When Tennessee began setting higher expectations in the classroom, student-focused advocates knew it was important to have an aligned annual measure of progress. The release of the 2017-18 TNReady scores is a good time to recall how statewide assessment data helped Tennessee students make some of the biggest student achievement gains in the nation over the past six years.

Tennessee became the fastest-improving state in the nation on student achievement in part because educators, advocates, parents, and policymakers looked at what statewide assessment told us was working and what needed more work. Teachers dug into assessment data to improve their instruction, and parents and community members used test results to push for improvement and investment in their schools. Tennessee statewide assessment has improved substantially over the past 10 years, and state results now track with other measures of student achievement, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the ACT.

SCORE watches all those assessment measures, and while the results have encouragingly climbed from 2011 to 2017, twice in 2018 – on the NAEP results released in April and the TNReady results today – the steady progress has slowed. NAEP reported a 4-point decline in the percentage of students proficient in fourth-grade math, and insignificant changes elsewhere. TNReady shows high school student performance dropped more than 5 points in English and science, while grade 3-8 performance slipped a point in math and is not growing at the rate needed in English. The statewide assessment also showed some progress in narrowing achievement gaps because of faster growth for historically underserved students.

Now is the time to again study our assessment results, learn from the communities that are making substantial progress, and use this information to lead us to solid conclusions.

Tennessee knows how to improve student achievement from year to year because we have done it in the past. Set high standards in the classroom, measure progress with an aligned assessment every year, and support great teaching. Our student achievement reports are indicating that our implementation of this winning formula is not as strong as it should be, and we must bear down as a state. This includes challenging ourselves to identify existing gaps in our work – from improving our instructional materials and curriculum to strengthening principal preparation, for example.

Tennessee has challenging, appropriate academic standards and high-quality assessment items. We have teachers, principals, district leaders, and state partners committed to delivering better student outcomes. Tennessee now should move urgently and deliberately to achieve top-quality test administration and deeper instructional support.