The TCAP is everything.
It determines which schools are failing and which are succeeding. It's a critical measure in teacher evaluations and a mandated component of student grades.
Yet the Tennessee Department of Education was unable to deliver the results of the most important test of the year on time, a move that immediately elicited criticism of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and his administration's focus on standardized test scores.
The delay complicates student report cards, as state law requires schools to use TCAP results for 15 to 25 percent of students' final grades in third through eighth grades.
Generally the state releases a "quick score" to districts to use in grades immediately following the test, and then completes a more thorough statistical analysis of TCAP scores. This year, as the state trims the number of items being tested, officials elected to wait on that analysis before releasing the quick scores.
The department gave districts two choices: request a waiver and disregard the TCAP scores on report cards or wait on the scores and issue report cards late.
Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, said the delay was "unacceptable."
"School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students," she said in a Wednesday statement.
In a letter to superintendents, a state education official said given the number of changes made to the tests this year, "we want to take appropriate measures to ensure the accuracy of the quick scores."
Huffman spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said the statistical analysis was a best practice.
"This is nothing new," she said. "This is something that any state that does a standardized test like this always does."
Several Southeast Tennessee school systems say they will cherry-pick favorable TCAP scores when they come in next week.
Students in Cleveland City Schools will carry home a letter today with their report cards explaining the glitch. Curriculum Supervisor Jeff Elliott said officials were deciding whether to go back and add in test results later. If they use them, it would only be to help students on the edge, he said.
"If the test score grade is higher than the course grade, we would," Elliott said. "We're not going to do it if it does not benefit the student."
Sequatchie County Schools Superintendent Johnny Cordell said it's "ridiculous" that the state required each system to apply for a waiver rather than simply imposing a blanket waiver.
"This situation is completely out of our hands," he said. "The delay in results rests solely on the shoulders of the Tennessee Department of Education."
He said his system will monitor TCAP scores when they do come in and be ready to use them to help students on the borderline. For some students, the TCAP might make the difference between passing and failing, he said.
Hamilton County's director of testing and accountability, Kirk Kelly, said the system will ignore TCAPs in grades entirely this year. There just isn't time or manpower to alter the grades of the roughly 21,000 students who took the test, he said.
"That way when we release the report card, parents will be able to actually see the grades and not have to wait," he said.
Tennessee House Democrats, often opposed to Huffman's agenda, didn't miss the chance to criticize.
"While Commissioner Huffman has pushed for more and more accountability for our teachers, his own Department has yet to be called to account for their own failures," House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said in a written statement.
"Parents and students should not be inconvenienced because the Department of Education failed to plan for this scenario. Commissioner Huffman has gotten too many passes already; it's time for the Governor to get control of the situation."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...