The hallways of John Coleman Elementary in Smyrna, Tennessee, look like a pep rally before a big game. But in this case, the banners, balloons, spirit signs, and daily pep talks were preparation for the Super Bowl of school testing in Tennessee: TCAP, Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.
“They work all year long for this one opportunity—these 4 days,” says Dr. Joe Phillip, principal of Coleman, and he plans to reward that effort—for those who excel.
“I went to Wal-mart and spent about $11-hundred to get prizes to motivate the kids. And I told them for 3 subjects: reading/language arts, math, or science. If you’re proficient in a subject, you get a ticket. If you’re advanced in a subject, you get 2 tickets.”
The prizes include boy’s and girl’s bicycles, games, dolls, and much more, all lining the entrance hallway of Coleman along with reminder signs of how many tickets students need to nab one of the toys. And what’s happening here is not unusual.
Another Rutherford County school, Eagleville Elementary, has produced a series of videos featuring TCAP Ninja—a character costumed in a colorful ninja leotard who gives testing tips and leads catchy sing-alongs to popular songs that are re-written for TCAP testing. One of the most popular is a music video spoof called “I’m Ready for the Test.”
If teachers and school officials are willing to dress in costume, give away prizes, and plan testing pep rallies–it’s because TCAP testing has bigger stakes than ever before. And students get the message.
“The importance of the test is… it’s supposed to count as 20% of your whole grade,” says Gabriella Hatcher, a 5th grade student at Coleman. “It’s kind of tough.”
Each year from late April to early May, the department of education requires school districts to administer the TCAP– a multiple choice assessment that measures skills in reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. This year, for the first time, TCAP scores must count in a student’s final grade for the school year—a new mandate from the state. Also new—TCAP scores will be a factor in one-third of a teacher’s evaluation score under the state’s new teacher evaluation system.
How much weight TCAPS receive in student grades varies among school districts, ranging from 10 to 25%. In Middle Tennessee, Rutherford County– where Coleman Elementary is located—will place the most weight on TCAP scores. James Evans, spokesperson for Rutherford County Schools, explains how the process in that school district.
“TCAP scores will count 20-percent of a students second-semester average. Another way of looking at it is it’s 10-percent overall of their yearly grade. For grades middle school and high school – it’s 25-percent. And the reason there’s a difference there is the state set the high school percentage of 25% and we have a number of middle school courses that are offered that are also offered in high school.
“We’ve been trying to educate parents—sending out lots of notes home, things like that to let them know this is coming this is best way to help your child prepare that kind of thing.”
Evenso, the change has generated more calls and questions from parents and concern from some students about how much emphasis the test is receiving.
“Personally, I don’t think it should be that way,” says Hatcher. “Because if you’re getting straight A’s and then you just get completely nervous about like taking that test, then you could like mess the whole thing up and blow your grades right out the water.”
Principal Phillips knows that might happen in some cases, but in the long-run he believes incorporating TCAP scores will bring consistency and accuracy to student assessment.
“I’m all for it. It is a tool that we can use to help motivate kids and also to help teachers understand that the grades and TCAPS need to go hand in hand,” says Phillips. “You know, you shouldn’t have a kid that makes honor roll and below basic, or you shouldn’t have a child that’s proficient or advanced and have bad grades. That just doesn’t match up.”
Whether these tactics work will be evident by the end of May. That’s when the state will release preliminary TCAP scores so schools can finalize year-end grades for students.