The Intersection

The Next Five Years in Tennessee: Renewing Our Shared, Student-Focused Vision

May 11, 2016


For the past five years, Tennessee pscore reportolicymakers, educators, parents, and business and community leaders have united around the goal of dramatically improving student achievement in Tennessee. The unprecedented gains that followed made Tennessee the fastest improving state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

This progress proved what Tennesseans have always believed – that our students are just as capable as students in other states. But for Tennessee to climb into the top 25 of states for academic achievement requires regular examination of where we are, what is working well and should be replicated, and what needs more attention.

At the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), we do not just preach this kind of critical examination, we also practice it. SCORE’s work is centered on students and involves both a long-range strategic plan and an annual list of education priorities for the entire state.

The recent update of the SCORE five-year strategic plan sets three bold student achievement goals:

  1. Tennessee continues to be among the fastest-improving states in the country and ranks in the top half of all states in student achievement, as measured by NAEP by 2020.
  2. Tennessee closes all student achievement gaps – at every grade level and subject area — by income, race, geographic location and student need. These gaps should be narrowing on state and national assessments by 2020.
  3. Every Tennessee student graduates from high school prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce. Postsecondary enrollment and degree attainment rates by 2020 should support achievement of Tennessee’s Drive to 55.

The 2015-16 State of Education in Tennessee report provides a comprehensive annual update on the progress made in 2015 and sets five priorities for 2016 to sustain our hard-won gains in student achievement and accelerate improvement:

  1. Implement new assessments aligned with state standards. Tennessee was transitioning this year to a new assessment aligned with the higher standards adopted in 2010, but a series of logistical problems led the state to cancel the assessment contract and suspend testing for grades 3-8 this school year. That was the right decision, and it is important for the state to learn from this experience. Tennessee should remain committed to a high-quality annual assessment so teachers and parents have the information needed to keep students on track for postsecondary and workforce readiness. Tennessee should also listen to feedback SCORE gathered from educators that indicated a need for strong support in administering the new test — using the results to improve learning — and identifying high-quality interim assessments. The ultimate goal should be fewer, better assessments. 
  2. Ensure equitable outcomes for historically underserved populations. Tennessee must reduce the dramatic achievement gaps for students of color, the economically disadvantaged, English language learners, and students with disabilities in order to meet the state’s educational goals and workforce needs. The next steps forward should be better recruitment and retention of highly effective teachers in high-need schools, attracting more students of color to the teaching profession, and radically raising college readiness rates for underserved populations.
  3. Empower Tennessee’s teachers. Tennessee can elevate the teaching profession in the state by increasing teacher feedback in policy and practice, improving teacher preparation programs, and improving teacher pay. 
  4. Invest in Tennessee’s school and district leaders. A leadership pipeline, improved professional learning for principals, effective systems of support, and stronger principal evaluations will help prepare Tennessee school leaders to more effectively meet the needs of their teachers and students.
  5. Cultivate community and business partnerships in education. Businesses and communities should deepen their investment in local schools by expanding youth internships and apprenticeships and creating scholarships and other incentives to encourage students to pursue degrees and certifications in high-need employment areas.

During a panel discussion at the State of Education in Tennessee report release, SCORE Founder Senator Bill Frist, State Representative John DeBerry, Commissioner of Education Dr. Candice McQueen, and I recalled how a shared vision with a focus on what’s best for student achievement has been instrumental to our state’s progress. Maintaining Tennessee’s momentum will require renewing our commitment to that shared vision in order to ensure that all students experience the academic success that will lead to a better education, better jobs and a better future.

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