Opportunity. That is the one word astronaut Butch Wilmore, a Tennessean who spent half a year on the International Space Station, wants Tennessee students to remember.
“Education gives opportunity. And that’s the only thing that gives you opportunity to choose what field you want to go into,” Captain Wilmore told students during a statewide tour last week with Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen. The reason for the visits to hundreds of students at three schools was to share the good news that Tennessee students have made record-setting gains in science on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
NAEP, commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, is a yardstick for measuring Tennessee academic performance over time and in comparison to other states. These science results show that Tennessee students not only grew faster than the nation as a whole, their gains were double the national pace. You will recall that last year we learned that Tennessee ranked in the top 25 states for the first time on the NAEP fourth-grade math assessment. Now Tennessee has added two more top 25 achievements, with fourth-graders 19th in the nation and eighth-graders 21st on the 2015 NAEP science test.
Captain Wilmore was exactly right when he put the focus on “opportunity.” The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University projects Tennessee will have more than 280,000 health, science, technology, and engineering jobs by 2020. Our students, and our state, must be ready for those career opportunities.
This outstanding academic performance in science is evidence that the work by teachers, school and district leaders, parents, policymakers, and education stakeholders is preparing more Tennessee students for the future. Once Tennessee began raising expectations, strengthening teaching, and emphasizing postsecondary education and workforce readiness for all students, our academic growth has been fast and sustained in multiple subjects over multiple years. While work remains to ensure all students in our state are prepared for their future, the trend in Tennessee is in the right direction.
Many of us remember when Tennessee was among the lowest-ranked states for student achievement. When Tennessee pledged to become the fastest-improving state for student achievement, we knew that the goal was bold but believed that our state – and especially our educators and students – could rise to the challenge. We collectively worked for a better future for Tennessee students, and these science results should give us all a reason to feel especially proud.
Tennessee has shown once again that when we expect more, our students achieve more. Thank you for all you have done, are doing, and will do to give Tennessee students the opportunity to have a bright and successful future.
Very sincerely yours,