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School districts starting to receive raw TCAP test score data

As many as 50,000 third graders across the state could be at risk of repeating the grade due to the new third-grade retention law.

COCKE COUNTY, Tenn. — A year of anticipation is coming to a climax on the last Friday of the school year, for many districts. 

The scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program are being released to the districts. This is the fastest turnaround for state test scores in the history of the TCAP.

The results of this test will determine whether or not a third-grade student is meeting grade-level expectations. Those that score "approaching" or "below" grade level expectations, by law are at risk of retention. 

In the case of the TCAP, as per the law passed in July 2022, a student's grades throughout the year do not come into play. It is specifically based on their score for the standardized test.

10News has contacted every school district in East Tennessee to gain insight into how they are handling retention policy, and informing parents about the controversial law.

Cocke County Schools

Cocke County Schools provided insight into their months of preparation for this moment.

"We started out with a big communication campaign. One of the first things that we did was to educate our staff before we educate the public because we knew that our teachers and our administrators would be the first frontline of defense that parents were going to," said Amanda Waits, the district's instructional supervisor. 

She said it hasn't been all smooth sailing. Cocke County, like every other district in Tennessee, relied on the state and the Tennessee Department of Education to provide information about the TCAP requirements, exceptions, appeals process and workarounds for the new law.

"It has been very stressful for us and even more stressful for third-grade teachers," Waits said. "This was very quick, a very quick turnaround. It passed on July 1 of last year, and then it was immediately implemented."

She's not the only one feeling the weight of the law. Cocke County Schools' testing coordinator, Patricia Barr, has been navigating administering the TCAP in a year where the test has a lot more impact.

"It's very stressful. I've had several teachers who are also parents call and ask for the scores," Barr said. "We're on pins and needles, we've been on pins and needles. We're waiting. I've hit that refresh button probably a million times today already."

Barr spent the day at her desk, waiting for the TCAP portal to update the test scores.

Some districts, including Cocke County, started getting those raw scores in just before 5 p.m. However, according to Waits, those scores are embargoed until the state gives the district to release them to parents, and the general public.

Each district will have its own process for making the scores available. Barr explained the process in Cocke County.

"As soon as the scores came out, and we get them finalized so that we can send them out to the schools, we'll send those out to the schools. The schools have already been given all the materials that they need to start communicating with the parents," Barr said.

She said parents should receive those scores as early as Monday, which is the last day of school in Cocke County.

Students who score "at" or "above" grade level,- or qualify for a test exemption, will receive a letter notifying their parents of their proficiency.

Students who score "approaching" or "below grade" level will receive a letter notifying their parents of their risk for retention. 

"We have a document that will go out to the parents that tells them that we hope to send those out with their grade cards on Monday. If the scores come back, we can get everything done," Waits said.

Waits said her district is as prepared as possible for the rollout of these test scores. They plan to have adequate staffing for summer school.

Cocke County is also in the process of hiring tutors for the 2023-24 school year.

Knox County Schools

Leaders with Knox County Schools said that around 1,600 third-grade, non-exempt students stored below the threshold on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program

The results of this test will determine whether or not a third-grade student is meeting grade-level expectations. Those that score "approaching" or "below" grade level expectations, by law are at risk of retention. To avoid retention, students can retake the test, enroll in summer school or advance to the fourth grade with a tutor assigned to them.

KCS said that students scoring below the proficiency line would be eligible for a retake starting Monday, May 22. They said parents and guardians of students who qualified for a retake were notified Monday evening and will have until Sunday, May 21, to opt in.

"Students whose highest score receives a designation of “approaching” or “below” will be required to participate in a summer learning camp and/or tutoring next school year to progress to the next grade," they said.

They said that parents will receive a notification of their student's status and the recommended next steps on May 26. They said they did not receive testing data from the Tennessee Department of Education until late Friday evening.

A KCS spokesperson said a total of 4,461 students are enrolled in the third grade across Knox County.

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