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Here are three things to know as Tennessee starts a new school year

Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Welcome to the start of a brand-new school year across Tennessee.

What do you think the big themes in education will be this year? What should Chalkbeat be watching and writing about? Who should we be talking with? We want to hear from you, so email us at tn.tips@chalkbeat.org.

Between state testing revamps, new school leaders, and political shake-ups — it’s sure to be a fascinating year in education. Thanks for following along with us.

1. Tennessee is making significant changes to state testing this year, but will they be enough?

The state has hired an additional testing company to assist its current vendor, Questar, in the wake of widespread problems with TNReady exams last spring. And seeking to have an issue-free testing year, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen also has slowed the state’s transition to computerized exams this year so that only high school students will test online again. In addition, the state Department of Education has recruited 37 teachers and testing coordinators to become TNReady ambassadors, tasked with offering on-the-ground feedback and advice to the state and its vendors for improving this year’s testing experience.

2. The stakes are high for the state-run district under new leadership.

Leaders of Tennessee’s state-run district — which seeks to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools — recently called the district’s results “sobering.” The Achievement School District hasn’t vaulted schools in the bottom 5 percent academically to the top in five years, as its founders said it would. Six years in, the district continues to struggle to boost student test scores. But now, the district’s 30 schools have new leadership in the charismatic Sharon Griffin, a longtime Memphis educator with a track record in turnaround work. The pressure is on for the turnaround district to create better outcomes for kids. Griffin says she’s up for the task.

3. Voters shake up leadership for Tennessee’s largest school district

Shelby County Schools will have two new faces on the school board this year — Joyce Dorse-Coleman and Michelle Robinson McKissack. They unseated Chris Caldwell, a board member since 2011, and Mike Kernell, who had been on the board since 2014. The women will be the first new voices on the nine-person board in four years, and both bring diverse experience. We asked the new board members about their views on education. Read their answers here.

Reporters Marta W. Aldrich and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.

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