In the efforts to improve student achievement, there are moments to stop, reflect, and celebrate the good work that is happening across Tennessee. The district-specific student achievement data released today by the state Department of Education provide us one of those moments. In the majority of our state’s school districts, we are better preparing students at an unprecedented rate.

Here are a few particularly powerful pieces of data:

  • More than 50 districts saw double-digit growth over last year in Algebra I.
  • Gains were made in Tennessee’s largest school districts – in third through eighth grade math, the percent of students who were proficient or advanced increased 6.5 percentage points in Davidson County, 4.7 percentage points in Hamilton County, 4.5 percentage points in Knox County, 4.3 percentage points in Memphis, and 8.1 percentage points in Shelby County.
  • The largest gains in third through eighth grade math proficiency came in Perry County, where more than 70 percent of students are economically disadvantaged; proficiency increased there by 28 percentage points.
  • Students made encouraging gains in nearly every district in science. The largest gains came in Chester County, where 58.5 percent of students are economically disadvantaged; proficiency increased there by 14.8 percentage points.

While student achievement in many school districts is improving, this growth was not uniform throughout the state. Student proficiency rates in third through eighth grade reading remained flat or declined in 24 of 136 districts. A few school districts saw significant proficiency rate declines in some subject areas (e.g., Biology I and Algebra II). Fortunately, these districts have models of success to learn from in order to improve.

One of SCORE’s key priorities is to identify best practices and share them. Over the next two months, we will be analyzing the 2012 achievement data as well as strategies and practices from schools and districts that saw dramatic improvement. The lessons learned from these schools and districts will be shared through the 2012 SCORE Prize, which will be awarded on October 8 at the historic Ryman Auditorium.

The pieces of Tennessee’s reform work – great teaching, high standards, effective school leaders, the intentional use of data, school turnaround, and a focus on science and math (STEM) – are coming together. U. S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote earlier this week that Tennessee’s student achievement gains are a “remarkable accomplishment.”

We have much work to do, but the data released today are providing real proof points for what matters in education reform: improved student achievement.