JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — It may not be apples to apples, but high school standardized “end of course” exams are back for many Northeast Tennessee schools and offer an early glimpse into COVID-19’s impact on learning.
The news isn’t all bad by any means, two area administrators said Tuesday.
Hybrid schedules, quarantines and a host of other first-time challenges confronted school systems, but those that did test in December — some systems are waiting until this month — didn’t see huge dips in scores.
“I think it was 32 days out of 90 that were actually on campus (for the fall semester), so I’m pleased that our students performed at that level under these circumstances,” Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Instruction Roger Walk said.
Johnson City had relatively similar number of test-takers to 2019 in five areas — algebra II, biology I, English I and II and geometry. Students who were fully remote could test at the Science Hill Career Technical Education center, but Walk said some parents opted out for now, one of several reasons he cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the year-to-year comparisons.
Scores in the five subject areas dipped by an average of less than 7% from 2019. That wasn’t far off the state average across the same subject areas.
Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Andy True said scores will carry more meaning when the raw scores are weighted and “proficiency levels based on the test” are released. Even so, school officials are looking at the numbers for whatever takeaways they can find now.
True was pleased overall with Kingsport’s results after a semester when in-person students went two days a week to school — in A and B groups — had three remote days.
“For our kids and our teachers to navigate that totally different type of learning schedule and the raw scores being what they are comparative year over year, it does speak to the efforts teachers and the students have put forth to make this year as successful as possible,” True said.
Kingsport had similar numbers of “test-takers” to its 2019 numbers in four subjects — biology I, English I and II and U.S. History.
The raw scores dropped by an average of 5.7% compared to 2019’s.
Both systems have scores that rank among the state’s highest in subjects where similar numbers of students tested to last year — and among systems that chose to test in the “first wave” and not wait until January.
Kingsport had the highest U.S. History average score and Johnson City’s algebra II average score was second highest.
Disaggregated data that allows systems to look at how students from different backgrounds and with different learning styles performed during the pandemic won’t be available until the summer, Walk said.
But he’s seen firsthand how difficult the situation is for all families as his three school age children have journeyed through this year in the Bristol schools.
“We have great internet, and my wife and I both go home and help them, and my wife’s mother helps with our youngest son,” Walk said.
“With all that being said it is a challenge to do school at home. So I cannot imagine some of our students who are underserved, the challenges they have with doing this at home.”
The state has allowed systems to opt not to make this year’s test a mandatory percentage of each student’s grade for the class. Johnson City has decided only to count the scores if they help a student’s grade, and Kingsport’s school board was set to consider a similar measure Tuesday night, True said.
Walk and True both said their systems plan to take this and other data that’s eventually gleaned from the pandemic learning experience and use it to improve learning in all settings.
“This kind of data in this kind of year is another piece of that puzzles in helping us and where our kids are, where we can improve as a district in the kind of environment we’re in,” True said.
“Not just to be successful in the current environment, but what can we learn to forge new paths for kids in individualized instruction going forward.”
Walk said Johnson City will consider the numbers with caution when it comes to individual students.
“We will be looking at these but all of that has to be done by hand and it’s always with a caveat, ‘let’s be careful here, where were these kids in terms of home and school and internet and device accessibility,” Walk said.
“Some kids are really connecting to that and there are some kids who will struggle with that and are struggling right now with it. We’re going to work really hard to do what’s best for each student.”