Assessments in Tennessee schools are more than just tests. They are essential tools to ensure that every child reaches proficiency and succeeds in each grade and subject. And they equip policymakers, educators, advocates, and families to know where additional supports are needed and whether our policies and investments are leading to improved outcomes.

Yesterday’s release of data from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), Tennessee’s statewide assessment administered annually, reveals across-the-board increases in student achievement. This significant accomplishment is a direct result of the relentless efforts of Tennessee students, educators, parents, and leaders. They also serve as clear evidence that Tennessee’s priorities, initiatives, and investments — such as strengthened early literacy policy and supports, high-dosage tutoring, expanded summer learning, and higher-quality curriculum — are leading to clear gains for students.

TCAP assessments are given in English language arts (ELA), math, science, and social studies, as well as a range of high school courses, and the assessments measure how well students have gained the knowledge and skills expected for their subject and grade level, which are based on the Tennessee state academic standards.

In May, the Tennessee Department of Education released statewide averages for third-grade TCAP ELA scores, highlighting historic gains in third-grade reading, with 40 percent of third graders reading on grade level after the launch of a new comprehensive K-3 literacy strategy for Tennessee public schools. As we take a deeper look at the newly released statewide numbers for all grades and subject areas, we see more exciting progress in areas that are highly predictive of long-term student success.

At the same time, there are also clear areas of needed focus and a recognition that even with improvement, overall proficiency still does not meet our aspirations for student success.

Education Key Indicators K-12

SCORE focuses on three key areas that are highly predictive of long-term student success. These indicators — third-grade reading, seventh-grade math, and ninth-grade algebra I proficiency — are assessed by TCAP. In addition to looking at overall proficiency, it is critical to also focus on how Tennessee is closing achievement gaps across these grades and subjects for students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Here are some of the key highlights of the latest data on these three indicators:

Third-Grade Reading Proficiency — 40.5 Percent Of All Students In 2023
  • Third-grade reading proficiency represents the percentage of third-grade students who scored met or exceeded on TCAP for ELA. Students who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are unlikely to catch up in future years. These students are less likely to graduate high school or earn a postsecondary degree or credential.
  • Third-grade ELA performance has increased from 35.7 percent of students scoring proficient in 2022 to 40.5 percent in 2023 — and nearly 4 percentage points above the proficiency rate in 2019 prior to the pandemic.
  • In the newly released 2023 data, we see record highs in third-grade ELA proficiency (since 2018) for Black students, Hispanic students, White students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities. 
Seventh-Grade Math Proficiency — 35 Percent Of All Students In 2023
  • Seventh-grade math proficiency represents the percentage of seventh-grade students who scored met or exceeded on the TCAP for math. Students who are not proficient in math by the end of seventh grade are more likely to struggle with more complex mathematics courses in high school, including algebra, which is highly predictive of success on college entrance exams and in postsecondary courses.
  • Seventh-grade math performance increased from 30.2 percent of students scoring proficient in 2022 to 35 percent in 2023. Seventh is the only grade in math so far to exceed prepandemic proficiency levels — which was 34 percent in 2019.
Ninth-Grade Algebra I Proficiency — 17.8 Percent Of All Students In 2023 
  • Ninth-grade algebra I proficiency represents the percentage of ninth-grade students who scored met or exceeded on the algebra I end-of-course assessment. Proficiency in ninth-grade algebra is highly predictive of performance on college entrance exams and in postsecondary courses.
  • Ninth-grade algebra I proficiency increased from 15.5 percent in 2022 to 17.8 percent in 2023. We have still not recovered to the 2019 proficiency level of 21.8 percent.

While we are excited about the notable increase in proficiency levels on the 2023 TCAP, the not-so-good news is that while the group of students in the highest performance category in ELA has continued to grow and has surpassed prepandemic levels, the group of students in the lowest performance category is still larger than it was before the pandemic, suggesting that we still haven’t fully recovered learning for our students who are furthest behind.  

To continue our momentum moving forward, and continue our path of improvement, Tennessee must commit to strengthening implementation of key policies that support student learning, such as a comprehensive approach to early literacy, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement funding formula, high-dosage tutoring, summer learning, and innovative school models. It’s also the time to set ambitious goals to ensure continued academic progress and success for our students.

Tennessee students, families, educators, and policymakers have a lot to be proud of.  And we have a lot more work to do.

David Mansouri is president and CEO of SCORE.