TCAP coding flaws at issue for 45 school districts

10:34 AM, Aug 16, 2013   |    comments
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Written by: Joey Garrison, The Tennessean

Forty-five Tennessee school districts would have appealed and corrected demographic accountability data related to the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program this year had it been an option.

That's according to the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents in a letter sent to Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman on Wednesday asking him to reopen the appeals window to allow school systems to review and correct TCAP coding errors - one week after the state released accountability designations for the state's 136 school districts.

"We believe this would ultimately drive more accurate results and enable school leaders to make better decisions regarding interventions," wrote Wayne Miller, executive director of TOSS, which represents the interests of school system directors.

The superintendents' request - that the Tennessee Department of Education offer "the same latitude for all districts" - came after superintendents of Williamson County Public Schools and the Franklin Special School District accused the state of not treating all districts the same regarding TCAP accountability.

Directors Mike Looney of Williamson County Schools and David Snowden of FSSD last week pointed to Metro Nashville Public Schools, which was allowed to correct demographic coding errors on standardized tests. This enabled MNPS to move up from a "needs improvement" rating to an "intermediate" status.

The Wednesday letter to Huffman says while the organization of superintendents believes the Metro allowance was made outside the prescribed window, it was made in an effort to achieve accuracy.

But state officials responded Thursday by saying they wouldn't be reopening the appeals window, which was July 12-19. The state has a policy against local districts using this period to address demographic errors, which are supposed to be corrected during one of four opportunities earlier in the school year.

"The problem is trying to make corrections for that after people already know the results of the test," said Erin O'Hara, the department's assistant commissioner of data and research. "We need those types of corrections to be made before people know the results of the test, so that they're not looking at particular students."

In handing accountability designations to school districts, the state reviews the achievement gaps of certain student demographics compared to their peers. These include English language learners, minority students, students with disabilities and low-income students.

State made error

In Metro's case, an appeal was granted because the district was bogged down dealing with a state error that, according to the appeal, required more than 2,000 manual data corrections, diverting attention from a local coding error involving Native American students.

Both districts in Williamson County received a "needs improvement" rating in student subgroup areas.

Looney of Williamson County has said that three students in his district were mistakenly coded as white when they should have been coded as Hispanic, leading to an unfair classification.

"It calls into question the credibility of the Tennessee Department of Education and its leadership," Looney wrote in an email to his school board last week that said he would retroactively appeal the decision.

Looney said the state had notified him in July that appeals weren't an option for coding errors. The state rejected an appeal from FSSD, among others.

O'Hara, of the Department of Education, said the state does allow appeals when the state is at fault for coding errors, but not those made by local districts. She added that she hopes to work with the superintendents group to more clearly define appeals.

"There are a number of times in which this data can get corrected," she said.

Representatives of TOSS were unable to provide a list Thursday of the school districts that would have appealed.

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