We were pleased to report this week that test scores, while not off the charts, at least indicate that the educational needle seems to be moving in the right direction, as Loudon County and Lenoir City school districts met a wide majority of 11 benchmarks as outlined in a report on Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results.
In Loudon County, students achieved nine out of 11 standards in numerous categories, ranging from algebra, reading and language arts to English 2 and 3. In English 2, the school district achieved 69 percent proficiency, which was up 5 points from last year. The system has also shown a 10-point increase in math during the past couple of years.
Meanwhile, the city school district made seven out of 11 benchmarks, including math in grades 3-8, third-grade math, third- through seventh-grade reading and language arts, algebra and English 3. The city’s graduation rate also improved more than 3 percentage points, from 87.5 to 90.8.
Reading proficiency seems to be one of the most challenging areas, as both districts saw small declines from the previous year.
Taken as a whole then, all of this is indeed good news, as the results show the gains outweigh the losses, and continuing this trend in the future will remain critical to the overall goal — which should be on the minds of every single educator and public official in this county — of improving the quality of life for students and future generations.
That said, we will offer a word of caution on the results. Educators should tread lightly when attempting to weigh test results in local school districts against state averages.
In our report, one local educator seemed a tad mollified by the fact that, although reading was down slightly in the county district, proficiency still eclipsed the state by seven points. While it may be interesting to look at how Tennessee fared as a whole in certain areas, in a state that is consistently in the lower half in education when compared with the rest of the nation, this isn’t saying much, so achievement should be always judged by the previous year’s results in each district — and ideally by a set of national benchmarks — not by some larger subset of students who are not representative of children in Loudon County.
A decline in a subject as important as reading is a negative that needs to be corrected, no matter how it might be perceived on paper, and it is here that we think federal standards may have a role to play in making sure all students — not just those in Tennessee, Georgia or Alabama — are being graded equitably by high standards that don’t just stop at the state line. Not only does this ensure school systems are on the same page, but it requires that districts work harder to improve achievement in certain subgroups, like Hispanic students, that may fall through the cracks on subjects like reading and language arts.
The debate about No Child Left Behind and federal versus state educational standards will no doubt continue to rage, but abandoning federal benchmarks for a patchwork set of standards that could be different in every state is a scenario that we can ill-afford as students — yes, even students from a small county like Loudon — compete for jobs on the national stage.
To his credit, Gov. Bill Haslam’s program to achieve 55 percent college and career readiness by 2025 represents a positive step toward giving students in Tennessee a competitive edge they will need to secure high quality jobs. And at the local level, we are encouraged that both school districts seem to have a plan for addressing shortfalls in academic proficiency and be operating in lockstep with Haslam’s primary objective, namely to continue moving forward, and not regressing, on education.