Staying the Course
The key to a successful future for Tennessee and Knox County is being able to provide opportunities for individuals and for families to make a good living and support a high quality of life. When business leaders look at our state, there are many characteristics that make Tennessee an attractive place to locate and grow jobs. The one area, however, that continues to concern employers is the level and quality of education and preparation Tennesseans receive before entering the workforce.
Previously, when compared with students from other states, our students consistently ranked near the bottom in proficiency in key subject areas, and only 32 percent of Tennesseans have earned an associate’s degree or higher. However, we have made several key changes over the last three years to address these skills gaps.
We successfully adopted and implemented more rigorous standards known as the Common Core State Standards. These standards are part of a state-led effort to give all students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. They focus on more critical thinking and problem solving and on a deeper understanding of materials, not just basic memorization and test-taking skills.
In 2011, we saw the largest ever expansion of our state’s charter schools law, which has created more choice for families across Tennessee.
In order to address the post-secondary education attainment concerns, Gov. Bill Haslam launched the “Drive to 55” campaign in 2013 with a goal of raising the number of adults with a post-secondary certification or degree from 32% to 55%.
Gov. Haslam and the General Assembly have added $130 million in recurring spending to teacher salaries over the last three years, compared to a combined $22 million added in the four years prior. He also recently announced his desire to make Tennessee the fastest improving state for teacher salaries. In fact, in 2012, Tennessee had the second largest increase in state K-12 expenditures of all 50 states.
These numerous changes along with others have led to some very positive and exciting results!
Tennessee achieved the largest growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card” of any state. Tennessee’s scores also showed students moving from scoring in the bottom 10 in the country on all four tests in 2011 to scoring within one point of the national average on three out of four tests in 2013. Tennessee’s national rankings have improved dramatically going from the mid-forties to mid-thirties in just two years.
Since 2010, 91,000 more students are proficient or advanced in 3rd-8th grade math, and 52,000 more students are proficient or advanced in 3rd-8th grade science. Tennessee has seen three consecutive years of gains on TCAP assessments in all areas. Additionally, Tennessee is only one of two states making double-digit gains in high school graduation rates.
Finally, Knox County Schools received straight A’s in Achievement for the first time on the Tennessee Department of Education 2013 Report Card. This report card, which includes state, district, and school-level information on achievement, demographics, and discipline, is used to assess school districts’ gains from year-to-year. Along with the academic gains, Knox County Schools achieved a composite Level 5 in overall value-added results, the highest achievable level.
We are proud of our students, teachers, and lawmakers on the remarkable gains made over the past three years. We must stay the course of the meaningful education reform.