The question I get asked the most from parents is "Why isn't my child in Honor's Classes? He/She scored 'Advanced' on all their TCAPs!" (TCAPs being the Tennessee yearly standardized test that determines if kids are learnin' or teachers are teachin'.)
The short answer is, Tennessee doesn't give parents the same scores they give schools.
It would take a really long time to explain fully why their child isn't in Honors, so we explain that it wasn't enough for the child to score 'advanced,' they had to score in the top 15 percentile in the State to be in the classes. It is at this point that it becomes confusing. The parent will point out that in the report they received over the summer had a score of 90% or higher. So, how are they scoring so high if they're not in the top percentiles?
Here's where it gets fun. To score advanced (in Social Studies, at least) in Tennessee, you only have to score 60% or higher on the TCAP. So a child who scores a 68% will receive "advanced." For some reason, though, the State of Tennessee doesn't want to tell parents that score. Instead, they "inflate" the score and send that score to the schools for teachers to put on the report card. If your child scores "Advanced," they give them a score between 90 - 99 percent. If they score "Proficient," they receive a score roughly between 79 - 89 percent. Remember, to score "Proficient," a child only has to get 40% of the test questions right. Below 40%, and the student is "Below Proficient." However, the State of Tennessee doesn't give the child a 20% on their report card. They instruct the teacher to give the student somewhere between a 60% and a 78%.
Now, Mom and Dad believe their little Timmy or Suzie must be doing just wonderful, after all look how high they scored! However, the schools and teachers only get the raw scores. So, even though I gave my students 70s, 80s, and 90s on their report cards, they actually might have scored anywhere from 0% to 80% on the test. We are a low school, but occasionally, I get students who score in the 90s as a raw score. However, if one child gets a 99 raw score, and another gets a 70 raw score, the inflation is so severe that their report cards will say 94 and 99, respectively.
Teachers in Tennessee live and die by "growth." That is, it's just not as important what their achievement is so much as how much did YOU, as a teacher, grow the kid over last year's scores? In Social Studies, it's really fun to compare because I teach U.S. History, and we are compared to 7th Grade Teachers who teach World Geography. They compete against Teachers who teach 6th Grade World History. So, even though we're teaching Apples, Oranges, and Pears, Tennessee says we're all teaching the same thing and compares us on those scores.
If you want to know how the state computes "growth," good luck. Many phone calls to many people have been placed and the farthest anyone has made it is deep within the State Department of Education where she was finally told, "It's copyrighted, and we're not going to tell you." All we know is that the State expects the kids to do so well compared to last year, and anything beyond that test score or below that test score is your score.
Further, there are some grades that are always destined to high scores and others that are always doomed to low scores. 6th Grade Social Studies and Science will always be awesome because most 5th Grades barely ever talk about either subject. All their time is spent on Math and Reading. Because 7th Grade is the worst time in a child's development, and therefore the worst year of school, 7th Grade teachers always have low growth compared to other grades. Teachers do NOT want to teach 7th Grade. Kids are frustrated with social development, and the teacher always looks like a terrible teacher because scores are low.
Teachers are not allowed to know what's on the test. And don't ask students what was on the test, because that breaks the rules. (a terminating offense) And if you do manage to sneak a peek at a test or a student happens to tell you a few questions, don't be surprised when the test doesn't ask about the main things one was supposed to know, they try to trick the students a lot and ask about the fringe things, because we know that those are the true signs of great teaching.
Until Tennessee decides to give everyone the same grades and fully explain what their formulas for success are, no one will ever really know if the students are learning.