By Candice McQueen, Education Commissioner
The events of this past week remind me why our collective work is so critical for our students’ success. The week began by engaging with fantastic leaders from across the state at the department’s largest conference. LEAD is a professional learning opportunity led by state, district, and school leaders that this year boasted over 2,000 people in attendance.
LEAD reminded me of the power of shared experiences and joint learning to reach our goals. Leaders learned from other leaders about challenges and progress in moving more students to ACT growth. These same leaders learned together as they attended powerful sessions on the successes of the SCORE Prize finalists. Leaders also took time to engage in informal discussions on significant topics, such as TNReady, technology integration, and personalization learning. Conferences such as LEAD allow for time and space to stop and learn – this time and space is critical for growth to occur and for our collective expertise and learning to be shared.
The week also provided much inspiration about why our collective work matters. We unveiled NAEP results this week. NAEP is often called the Nation’s Report Card because it provides a yard stick for how students across the country are performing. While some folks looked at our results and were quick to point out that our results showed little statistical change from 2013 to 2015, many of us saw the larger story inherent in these numbers.
While many states saw a decline in NAEP results, Tennessee maintained the historic gains gained in 2013 with a new set of students taking the test.
These results also moved Tennessee into the top 25 on fourth- grade math – a ranking that moved us into the top half of states for the first time in our history. This steadiness and relative performance to other states matters and has built a new foundation for Tennessee. It also means that the hard work of those who started on the path of changing expectations back in 2007 continues to pay off and that our overall gains since 2011 were not a fluke, but have us on solid ground. Many will remember that Tennessee received an “F” in 2007 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the category of Truth in Advertising as they compared our state proficiency in assessments compared to national proficiency on NAEP. Quickly, Tennessee educators, policy makers, legislators, and community started down a path to improvement – one that was the vision of many people working together to keep focus on a new plan. This plan meant higher standards, aligned assessment, and increased accountability and today we build on these results as a foundational step in moving more of our students to success in postsecondary and the workforce.
My week culminated in Hamblen County where I saw a unified vision and partnership among education leaders from the superintendent to the school board to the teachers to the community partners. Each group clearly understood its unifying goals and stayed in appropriate “lanes” while also working collaboratively to serve all students. I saw an optimism and collective vision in Hamblen that was obvious. I not only talked to educators who talked about focusing on educating all students, but who clearly walked the talk. They have created pathways for all students to take AP courses and for students to be rewarded for learning social skills and work skills needed in all jobs – a partnership with Grainger and Hawkins Counties. I also had the opportunity to talk to community leaders thinking about the next level of improvement in Hamblen. I was struck by how they were actively seeking and sharing ideas with the superintendent – not telling him what to do, but supporting him with their own creativity, innovation, and true thought partnership.
This past week exemplified the collective work that matters. I am more convinced that more than ever Tennessee has the spirit, the energy, the drive, the will, and the opportunity to align and execute on life changing goals for students in every part of our state.
I can’t wait to see what unfolds this week as we continue to ensure Tennessee Succeeds!