Honesty is the best policy, especially when we are talking about student achievement.

In separate reports, Harvard University researchers and the nonprofit organization Achieve, have identified Tennessee as a national leader in erasing the gap between measures of student proficiency on statewide assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Eleven years ago, such progress in closing what Achieve calls “the honesty gap” seemed unimaginable for Tennessee. In 2007, the state’s leaders and educators were embarrassed to be handed an F for “truth in advertising about student proficiency” in a US Chamber of Commerce report. At that time, there was a 60-point difference between the proficiency rates for reading and math that Tennessee reported and the NAEP results.

Tennessee responded decisively to the US Chamber report by continuously adopting higher academic standards and creating a more challenging statewide assessment. According to Achieve’s Proficient vs. Prepared report released in May, the Tennessee honesty gap for fourth grade has narrowed to 5 points in math and 4 points in reading. The gap closure is even greater in eighth grade, to a mere 2 points in math and 0 in reading.

The Harvard study, also released in May, confirmed those findings and offered good news for Tennessee on another aspect of honesty. The researchers examined whether states have backtracked on their commitments to higher academic standards over the past eight years. They concluded that Tennessee has maintained a rigorous definition of proficiency in math and English even as the state has changed and refined academic standards and introduced a new statewide assessment.

Between 2015 and 2017, Tennessee’s honesty gap narrowed by 5 points in fourth-grade math and more than 10 points in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading and math. That two-year improvement ranked among the best in the nation. Some credit for the progress since 2015 must be given to the introduction of a more rigorous statewide assessment.

TNReady, despite implementation challenges, is giving teachers, parents, and policymakers a truer picture of how many students are on track to graduate ready for postsecondary studies and jobs. As Achieve said, “Test scores are a valuable signal of academic preparedness for students and their families; it’s critical that these signals be accurate and honest representations of student achievement.”

Accurate statewide assessment data delivered annually for each student equips our teachers to provide the tailored support that will help more students meet grade-level expectations and graduate ready for success as adults.