AR 2016 coverThe State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) today released the 2015-16 State of Education in Tennessee report and a list of five priorities that Tennessee should pursue in 2016 to sustain and accelerate recent student achievement gains.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan education research and advocacy group compiles the state’s comprehensive annual report that examines recent successes and opportunities for improvement in K-12 education. The report outlines an agenda for the new year to help Tennessee achieve the goals of remaining among the fastest improving states for student achievement, closing achievement gaps for historically underserved students, and preparing all students for postsecondary education and the workforce.

“Tennessee has made historic strides for our students in the past five years,” said SCORE founder and Chairman Senator Bill Frist, MD. “Tennessee’s success has demonstrated to the entire nation what can happen when adults work together to create student-focused policy in the capital and to demonstrate student-focused teaching and leadership in the classroom. While this success is a good beginning, the priorities list for 2016 makes clear that we have considerable more to do to ensure every Tennessee student graduates equipped with the skills and knowledge needed for success after high school.”

The 2015-16 State of Education in Tennessee report identifies five priorities for Tennessee this year:

1. Implement TNReady and aligned interim assessments. With TNReady – Tennessee’s new and improved TCAP test – in its first year, the report urges strong commitment to implementation of the English and math assessment while also better supporting districts and educators in administering the tests and using the results to improve learning. The report says the state should continue with annual statewide assessment and move toward fewer but better tests by following the Tennessee Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment recommendations and giving districts better guidance on high-quality interim assessments.

2. Ensure equitable outcomes for historically underserved populations. The report cautions that dramatic achievement gaps for students of color, the economically disadvantaged, English language learners, and students with disabilities are challenging Tennessee’s efforts to meet educational goals and workforce needs. “Tennessee faces a moral and economic imperative to provide all students access to high-quality education regardless of their race or zip code,” the report says. It recommends better recruitment and retention of highly effective teachers in high-need schools, greater diversity in the ranks of educators by attracting students of color and from other underserved populations to the teaching profession, and radically improving the college readiness rates for underserved populations.

3. Empower Tennessee’s teachers. Because student achievement growth is more closely tied to great teaching than other in-school factors, the report calls for more programs to foster teacher leadership and elevate teacher voice, continued improvements in teacher preparation programs, and expanded access to training on reading instruction for all teachers. The report also urges state leaders to follow through on their commitment to make Tennessee the fastest improving state for teacher compensation.

4. Invest in Tennessee’s school and district leaders. Noting the impact principals can have on raising student achievement, the report recommends Tennessee do more to develop school-level leaders by improving professional learning opportunities and creating support systems for aspiring and current principals. The report also says district leaders need more professional development on providing principal evaluation feedback that focuses on strategies to improve instruction and learning.

5. Cultivate community and business partnerships in education. Businesses and communities should deepen their investment in local schools through more resources and greater support for efforts to improve student achievement, the report says. It recommends the state work with business groups to expand youth internships and apprenticeships, and it calls on business leaders to create scholarships and other incentives to encourage students to pursue degrees and certifications in high-need employment areas. The report also identifies a need for early childhood providers, families, and community organizations to provide high-quality literacy instruction so students start school ready to learn to read. The report also identifies a need for early childhood providers, families, and community organizations to provide high-quality literacy instruction in the early grades.

“These priorities point clearly and specifically to the most important things to be done this year to help Tennessee students achieve more,” SCORE Executive Chairman and CEO Jamie Woodson said. “We know from experience that improving student achievement takes considerable hard work, but our students are depending on us to get this right. Their futures are at stake.”

The 2015-16 State of Education in Tennessee, the seventh such annual report from SCORE, outlines priorities to guide not only SCORE but also all education stakeholders across the state, from policymakers to teachers. SCORE presented the report findings to educators, policymakers, and community and civic leaders during an event at War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.

The report was compiled after conversations with Tennessee teachers, principals, and school district leaders, state-level education leaders, and national education partners as well as review of experiences in other states and current education research.