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'It's a great testament to our teachers' | State test scores bounce back up to pre-pandemic levels

Knox County Schools elementary and high school students improved in English subjects and are performing at levels comparable to pre-pandemic years.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The COVID-19 pandemic made schools adjust to new circumstances like never before. Students and teachers experienced online classes, surprise absences, and new mental stresses which hit some students especially hard.

"It was going to have some impact. I think the big question was, how big of an impact?" said Jon Rysewyk, the new Knox County Schools superintendent.

During the 2020-21 school year, the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) measured students from all grade levels in the proficiency of a number of subjects.

According to the 2020-2021 report, the district saw declines in proficiency in nearly every grade level and subject area. Overall, only 36.4% of test-takers were proficient across all grades and subjects — a 3% decrease from 2019.

"The pandemic created enormous challenges that impacted students' academic progress, and we must do everything we can to help them catch up," Bob Thomas, the last superintendent, previously said.

And for the most part, that happened. In the latest report for the 2021-2022 school year, students showed improvements in almost every subject area. They are listed below.

  • 40% of students met or exceeded grade-level expectations in ELA.
  • 31% of students met or exceeded grade-level expectations in math.
  • 44% of students met or exceeded grade-level expectations in science.
  • 48% of students met or exceeded grade-level expectations in social studies.

"It's just a great testament to our teachers and our educators, just their flexibility and just their innovative spirit that they've had over the last few years to really continue to press in with our students," Rysewyk said. "Today, we celebrate the amazing progress of our students, the support of our families, and the stellar commitment, hard work, and expertise of our educators," 

Reading and writing scores for elementary students jumped up by around 7% this year. Math scores for elementary students also rose by around 2%.

"Elementary numbers are kind of back up to where they were pre-pandemic," Rysewyk said.

The former teacher and principal credit teachers, summer school and tutors for the increase. 

The Knox County Schools pilot tutor program launched in 2021 and it used money from the American Rescue Plan, provided through COVID-19 relief funds, to hire more full-time and part-time tutors. 

Rysewyk said the test scores proved the program's success.

"We're working to hire over 300 more tutors for the upcoming school year. We're in the process of that right now," Rysewyk said. "We really think that gives students some individual one-on-one time and extra support for the teachers in the classroom."

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They plan to hire additional tutors for the Kindergarten through the second-grade ages to fill in the gaps before they reach third grade. 

"We're closing that gap early, because every year past third grade when that happens, they fall further and further behind," Rysewyk said.

These TCAP scores reflect Spring 2022 and Fall of 2021 end-of-course exams in ELA, math, science, and social studies. All data was released by the state of Tennessee.

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