”

The First to the Top Coalition is a statewide alliance of more than 30 business, community and education groups committed to education reform. It launched the “Expect More, Achieve More” campaign in July to help arm parents with the knowledge they need to understand the results and then to engage their child and seek assistance in increasing their academic performance.

Bredesen added: “It’s important for Tennessee parents and the public to be aware of the state’s higher standards, and then be prepared to help any students who are struggling. Grassroots efforts like the campaign being led by this broad-based group of business and community stakeholders help us raise awareness about what’s on the horizon in regard to standards.”

Activities being undertaken by the Expect More, Achieve More campaign include:

• Organizing community meetings and distributing information to individual organization members, clients and employees, or other contacts — many of whom are parents of Tennessee’s more than 930,000 students.

• Distributing messages and materials online at and through social media outlets such as Facebook, which reaches 1.9 million Tennesseans.

• Airing public service announcements (PSAs) on TV and radio, scheduled to begin running later this month.

Tennessee’s efforts to ratchet up academic standards in public schools began in 2007 when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — representing America’s top employers — gave the state an ‘F’ for lack of high standards and assessments in the classroom.

The following year, officials with the state Department of Education — led by Bredesen, the General Assembly and the State Board of Education — responded by launching the Tennessee Diploma Project to work with local school systems to raise academic standards and implement more rigorous coursework.

Nationally, higher standards are viewed as critical in preparing high school students for graduation — and then a career or college. Thirty-five years ago, just 28 percent of U.S. jobs required training or education after high school. Today, 80 percent of jobs require some form of training beyond high school.

“Short term, raising standards is about tougher courses and likely harder tests,” said Commissioner Webb, who heads the Tennessee Department of Education. “Long term, it’s about getting Tennessee students ready for a career or college — and life.”

The 2009-10 school year was the first year in which the state’s higher standards were fully in effect. In new TCAP reports tentatively scheduled to be released to parents in late-September, any student who is rated “basic” or “below basic” needs help. Students who are rated “advanced” or “proficient” are on track, academically.

TCAP measures student knowledge — in Grades 3 through 8 — in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.
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