This blog post is the second in a series of three exploring Tennessee outcomes on the Nation’s Report Card.

In the first post of this series, we reviewed Tennessee’s overall performance on the Nation’s Report Card over the last decade. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) allows us to track student progress over time and provides a standard measure to compare academic performance between states. This post will discuss student math performance and highlight emerging trends.

With disappointing results nationally on the 2019 NAEP, Tennessee’s math results are a relative bright spot. In eighth-grade math, Tennessee students have continued their steady climb to the national average, while in fourth grade, Tennessee students have recovered from declines seen in the previous NAEP administration. Digging deeper, this year’s results show that black students and students in urban schools have made important progress. On the other hand, Hispanic students and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds lost ground from previous years’ progress—giving cause for concern and a reminder that more must be done to support every student toward success.

Tennessee Approaching The National Average

Across both tested grades, Tennessee’s gains in math over the last decade have effectively closed the gap between Tennessee and the national average.

Eighth-grade students have continued to make consistent progress over the last decade while fourth-grade students have recovered losses from 2017. This growth defies a national trend of a decade of stagnation. Washington, DC has also been highlighted for steady gains during this flat period.

Black Students Make Gains In Math

Black students in Tennessee bounce back to surpass the national average in fourth- grade math achievement.

One of the most positive outcomes from this year’s results is the gains made by black students in fourth grade. After a drop in 2017, black student performance has rebounded to surpass the national average and reach an all-time high scale score. Over the last 10 years, black students in Tennessee have seen a 14-point scale score increase—the second highest gain in the nation over this time period.

Hispanic Students Lose Ground

While the national trend for Hispanic students shows steady growth in fourth-grade math, Tennessee performance has seen a steep decline after large gains in 2015.

One of the most troubling findings can be found in the results of our Hispanic fourth-grade students. Despite surpassing the national average in 2015, Tennessee’s Hispanic students have consistently declined over the last two NAEP administrations, reaching the lowest point in a decade.

Economically disadvantaged student achievement mirrors this pattern of a record high gain in 2015 followed by a sharp decline almost exactly. This is particularly concerning given that economically disadvantaged students make up more than one-third of Tennessee’s student population.

A bright spot in contrast to these results is the net gains made by students with disabilities over the last decade. Tennessee is one of twelve states that has shown gains for students with disabilities over this time period for eighth-grade math.

Geographic Differences

Despite fairly consistent achievement gains, fourth-grade students in urban schools still perform below their rural and suburban counterparts.

Analyzing this year’s results by geographic region highlights important trends for both rural and urban areas. Despite Tennessee’s overall good news in fourth-grade math, rural students have made the least gains over the last decade compared to their suburban and urban counterparts.

Urban students have seen the largest gain with a 12-point scale score increase since 2009. This gain is also reflected in the eighth-grade math achievement from Shelby County Schools.

Compared to other districts who participate in the Trial Urban District Assessments (TUDA), Shelby County students showed the largest gain from 2017 to 2019. It is critical to note that despite this progress, there is still a distinguishable achievement gap by geographic location.

Overall, Tennessee’s students have made important progress in math over the last 10 years on the Nation’s Report Card. In the final installment of this NAEP blog series, we will explore reading achievement and how disappointing results present a clear call to action to address literacy in the state.

Alexis Parker is a graduate fellow at SCORE. Peter Tang is SCORE’s director of research.

Read more news and analysis on the 2019 NAEP results: