Sometimes, it is important to reflect on where Tennessee started in its path to prepare all students for postsecondary education and the workforce. In 2007, our state acknowledged that our work in education was not working for our students. It was the year our state got an F for “Truth in Advertising” from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because Tennessee claimed that nearly 90 percent of our fourth-graders and eighth-graders were proficient in English and math while the more rigorous Nation’s Report Card showed only about a quarter of students really were proficient.
Clearly, Tennessee teachers, parents, and students deserved more honesty. Policymakers and education stakeholders now agree that the failing grade was a turnaround moment that triggered a collaborative effort to raise expectations in the classroom and make annual statewide assessments more challenging, among other importance changes. Tennessee began to see the proficiency gap narrow.
Tennessee’s work – and it was hard work – is being examined by other states that now have to close what is being called the “Honesty Gap” about proficiency rates. A new analytical report, Proficient vs. Prepared: Disparities between State Tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commends Tennessee as a “top truth-teller.” The study finds that too many states still are where Tennessee was in 2007, claiming students are proficient when they actually are not well prepared. The discrepancy equals more than 30 percentage points for more than half of the states.
Next year, Tennessee will take another big step toward eliminating what remains of this state’s Honesty Gap with the TNReady Assessment for math and English language arts – a new and improved TCAP test. Our teachers have been eager for this new assessment, which should be fully aligned with the standards used in Tennessee classrooms and will be able to adapt to changes in the future.
TNReady is an important component of Tennessee’s postsecondary and workforce readiness strategy, and there will be only one chance at a successful launch. With the first writing assessments scheduled to begin in February, there are fewer than 250 days to unite and commit to the work of supporting teachers, students, and families to ensure a smooth takeoff for TNReady.
Tennessee is on the right track to close the Honesty Gap. After state proficiency claims became more realistic, Tennessee saw significant, genuine improvement in student achievement. Tennesseans can be very proud of what we have accomplished with our student-focused education changes, and Tennesseans can be even prouder when we complete the assessment transition and find that increasing numbers of our students are ready for postsecondary education and the workforce.
Very sincerely yours,