Continuing the Conversation to Ensure Every Tennessee Student Succeeds

By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

One of the most important lessons I have learned in my first year as commissioner is how critical it is to set goals that are 100 percent focused on helping students succeed after graduation from high school. This vision is the heart of the department’s strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which prioritizes early learning and literacy, early postsecondary experiences for all students, and improving both teacher and leader preparation and their ongoing support.

The Tennessee Succeeds plan was built based on the significant progress Tennessee students have made over the last few years, as well as the classroom experiences of teachers I have met with as part of my Classroom Chronicles 10,000 Teacher Tour.

Now the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which the President signed in December 2015, gives us another opportunity to evaluate and successfully implement our bold plan in the coming years. (You can learn more about ESSA on our website.)

Today, I kick off a new statewide listening tour to gather even more input for Tennessee Succeeds and to guide the development of Tennessee’s ESSA plan. During this tour, we will specifically be gathering feedback on standards and assessment, accountability, school improvement, and improving education for all students, especially English learners. Our goal is to use this feedback to inform various working groups, which will be led by department leadership, that will draft our ESSA plan. That plan will then be ready for additional public feedback beginning in early 2017, before we begin implementation in the 2017-18 school year.

Thanks to the hard work of teachers and students across our state, Tennessee has experienced significant success in the last several years, becoming the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement.  But this success did not happen by accident.

Beginning with our focus on raising expectations after a “call to action” moment in 2007 when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rated Tennessee an “F” in the category of “Truth in Advertising” when comparing proficiency on Tennessee assessments to NAEP or the Nation’s Report Card., we began a series of determined steps to better serve our students.

We initially moved to review and boost our state’s academic standards under the Tennessee Diploma Project in 2008. And this past year, thousands of Tennessee teachers, parents, and community leaders joined with the State Board to craft new and improved standards for math and English language arts – including more critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills such as writing. Science and social studies are receiving a similar public review.

We also began the transition to a more fully aligned assessment to better prepare and assess students as they prepare for success after high school.  And we have increased accountability with more emphasis on identifying and supporting great teaching through a more comprehensive teacher evaluation system.

All of this hard work has built a strong foundation as Tennessee continues to lead the nation as the fastest improving state on the Nation’s Report Card, surpassing the national average on graduation rate and improving yearly on statewide assessments.

Still, we know there is still much work to be done.  And we are pleased that ESSA provides us an additional opportunity to review our current plans and goals with key stakeholders so we can make changes where needed. It also allows us an opportunity to reaffirm and recommit to all that we know is working.

I look forward to visiting with educators and leaders all across Tennessee as we continue to improve the future for all students!