OUR VIEW: Is now the time to debate TCSS’ test scores?

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 31, 2023

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In 2018, the Troup County chapter of the NAACP called for an investigation into the Troup County School System. 

The NAACP alleged then that administrators were falsifying discipline data and teachers were being pressured to change grades to pass students. The school system denied those claims, noting there were no findings to support the allegations. 

Almost exactly five years later, the organization is again calling for an investigation into the Troup County School System.

With these allegations, the NAACP is accusing the school system of being the worst district in the entire state of Georgia. The NAACP says educators aren’t being held accountable and instead TCSS is blaming the poor performance of the school district on the students themselves.

We know NAACP President Mike Merideth clearly just wants what’s best for our children, and we respect the NAACP’s efforts to improve educational programs. But the timing of this announcement feels out of place, as new GMAS scores won’t be released until the summer. 

With that said, we do agree that the Troup County School System has a long way to go. The 2019 Georgia Milestone Assessment Scores were not exemplary, and those scores were arguably worse in 2021 after years of learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But virtually every school district in the country experienced learning loss, thus lower scores, due to the pandemic. 

Brian Shumate officially started as the superintendent of TCSS in July 2019. He’s been in Troup County nearly four full years. If you’d asked us in 2019 if it was fair to assess his time as superintendent in 2023, we would’ve answered with a resounding yes. The average length of a superintendent’s stay with a school system nationally is typically between three and six years, depending on which study you want to cite, so Shumate is certainly within that timeframe. 

But when hired in 2019, Shumate took over a school system that was not the same a year later due to pandemic-related reasons, which have been well documented. We think it’s fair to say that any major plans had to take a backseat when COVID struck in March 2020. Children didn’t return to school to close out the year. TCSS then scrambled to try to find a way to get students back in the classroom safely — doing so much faster than much of the state of Georgia. 

In 2021, with many students being virtual, school board meetings regularly focused on getting students back on track. The board and TCSS leadership grappled with ways to reach students who weren’t doing their work at home and were failing as a result. 

TCSS created a larger summer school program, investing heavily in closing the learning gap and trying to get students reacclimated to face-to-face learning.

Finally, the 2022-2023 school year has practically been back to normal. There have been zero COVID-19 shutdowns this year. Students are finally back in the classroom, which is good and needed. 

Now, we’ll hopefully get some real data on where our students are in terms of their education. 

In 2022, on GMAS scores released in August, TCSS closed the gap on the state of Georgia average in many categories — including in 8 of 10 tested categories in both elementary and middle schools. That’s a  step in the right direction.

Overall, high school scores took a step backward.  And  41 percent of TCSS third- through fifth-graders are not reading on grade level. Those are major problems that need to be corrected. 

We’ll also note that since the NAACP called for an investigation in 2018, there’s been real change as far as leadership in the school system. All the assistant superintendents are new. The CFO is new. The HR director is new. The representation on the school board has mostly changed, including the election of two new members last year.

And the superintendent changed. If the goal of the 2018 call-to-action by the NAACP was to promote or influence change, it worked. 

We’re in agreement with the NAACP on expecting better testing scores for our students. We think TCSS leaders want more, too.  But you don’t “fix” reading levels or math proficiency in days, weeks or months. In our opinion, it takes years to go from a D-rating — as the NAACP describes TCSS — to an “A.” It doesn’t happen overnight, world-altering pandemic notwithstanding. 

Seeing progress along the way is the key, and we feel like forward progress is happening. 

We also feel this call for an investigation will only distract from the good work going into improving students’ educational needs, and that will only delay what we believe is everyone’s goal — better-educated students who are prepared for the future.