Dear Friends,

Who was the biggest contributor to your success when you were in school? For me, three talented teachers come to mind: Mrs. Seiler, who taught me to love reading, Mrs. Funderberk who showed me that while learning can be hard, it is also fun, and Mrs. Dunning, who spent countless hours patiently supporting students like me. We know from both personal experience and from research that teachers are the most important in-school factor in improving student achievement. Teachers set high expectations in the classroom and in turn encourage students to set high goals for themselves to lay a foundation for success in future academic, career, and real world endeavors.

As Tennessee selects a new student assessment over the coming months, it is important to listen to the voices of Tennessee teachers who are in the best position to understand and articulate the value of an assessment that honestly measures student performance on the skills emphasized by Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards.


Three Tennessee teachers, drawing from their classroom experiences, are among the educators helping us understand why they – and Tennessee – need a higher-level, relevant, and consistent assessment.

Eighth-grade math teacher Cicely Woodard says her students at Metro Nashville’s Rose Park Math and Science Magnet easily distinguished the difference between a new kind of assessment that allows them to show what they know and the old-style multiple-choice tests. “They knew that they would get a chance to problem solve, critically think, reason, and write. The thinking … was rich, full of meaning, and high level. My student’s definition of easy was simply bubbling in the right answer,” Ms. Woodard says.

“Our goal as educators should be to prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow,” says Jon Alfuth, a high school geometry teacher in Shelby County Schools. “Our kids need to be able to see a problem, break it down, solve it and explain their solution, and if we’re honest with ourselves we need to be assessing their capacity to do just that.”

Casie Jones, an English teacher and instructional coach for the Shelby County Department of Alternative Schools, explains that teachers use the standards to prepared students for college and career, “yet we cannot implement these higher standards without an assessment that effectively measures our students’ understanding of them. Tennessee’s current assessments focus on measuring at a comprehension level,” she says. She envisions a new assessment that aligns with Tennessee’s standards “to measure students’ ability to think critically, analyze material, and create evidence-based written responses. It is a test of higher expectations that will prepare students for success.”

Tennessee has made great strides in raising expectations for students and improving the quality of instruction. Those at the center of this work, Tennessee’s educators, know that a new and better assessment is essential to continuing the progress.

Very truly yours,

Jamie Signature 4-2014