Given that we’ve moved twice in the past three years and I’m now the mother of a second grader I finally feel somewhat experienced when it comes to public schools.  My older son attended a magnet Montessori public school briefly in Charlotte, a “regular” public school in Little Rock and is now in an Optional school program here in Memphis.

Since he’s only in second grade we have yet to experience him taking standardized tests full-force, but after sitting through a PTA meeting regarding TCAP results I walked away with a much better understanding of all this.  I’ve found that unless you have a background in elementary education it’s tough to comprehend what these test scores mean when you first start looking at schools.  It all seems very scary and overwhelming.  Hopefully this post will help!

First off, what the heck do these acronyms stand for anyways?

TCAP = Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, taken by all TN students in grades 3-8, some schools also have 2nd graders take the test but their scores do not count
AYP = Adequate Yearly Progress
AMO = Annual Measurable Objective (new term for AYP)
TVAAS = Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System
NCLB = No Child Left Behind, the law passed in 2001

The TCAP test for second grade includes reading, language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, word analysis, vocabulary, language mechanics, math computation, and spelling.  The tests for grades 3-8 include reading, language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. The tests are broken into segments for students to take over several days in the Spring.

For the 2010-11 school year, 40% of students had to be “proficient” in subjects for grades 3-6.  This school year the percentage of students required to be proficient is higher (60% – higher in some subjects).  These standards are from the federal No Child Left Behind law.  They keep raising the percentage required to be proficient since the goal of this law is to have 100% proficiency in every school, for every student.  I believe 2013 is the year 100% proficiency must be reached, but talk with anyone in education and they will say this is an impossible goal, so it’s very likely the law will be modified before then.


If a school has 45 or more kids in a particular group (i.e. limited English proficiency, ethnic group, low income) they are considered a subgroup, and each subgroup also has to meet the proficiency goal.  So a school can achieve their TCAP score goals overall but not achieve them for specific subgroups.  This measure prevents some students from scoring so high that they “carry” other students and essentially hide their lower performance.  So no child will be “left behind.”  Students can be in multiple subgroups (i.e. Hispanic and low income), effectively counting more than once.

AYP is the measure of whether a school system or school is making progress in academic achievement based on student performance on annual TCAP tests.  A school may make AYP as a whole, but their subgroups also need to make AYP.  Failure to do so puts a school on the “Target List” which is like a watch list.  Failure to achieve the same benchmark the following year moves the school to a High Priority list.

What does this mean?

The more diverse a school is the more challenging it may be to achieve AYP.  So give that consideration when looking at school test scores.  I’m assuming any school will provide information on subgroups if you ask.  Don’t assume a school is a bad fit for your child just based on these numbers.


TVAAS (say T-vaas) is measured starting in the 4th grade.  It is a 3-year average of student growth based on the TCAP test scores.  The TVAAS is measuring if a child is growing in their learning cumulatively.  The goal is to see no change in the TVAAS score of a child, or a score that increases.  A score that is decreasing shows that the student is not learning cumulatively.  This data is specific and accurate enough that the state can use it to determine the likelihood of a student graduating.

35% of teacher evaluations are based on TVAAS scores, even for teachers in lower grades whose students don’t take TCAPs.  Tenured teachers are evaluated four times per year, non-tenured six times.  This evaluation schedule is new this school year (state wide).  For more information on TVAAS visit this section of TN Department of Education website.

For more information on TCAP achievement tests, AYP, etc. please visit the TN Department of Education website.

That’s what I know so far!  As I continue to learn and understand more (from you?) I will share that as well.