Tennessee set an ambitious goal in 2009 for our education system to be the fastest-improving among all states. The results are in: Tennessee students in fourth and eighth grade surpassed their peers across the country in overall gains on national math and reading tests, making Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation. Not only did Tennessee have the greatest improvement this year, but the gains are the most that any state has ever made since NAEP began testing all states 10 years ago. There were gains by subject and grade level for the test scale SCOREs, as well as the percent of students scoring proficient or above.

These charts show the gains:








(Click on charts for enlarged view.)

Other data highlights include:

  • In national rankings, Tennessee fourth-graders moved from 46th to 37th in math and 41st to 31st in reading. Eighth-graders moved from 45th to 43rd in math and 41st to 34th in math.
  • In comparison to the 10 Southeastern states, Tennessee fourth-graders rank sixth in math and fifth in reading, while eighth-graders rank seventh in math and third in reading.
  • Scores for minority students increased from 2011, but there was a significant widening of the gap between white and Hispanic students in fourth-grade math.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to understand how we got here and what this means. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) is currently the only consistent measure that we have to compare student achievement in 4th and 8th grade across all states. A report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2007 looked at NAEP results compared to state test results and drew some conclusions on the quality of state academic standards and assessments. Tennessee did not fare well. We earned an “F” for “Truth in Advertising” because while 90 percent of students were passing the state tests, less than 30 percent were able to pass these national tests. State leaders and educators realized that significant changes needed to be made to give our students the opportunities for success they deserved.

No one change can be attributed to this gain, but it is no accident that Tennessee was able to become the fastest improving state. The state has taken a comprehensive approach to fundamentally change our education system. From the way teachers and leaders are evaluated, to the way students learn in the classroom – Tennessee policymakers, leaders, and educators have been committed to making decisions that are in the best interest of students.

The work is only just beginning. While we celebrate this historic success, we also need to be looking ahead to ensure that all students in Tennessee graduate high school prepared for college and the workforce. The true test will be our ability to sustain and build on the positive momentum and culture change that benefits students.