The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) has released the following statement from President and CEO Jamie Woodson about the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which showed Tennessee making gains in the state rankings:

jamie-woodsonSCORE watches the Nation’s Report Card because it is Tennessee’s only consistent measure of academic achievement that compares our students with students across the country. Tennessee has a bold goal of helping our students reach the top half of all states, and the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is how we measure our progress toward that goal.

In 2013 Tennessee was the fastest-improving state, and the 2015 report card confirms that the 2013 gains were real and lasting. This year Tennessee students have, for the first time ever, reached the top 25 in one subject after sustained progress since 2011:

• Tennessee students have climbed from 46th in the nation to 25th in fourth-grade math.
• Tennessee students have climbed from 45th in the nation to 37th in eighth-grade math.
• Tennessee students have climbed from 41st in the nation to 36th in fourth-grade reading.
• Tennessee students have climbed from 41st in the nation to 30th in eighth-grade reading.

Few other states can match this impressive pattern of improvement, and these gains are the direct result of the hard work of Tennessee teachers and students, and the dedication of parents, policymakers, community leaders, and school and district leaders.

In particular, students in urban parts of Tennessee have made sustained growth in recent years in fourth- and eighth-grade math scores, as well as eighth-grade reading. Since 2009, African-American students in Tennessee in fourth-grade math have increased scores in each NAEP administration, and this year for the first time surpassed the national average for African-American fourth-graders. Still, African-American students in Tennessee continue to underperform their white peers by 20 or more points in both tested grades and subject areas. Further progress on national indicators will require narrowing this and other performance gaps.

The Nation’s Report Card also confirms some areas where Tennessee knows more attention is needed. The fourth-grade reading performance provides new impetus for the Tennessee Department of Education – with schools and districts across the state – to move quickly with the reading and literacy foundation work outlined in the Tennessee Succeeds strategic plan. Achievement gaps are beginning to close, notably for English language learners in reading, yet significant numbers of underserved students need more support to reach grade level in math and reading. (For more detailed analysis, read the blog post by SCORE Research and Policy Director Kyle Southern.)

Since 2011, Tennessee has made record-setting gains, held them, and progressed in state rankings because of a multi-faceted strategy of high standards, great teaching, accountability, and common-sense adjustments based on the feedback of educators and citizens. The Tennessee way is working for Tennessee students, and we should continue with this proven, student-focused approach. We want all students to share in the academic success that will lead to a better education after high school, better jobs, and a better future.

While there is no single reason for the progress since the 2011 report card, it is fair to say that Tennessee’s academic turnaround began when we turned around our thinking about education and committed to making decisions based on what is best for students.