By now you may have seen the partial results of last year's TCAP scores. The state has released the actual achievement levels for grades 3-8 for each district, the change over last year's scores, and the list of High Priority schools and districts in Tennessee based on Adequate Yearly Progress.
I'll start by saying that nobody should be satisfied with the scores of Humboldt City Schools. As the Humboldt Chronicle pointed out in last week's newspaper, Humboldt was the bottom among the five districts in Gibson County, and among the lowest scoring districts in the state in the percentage of students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels. Nobody wants to see their school district in this list, and I am certainly among those frustrated that our students aren't scoring as high as most other districts in the state.
Now, with that said, I think it is imperative we look a little deeper into the numbers and get a more accurate assessment of where we are. There are stark differences in the socioeconomic backgrounds of the students in districts like Humboldt compared to others. There are also stark differences nationwide in the achievement levels of students considered Economically Disadvantaged (ED) compared to others.
Looking at district scores through this lens, it is easy to see the correlation between the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch and the achievement scores. The five districts across the state that scored the highest on TCAP tests were Williamson County, Maryville, Franklin, Johnson City, and Newport. The percentage of ED students in these districts ranged from 11% in Williamson to 55% in Newport and Johnson City. The five districts scoring the lowest on TCAP tests were Memphis, Haywood County, Fayette County, Humboldt, and Lake County. Their percentage of ED students ranged from 76% in Lake County to 89% in Memphis. Humboldt comes in at 87% of students Economically Disadvantaged.
I don't think there is any denying the fact that districts with higher percentages of Economically Disadvantaged students are going to show lower overall test scores. It's not as simple as saying poorer students can't learn as well as richer ones; that's not the explanation. The explanation is most likely that those kids, as a whole, aren't getting the quality daycare before Kindergarten, are dealing with more unstable home environments, and are living in a culture that doesn't value education as much as middle and higher income households. Those are broad statements, and certainly are not the rule for all of these kids, but even the governor of Tennessee recently recognized the disparity in educational achievement between different demographic groups of children.
State education commissioner Kevin Huffman called the achievement gaps between poor and more affluent children and between African-American and white children "astounding and unacceptable" in Tennessee. Governor Haslam followed, saying: "I'll go further than that: Those gaps are immoral, and if we want to change our state, that's what we have to change."
This is the piece of the puzzle that should make us proud of Humboldt City Schools and the work they are doing. In the last few weeks since TCAP scores were released, Superintendent Steve Bayko has received several letters commending him for the gains Humboldt made in closing this achievement gap. Commissioner Huffman sent him an e-mail praising the "impressive" gains in achievement and set up a phone conversation to discuss the measures Humboldt has taken to register this improvement.
Making the grade is certainly paramount, but making progress toward the state achievement goals is very important under the No Child Left Behind law. Schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in order to be considered in good standing with the state. Of the five districts in Gibson County, two elementary schools are on the state's High Priority list for not making AYP. Trenton has not made AYP two consecutive years, and Milan has not made AYP for the third year in a row. Humboldt is not on this list.
Let me reiterate that I am not condoning underachievement and am not trying to spin the numbers to make it look better for Humboldt. I just think there is more to the story than just simply taking a district-level snapshot of the test scores. We have a long way to go in Humboldt, but it's clear that the district is making progress toward closing that achievement gap. And I think we'll see when the full Report Card is released that when you break it down into economic and demographic subgroups, Humboldt's children are probably performing at about the same level as our neighbors.