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SCORE report: Steady on TNReady, thumbs up to revised standards, target the achievement gap

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, founder and chairman of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, speaks last year during the release of the group's 2015 report on the state of education in Tennessee.
Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, founder and chairman of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, speaks last year during the release of the group's 2015 report on the state of education in Tennessee.
Marta W. Aldrich

Declaring Tennessee’s recent student achievement gains “a good beginning,” an influential education research and advocacy organization has identified full implementation of the state’s new achievement test and efforts to close the achievement gap for low-income and minority students among top priorities to advance the state of K-12 education in Tennessee.

The group also supports the revised academic standards to be considered Friday by the State Board of Education as a replacement for the Common Core State Standards, according to the annual report released Wednesday by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE.

“In general, the SCORE review found the draft standards for both (English language arts) and math to reflect levels of rigor as high or higher than those of current standards,” the report said. “The draft standards are clear, coherent, and specific.”

On the state of education in Tennessee, the report cited Tennessee’s 2015 performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as “the nation’s report card,” as an indication that Tennessee’s sizable test score gains in 2013 were “real and lasting.”

“Tennessee has made historic strides for our students in the past five years,” said former U.S. Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who founded SCORE in 2009. “While this success is a good beginning, the priorities list for 2016 makes clear that we have considerable more to do to ensure every Tennessee student graduates equipped with the skills and knowledge needed for success after high school.”

The implementation of Tennessee’s new TNReady assessment this year should mark a shift toward “fewer but better tests,” the report said, by following recommendations of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s testing task force, in which SCORE was a key player. Those recommendations include working with local businesses and governments to ensure students have the technology to be prepared for the computer-based tests, and releasing test questions from TNReady each year to improve the usefulness of test data. The administration of TNReady in schools kicks into full gear next month for students in grades 3-11.

The report also identified “dramatic achievement gaps for students of color, the economically disadvantaged, English language learners, and students with disabilities.” It recommends better recruitment and retention of highly effective teachers in high-need schools and greater diversity in the ranks of educators in efforts to improve college readiness rates for underserved populations.

The report was based on conversations with Tennessee teachers, principals, school district leaders, state-level education leaders, and national education partners, as well as research in other states.

Among other findings are that teachers have mixed feelings about RTI-squared, a state-mandated method of identifying students in need of intervention in reading, math or writing through frequent, short assessments. While some teachers told SCORE that the 2-year-old program is one of the most positive changes to Tennessee education policy, many said the state provided insufficient support for implementing the program, and that it required funding and time that teachers simply don’t have.

SCORE is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that collaborates across the state on policy and practice aimed at ensuring student success.

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