Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen joined the authors and other education leaders in Washington, D.C., to highlight Tennessee’s progress.
For the first time ever, the authors of the report from Education Next gave Tennessee an “A” for the state’s academic standards in 2017, after the state had received a “B” or “B-” grade for several years and an “F” for the state’s academic standards in 2009.
The report also highlights the improved performance of Tennessee students on national assessments, and it notes the state now has a test – Tennessee Ready – that provides feedback similar to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a key national benchmark.
The report showed Tennessee closed the proficiency gap between NAEP and Tennessee’s state test by more than 60 points since 2009 – more than any other state. The finding is mirrored in a report released last week from Achieve, which looked in more detail at the “honesty gap,” or the disparity between how students score on state tests and how they perform on NAEP.
In that report, Tennessee was highlighted as one of seven states that narrowed the honesty gap in at least one grade or content area by 10 or more points between 2015 and 2017. In Tennessee specifically, the gap was narrowed in every content area and grade, which essentially eliminated the honesty gap overall.
For both of these reports, this was the first time Tennessee was evaluated based on Tennessee Ready and not the former state TCAP exam.
“In Tennessee, we stand out from other states as our increase in proficiency standards has gone hand in hand with gains in student achievement,” McQueen said. “Our students are growing to meet our high expectations where other states have stayed flat, and we’ve closed the ‘honesty gap’ more than any other state. These national studies underscore that we must keep investing in our educators, support strong implementation of the standards along with an aligned assessment, focus on growth as part of a robust accountability model, and put students at the center of every decision.”
Raising standards and closing the honesty gap was a decade-long journey for Tennessee that started when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also gave Tennessee two Fs in 2007 – one for low academic expectations and one for truth in advertising. At that point, the proficiency difference between the annual state test and NAEP was more than 60 points. While TCAP showed more than 90 percent of students were proficient, NAEP showed numbers in the mid-20s, and Tennessee’s colleges and employers said too many high school graduates weren’t ready.
As Tennessee raised academic expectations to help students seamlessly transition after high school into higher education and the workforce, the state invested millions to support educators to implement the new standards, first through large-scale trainings for tens of thousands of teachers and now through annual district and regionally led trainings that are state-supported.
The department also invested in materials and resources, particularly in areas where feedback from the state assessment has indicated more support is needed such as early grades reading. Overall, since the call to action in 2007, Tennessee has not only closed the honesty gap to provide more accurate feedback on the state Tennessee Ready exam, but Tennessee’s students have also improved on NAEP across every grade and subject.