Looking Forward to More Successes in 2018

by Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

I have never been more proud to be a Tennessean – born and raised in our state’s public education system – as I am now. The “can do” and goal-oriented spirit of the leaders and educators across our great state should inspire and encourage you about what has been accomplished and what is possible. Thank you for your tremendous leadership and passion on behalf of every Tennessee student.

We have seen incredible achievements from our students and educators in this past year, which I highlighted recently in a blog post. Additionally, in December, Stanford researchers published new data that looks at the growth students in grades 3-8 showed from 2009-2015 in a unique district-level approach. As numerous news outlets have now reported (like here and here), Tennessee’s progress literally stands out. This study is further evidence that what we are doing is working. Tennessee students are often outpacing their peers across the country in their academic progress – and it shows us that all students can grow and learn, regardless of their background, race or socio-economic status.

This gives further evidence to the effectiveness of the strong policy foundation Tennessee has laid over the past decade with higher standards, an aligned assessment, and robust accountability and evaluation, as well as the need to continue to reinforce and build on this foundation moving forward. (See more here.) And we’ve been successful because you – our educators, districts and school leaders, advocates, business leaders, and state and local officials – are showing every day what’s possible by building off this foundation to create success for students.

You have embraced courageous policies that set high expectations and share accountability for students’ success from the classroom to the commissioner. These policies have pushed us to develop rigorous graduation requirements that are some of the best in the country, set expectations for standards and assessments that align to college and career readiness for all students, elevated the work to improve outcomes for historically underperforming students, increased the focus on teacher and principal preparation, and ensured transparency and equity in accountability.

Tennessee principals and educators, in particular, have shown an uncompromising focus on student growth and success over the past decade. We are also connecting the dots among all components of the education lifecycle – early childhood, K-12 education, higher education, and career pathways that seamlessly connect to business and industry, health care, and productive citizenry – and we are seeing it pay off in our economy, which now has the lowest unemployment rates in Tennessee history. Tennesseans are leading the way to success for every student, every day – and I want to encourage you to continue your dedication to this important work as we look forward.

Our collective energy and action – grounded in data and research that reinforces our work – has created incredible momentum for us to build on our strong policy foundation: high standards, aligned assessment, and robust accountability at every level. It is this momentum led by smart, pragmatic people that will lead us to even greater success on behalf of students across Tennessee in 2018 and beyond.

As we enter this new year, the department will continue to implement and continually improve on the policies that have led us to success and use the momentum created so far to put a laser-like focus on these three goals that build on our strong policies and engage our education community:

  1. Every child should be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. (See more about why here.)
  2. Every child must have an effective teacher – supported by effective principals – every year. (See how one teacher models a strong data-driven practice in this post.)
  3. Every child has to be set up for success on a path to a career. (See one example of an industry partnership that is equipping students for the workforce – and offering jobs to graduates.)

I know we can achieve this vision because our students are already showing us they are capable and because you will continue to lead the way to get there. 2018 and beyond holds great promise. If we continue to equip our educators and build on our smart policies, students will continue to succeed – and Tennessee will continue be a leader for our nation in education and beyond.

Thank you for what you do for our state every day. I am looking forward to another wonderful year partnering with you!