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TCAP scores go down in spring 2021

Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Education released the 2020-21 Spring Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) state-level results. These results include exams in English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, science and social studies.  

State-level test results from the 2020-21 Spring TCAP assessments show that pandemic-related disruptions to education led to declines in student academic proficiency in the state, across all subjects and grade bands, as expected. These declines were mitigated as a direct result of the hard work of our educators.  

During the January 2021 Special Legislative Session, Public Chapter 2 removed negative consequences associated with accountability for districts and schools whose district-wide TCAP participation rate was 80% or higher. On Tuesday, July 27, the department shared that 100% of districts met the 80% participation rate, with 80% of districts having met the federal 95% participation rate. More than two million TCAP tests were administered this year to approximately 750,000 students, providing families and schools systems access to information that will help drive strategic decision-making for students. 

“These results show that COVID-19 has disrupted learning in every school district in Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “We’re grateful to the dedication of our educators and districts who worked to mitigate this loss over the past year, and we’re committed to implementing long-term strategies and investments to get our students back on track.”   

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“Since last school year, districts, schools, educators, and families have worked tirelessly to adapt to this new reality, keep children on pace with academic expectations, and are ready to start the new school year strong. Now is the time for our state to come together to support our students,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “While this is difficult data to review knowing that there are students behind each percent listed, we have the courage and conviction to meet this moment, to build on statewide momentum, and to accelerate student achievement. I am confident that our districts are equipped with the right tools to help our students meet grade-level expectations in the upcoming school year, and the department is committed to continue making strategic investments to increase outcomes for years to come. We know what is possible for education in our state, and Tennessee will continue to focus on what is best for all students.” 

These results highlight the importance of addressing the needs of students and operating with a sense of urgency and optimism about what our districts, schools, educators, families and students can accomplish. Access an overview of the state-level results with comparisons by student group and grade level here and additional information here

TCAP Results 

Students receive a TCAP performance label of Mastered, On Track, Approaching or Below. Performance levels of Mastered or On Track indicate general grade level performance on the assessment. 

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2021 TCAP 3–8 Mathematics Results 

Subject Grade Below Grade Level Approaching Grade Level Meets Grade Level (On Track) Mastered Grade Level 
Mathematics 3 32% 36% 22% 10% 
  4 36% 30% 27% 7% 
  5 37% 32% 20% 11% 
  6 42% 31% 23% 4% 
  7 34% 42% 19% 5% 
  8 47% 29% 19% 5% 
  8 (Advanced) 11% 21% 36% 32% 

2021 TCAP 3-8 ELA Results 

Subject Grade Below Grade Level Approaching Grade Level Meets Grade Level (On Track) Mastered Grade Level 
Reading 3 32% 36% 22% 10% 
  4 18% 49% 31% 2% 
  5 30% 41% 27% 2% 
  6 19% 54% 25% 2% 
  7 21% 53% 24% 2% 
  8 23% 54% 22% 1% 

2021 TCAP Science Results 

Subject Below Grade Level Approaching Grade Level Meets Grade Level (On Track) Mastered Grade Level 
Elementary 25% 36% 32% 7% 
Middle 23% 41% 31% 5% 
High  25% 34% 36% 5% 

The state-level results of the 2020-21 spring TCAP assessments reflect expected declines as a result of disruptions due to COVID-19. Specifically, the state-level results from this past spring’s test administration found:  

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-Tennessee data shows decreases in students scoring Mastered and On Track.   

-Tennessee data shows increases in students scoring Below.  

-The most negative impacts were noted for economically disadvantaged students, urban/suburban students, English Learners, and students of color. 

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-Overall English Language Arts proficiency dropped 5 points from 2019.  

-3 in 10 Tennessee students are meeting grade level expectations in ELA.  

-1 in 7 economically disadvantaged students is meeting grade level expectations in ELA.  

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-ELA proficiency rates dropped 4 – 6 points across racial and ethnic lines.   

-2nd & 3rd grades scores showed large increases to students scoring Below  

-68% of 2nd graders scored Below (half of 2nd grade students participated in this optional assessment) 

-47% of 3rd graders scored Below  

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-Students scoring at Below in 2nd and 3rd grades are typically those who are not able to read proficiently. 


-1 in 4 Tennessee students is on grade level in math. 

-1 in 10 economically disadvantaged students is meeting grade level expectations.  

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-Black students were most impacted in math, with 67% scoring Below and 9% meeting grade level expectations.​ 

-Hispanic and Asian students had 12 and 13 percentage point declines, respectively, from 2019.  

-White students experienced ​an 11-percentage point ​ decline overall from 2019. ​ 

-Overall 3rd grade proficiency declined from 44% in 2019 to 31% in 2021, while 4th grade proficiency declined from 46% in 2019 to 34% in 2021. 

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– The greatest drops across subject areas were understanding and using mathematical notation to describe quantitative relationships and situations.  


– Proficiency rates dropped by a third in science, with only 38% of Tennessee students demonstrating proficiency.  

-Drops in science were larger in science than in any other subject area.  

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 Social Studies: 

– This data saw fewer declines than other content areas and maintains performance from statewide increases that began in 2018, when standards were updated. ​ 

– While proficiency dropped by 4 points in middle school, it increased 4 points in high school.  

Due to continued challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as changes in mode of instruction and scheduling, the results from the 2020-21 TCAP administration are distinct from previous years. 

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To help Tennessee families and students understand their TCAP results, the department’s free, online resource, TCAP Family Portal, is available and provides access to test results from this year. The portal also includes test history features allowing families to track progress over time, TCAP scale scores and performance levels by subject, parent guides and resources, and individualized recommendations for improvements. Families can access this resource by registering   

The portal was created in direct response to parent and stakeholder feedback, and information in the portal is useful for families engaging in conversations with educators about their child’s academic progress. Families of students that tested in spring 2021 can access student data now for TCAP and August 20 for TCAP-Alternate assessments. Districts will continue to provide paper score reports to families. 

To support districts and schools experiencing various learning disruptions, the department offered multiple flexibilities and supports to districts so they could make the best assessment plans to fit their needs. These flexibilities included the expanded use of off-site testing locations, flexibility for local testing schedules, and guidance on medical exemptions for COVID-impact students. 

In January 2021, Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly convened a special legislative session on education, which addressed urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the special legislative session passed legislation on accountability, learning loss, literacy, and teacher pay. The Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act established summer learning loss bridge camps for elementary students to help them recover learning loss and accelerate their achievement.    

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In alignment with the Best for All strategic plan, the department recognized the impending impact the global pandemic would have on K-12 education in Tennessee and has proactively and strategically committed investments to prioritize meeting the needs of all Tennessee students through the state’s ARP ESSER plan, which lays out the state’s spending strategy for its portion of federal COVID-19 relief and stimulus funding to benefit K-12 education in Tennessee. Specifically, the state plan highlights  combatting existing gaps in student achievement and opportunity, addressing the needs of rural communities, improving early literacyinvesting in a statewide tutoring corps, and accelerating student academic achievement across the state. 

Additionally, the department provides formative assessments aligned to Tennessee Academic Standards at no cost to districts. These department-created assessments support our districts and schools in measuring how students are approaching grade-level expectations. In August 2020, the department launched a new statewide formative assessment platform, Schoolnet, which has already administered over 377,000 tests, and has deployed an item bank, Checkpoint exams, and full-length Mock Interim assessments, all aligned to our state standards and summative TCAP. Districts that utilized the department’s free, formative assessment tools showed higher success rates. 

District and school leaders, statewide elected officials, and education stakeholders commented on the importance of annual assessments and how Tennesseans need to come together to support our students.

TCAP includes summative assessments for English language arts, math, science, and social studies for grades 3-8, high school end-of-course (EOC) exams in English I and II, Algebra I and II, Geometry, Integrated Math I, II, and III; Biology, and U.S. History. TCAP also includes the TCAP-Alternate Assessment for students with disabilities, and the optional TCAP Grade 2 Assessment. 

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These analyses do not include the results of TCAP-Alt tests, which are assessments for students with the most significant learning disabilities. To learn more about the state’s assessment program, visit the department’s State Assessment webpage

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, email

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