The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) recently completed a new plan for continuing the progress made as the fastest-improving state for academic achievement. When Congress replaced the No Child Left Behind law with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) last year, states were given both more flexibility and responsibility for innovative approaches to academic improvement. Tennessee proposes to use ESSA to continue efforts that have led to the recent academic gains while introducing new state-specific approaches to bring more success to more students. Tennessee’s plan represents more than a year of hard work from the TDOE and incorporates feedback from thousands of Tennesseans. Keep reading to learn more about the major changes that schools and districts will experience because of this new plan and what it means for our students.

What’s changed?

School accountability: Schools will now be assessed on several indicators including student achievement, growth of students, graduation rates, and how well they prepare students for college and careers. While student achievement will carry more weight than growth, all schools will be able to demonstrate success, regardless of the types of students the schools serve. Starting in 2018, all public schools in Tennessee will also receive an A-F grade.

Chronically Out of School: One of the new indicators that schools will be judged on is the percentage of students who miss 10 percent or more of the school year due to absences or out-of-school suspensions.

Ready Graduate indicator: Another new accountability indicator is the percentage of high school graduates who demonstrate skills for postsecondary, military, and workforce readiness by meeting either ACT, early postsecondary opportunities (EPSOs), or military criteria.

All Means All: The performance of student subgroups—students of color, students with disabilities, students from low-income backgrounds, or students who are learning English—will be weighted 40 percent in both the district and school accountability systems. Holding schools and districts accountable for the performance of historically underserved students will ensure that the needs of all students are being met. This step is needed to close achievement gaps in Tennessee and aligns with Tennessee’s belief that “all means all”.

Priority Schools: Schools in the bottom 5 percent of overall performance will be identified as Priority schools and receive an “F” grade. In most cases, districts will have the opportunity to improve the performance of Priority schools before the state-run Achievement School District steps in.

Focus Schools: All D schools and schools with a persistent achievement gap will be identified as Focus schools. Focus schools graded above “D” will receive a minus to indicate consistently underperforming subgroups. A Focus school will become a Priority school after three consecutive years of underperformance by the same subgroup.

English Learners: The state will lower the minimum number of students in a subgroup (also referred to as n-size) to 10 for the English Language Proficiency Assessment. More schools will now be held accountable for how English Learners (ELs) are performing.

Full implementation of Tennessee’s ESSA plan will begin in July 2017, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Education. Over the coming months, SCORE will release resources to support understanding of the state plan. Once implementation begins, we will also gather and share information on innovative ways that schools and districts are working to improve student learning. Tennessee’s ESSA plan is built on the foundation of the work Tennessee is already leading, and continues the focus on all students, regardless of background. SCORE remains committed to sharing work, like this new plan, that moves our state forward.