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King Pens Editorial on TCAP Scores

TCAP scores not as “troubling” as state process

This past weekend, multiple news reports labeled the TCAP results around the state as “troubling.”

Students “capable” of performing at grade level should not be considered troubling. Our students and teachers work hard daily to learn and grow academically. The results of that work should be considered along with multiple data points when determining retention. Numerous studies highlight the negative impact of retaining students. We all seek to help our students improve academically. Placing labels and forcing students capable of performing at grade level to repeat a grade is not the answer.

The Putnam County School System does not believe retention is in the best interest of most students, especially based on scores from a single test. The Putnam County School Board passed a resolution opposing the legislation at our September 1, 2022, meeting. Retention should be a local decision, and many factors about a child should be considered before making that decision.

Students who “met” expectations in the past scored close to and above the 65th percentile. This indicates that a student scoring at the 65th percentile performed better than 64% of students who took the same test. Student percentile placement may change year to year based on how they score compared to their peers. A student’s percentile is not an indicator of the student's ability to perform at grade level, but rather where their test score fell in relation to other test takers. Most students scoring in the “approaching” category on TCAP tests are performing within the 45th-65th percentile. We believe these students can work on grade level and should not be retained or forced to attend summer learning camp for further intervention.

TDOE may change “raw scores” (or points) for the four categories on TCAP tests annually. The four scoring categories for TCAP are “below,” “approaching,” “meeting,” and “exceeding” expectations. A raw score refers to the number of points a student receives after answering a question correctly. A “cut score” is the raw score (or number of points needed) to determine a category designation. For example, last year, the cut score for “meeting” expectations in third-grade ELA was 33. This year, the cut score for “meeting” expectations is 34. The cut scores are always a moving target based upon the number of scorable questions on a test.

As a classroom teacher, when I gave a test, every student could make an “A” on the test. It was also possible for every student to pass or fail the test. The score needed to pass or fail the test didn’t change and was not a moving target. With TCAP, that is not the case. When cut scores change annually, there will always be some students who pass and some students who fail. There is no consistent score a student must earn to “meet” or “exceed” expectations.

As we compare this year’s PCSS TCAP scores to other districts, we continue to see a trend that districts with higher socioeconomic status tend to outperform districts with lower socioeconomic status. These results are similar to previous TCAP tests and most standardized tests in general. Research shows that when students are exposed to various experiences, use complex vocabulary, and build background knowledge on many topics; they perform better on standardized tests. This doesn't mean that all students aren't highly capable of meeting expectations. It does mean that we need to use more than one data point to measure a student’s success and capability.

Nevertheless, post-pandemic data indicates that Putnam County students continue to make gains in achievement in reading and appear to have exceeded pre-pandemic levels in third-grade reading.

We are incredibly grateful for the wonderful work our teachers and students do daily. We want our students to be held to high academic standards; however, as mentioned earlier, one moment in time, does not define the capability of our students.