Testing in Tennessee: A Primer for Parents

Every state has a system for gauging student achievement. In Tennessee, it’s called the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. The TCAP Achievement Test – a criterion-referenced achievement test given in grades 3-8 – is given once per year in the spring.  It measures student achievement in math, reading/language arts, science, and social studies. The TCAP Achievement Test is a version of McGraw Hill’s Terra Nova examination, customized to Tennessee’s curriculum.

The scores produced by TCAP provide an annual snapshot of each student’s current level of educational achievement. School and district TCAP averages simply reflect the mix of students that happen to be enrolled at a given school during a given school year. These numbers are heavily influenced by social, economic, and other factors that are beyond the control of schools, thus TCAP averages are not suitable indicators of school effectiveness.

In order to obtain a better indicator of school quality, the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE) analyzes the year-by-year increase in TCAP scores with a statistical process called the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS). TVAAS scores reflect the overall success of a teacher, school, or district in lifting each student’s achievement level from year to year.

Both TCAP and TVAAS scores are available for each school and school system in the Tennessee Department of Education’s (TNDOE) annual report card. The TNDOE also provides extensive resources for parents and educators on all of its assessment programs at its Assessment Tools and Resources page.

The Education Consumers Foundation’s interactive School Performance Charts are easy-to-understand graphic displays of TVAAS data.

Complete details regarding the use and interpretation of TCAP tests for individual students is available via the Tennessee Department of Education’s TCAP home page.

For parents, there is a Parent Guide to TCAP interpretation (2013): The guide may also be furnished by your school along with a printout of your child’s test scores.

Extensive information about TCAP is available online. The menu includes examples of test items for the various grade levels, detailed information as to knowledge and skills measured by the TCAP, and a booklet on test-taking strategies.

One other report that is drawn from the annual TCAP testing can address a question had by almost all parents: Given my child’s current school performance, what are his or her chances of graduating and going on to college. The Student Projections Report permits parents and teachers to project (within statistical limits) how well a student will perform over the course of his or her academic career–assuming no changes in their current rate of academic progress. It is available from your child’s school by request.

The unique value of the Student Projections Report is that parents and students can look at the future and see if their current educational progress matches their aspirations. If current progress falls short of aspirations, the Student Projections Report lets everyone know the facts early enough in the child’s educational career to correct the problem.

For example, the Student Projections Report can be used to predict the likelihood of your child passing the Gateway Tests that must be passed in order to receive a high school diploma.  It can also be used to predict your child’s chances of entering and succeeding in college as well as his or her chance of qualifying for a college scholarship. For example, the Student Projections Report can predict a student’s score on the ACT college entrance examination. A minimum of 19 is required for enrollment at the University of Tennessee. A minimum of 21 is required to qualify for one of Tennessee’s Lottery Scholarships.  Substantially higher minimums are typically required for more selective scholarships and universities.

Visit our Student Projections Report for complete information.

A note about the interpretation of the Student Projections Report:   The accuracy of the predictions made by the Student Projections Report depend on the effectiveness of the school in which your child is enrolled.  In general, the predictions made for a child attending a school at which TVAAS gains exceed the TNDOE’s minimum benchmark are likely to be an underestimate of his or her chances of success.  By contrast, the prediction made for a child attending a school at which average achievement gains are below the state minimum are likely to be an overestimate.

To see how effective your school is compared with others in the district or state, visit our School Performance Charts.

For children whose projected level of academic achievement is low to marginal, their future educational options may hinge on the effectiveness of their school. Children whose current projections indicate that they may not succeed in college or earn a high school diploma can “catch up” by attending a high-performing school, i.e., a school where TVAAS gains are above average.   Conversely, children whose current projections indicate that they will gain a diploma and attend college can fall behind and require remedial courses help as a result of attending a low performing school, i.e., a school where TVAAS gains are below the TNDOE minimum.

TVAAS gains that are below the state’s minimum mean that students attending that school are not gaining one year of academic growth per school year.  Such substandard gains can lead to disappointing educational outcomes even for students whose current levels of achievement are well above average.

Few states provide parents and the public such sophisticated information about their child’s educational progress and the quality of local schools. The Education Consumers Foundation salutes Tennessee for making such data available and encourages parents to make the most of it. Tennessee’s TVAAS indicator of school quality and its Student Projections Report give parents the information they need to help their child succeed before educational opportunity slips away—an outcome that occurs all too frequently.