Tennessee students’ results improve on reading, math tests, extending post-pandemic recovery

A group of people wearing suits walk in the background with a metal detector in the foreground an a mural on the wall on the right.
In Memphis-Shelby County Schools, the state's largest school district, officials highlighted a few promising data points, including a nearly 3-point gain in the proficiency rate in reading for third, fourth, and fifth graders. (Andrea Morales for Chalkbeat)

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Tennessee students showed slightly better performance on this year’s state standardized tests in reading and math, continuing their recovery from post-pandemic lows.

About 39% of students met or exceeded expectations in reading on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Test, according to data from the state’s education department released Monday. That’s up a point from 38% in 2023.

The gains reflect steady improvement since 2021, the year TCAP resumed after the pandemic closed schools in 2020. Only 29.6% of the state’s public school students tested proficient in reading then.

“The 2023-24 TCAP results demonstrate student performance remains steady or shows growth and improvement across tested grades and subjects,” the state education department said in a statement.

Memphis-Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest school district, also recorded improved performance in reading, with 22.4% of students meeting or exceeding expectations on TCAP reading, compared with 20.7% in 2023. In 2021, the figure was just 13%.

MSCS officials also highlighted a few promising data points in the reading scores. The percentage of third, fourth, and fifth graders who scored proficient in reading rose to 26%, from 23.2% in 2023, according to the district’s preliminary calculations.

That’s consequential because third grade is when students face the prospect of being retained or sent to summer school if they don’t meet — or show progress toward — TCAP reading standards.

It’s also noteworthy because MSCS used $100 million in federal pandemic relief funds to hire 750 specialized education assistants to help bolster literacy instruction for students in kindergarten, first, and second grades — the years before they enter third grade.

But that money is drying up this year.

The district also cited improvements in math for third, fourth, and fifth graders: 23.7% met or exceeded the math standard on the TCAP this year, compared with 20.9% in 2023.

“We celebrate this positive momentum and are confident that we will continue to move in this direction,” MSCS Superintendent Marie Feagins said in a statement.

Statewide, preliminary data indicates that around 40% of students in grades 3 to 8 met or exceeded TCAP expectations in math, about a 2-percentage-point increase from 2023. Because of standards revisions for high school math, those scores are not included in the state’s initial summary, though they have been in past years.

In 2021, 28.4% of students statewide scored proficient on TCAP math.

In MSCS, the overall math proficiency rate rose to 20%, up from 17% in 2023 and vastly ahead of the post-pandemic rate of 7.4% in 2021.

Still, those gains — as well as the reading gains — left MSCS significantly below than the statewide math and reading averages. And Black and Hispanic students, as well as students from economically disadvantaged households, still lag behind white and wealthier counterparts in proficiency.

These graphs offer further insight into how various groups of MSCS students fared on the TCAP, as well as how MSCS students’ performance compared with the rest of the state.

Bureau Chief Tonyaa Weathersbee oversees Chalkbeat Tennessee’s education coverage. Reach her at tweathersbee@chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat data and graphics reporter Kae Petrin and Chalkbeat data intern Mia Hollie contributed to this story

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