SCORE has been analyzing the statewide results of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), and we are zeroing in on six data visualizations that we think indicate the learning difficulties facing our students.

These data points drive home that the impact of the pandemic disruptions on learning has been immense. Without the exceptional work of teachers, school and districts leaders, and families to support students during a very difficult 18 months, the impact no doubt would have been even greater.

The TCAP data highlight that more students than ever are struggling to meet grade-level expectations in literacy and math, and it will take sharp focus and continued hard work over the next several years to help them catch up and stay on track for success in college, career, and life.

Tennessee’s third-grade English language arts (ELA) proficiency rates had been flat for several years. Unfortunately, COVID-19 worsened the situation. Proficiency rates for 2021 were the lowest since 2017, with drops of nearly 6 percentage points for Hispanic students, 5 points for Black students, and 4 points for White students.

The 2021 TCAP results make clear that Tennessee students need the interventions codified in the Tennessee Literacy Success Act that passed in the January 2021 special legislative session because old instructional practices have left most third-graders — 85 percent of Black students, 78 percent of Hispanic students, and 60 percent of White students — below reading expectations for reading and writing.

The literacy proficiency problem stretches across grades 3 through 8 because students who leave third grade with weak reading and writing skills fail to catch up in later years.

The classroom time lost since March 2020 is particularly evident in the TCAP results for math. The math proficiency rates for every grade declined by 10-15 percentage points in 2021.

Students who do well in Algebra I will enjoy a much wider set of college and career opportunities. The state has seen proficiency in this benchmark subject fall to barely one in ten students.

Black and Hispanic students made historic gains in math proficiency in 2019 that were wiped out during the pandemic. Only 9 percent of Black students and 17 percent of Hispanic students in grades 3-8 were proficient in math in 2021. These students could be struggling for years to come because math instruction builds on the previous grade’s skills.

As the beginning of the 2021-22 school year has shown, the pandemic is not behind us. But we need to get behind our students, teachers, principals, and district leaders as they push to accelerate learning.

Accelerating learning in 2021-22 is going to be the top job for teachers, principals, and district leaders. They need our support so they can direct more resources to strategies such as high-dosage tutoring and extending learning times and not be distracted by issues less important than this huge learning challenge.

Data analysis by Senior Data and Research Analyst Alexis Parker and graduate fellows Sam Correa and Caroline O’Connor.