How We Will Continue to Create Opportunities for Students in 2017-18

I have never been more proud to be a part of Tennessee’s work in education. Over the past year, with the support of our districts, educators, families, advocates, business leaders, elected officials, and higher education partners, we have made incredible strides in strengthening our K-12 education system. I am confident that our collective efforts will lead to the success and well-rounded growth of Tennessee’s future leaders.

Today, we released a snapshot of the work we’ve accomplished over the past year, which you can view here. Our year has been focused on opening doors for all students and creating opportunities for every child to grow. A key way we have shown that focus is in our plan to implement the new federal K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Every day, our work strives to embody what we think access and opportunity look like as we move forward:

Setting high expectations for all students, with an assessment that measures critical thinking, writing, and problem-solving skills
Ensuring more success on pathways to postsecondary and workforce readiness
Providing supports for every student to meet their individual needs
Focusing on growth and continuous improvement
Recognizing, supporting, and celebrating the vital role of our leaders and educators
Involving the local community
As we look forward to the 2017-18 school year, we at the department will build on the work that has started in three key ways:

We must collectively ensure equity. Kids in Tennessee are just as capable as their peers across the county. Our job is to fully demonstrate our students’ capabilities by ensuring each student has the opportunities they need to be successful.
Moving forward, we will be more transparent about the progress our schools have been making – and where there is room for improvement – through a more robust and public-friendly report card.
We have built a stronger accountability system that will still consider students’ growth and achievement, but it will take a fuller view by also looking at data like chronic absenteeism and high suspension rates, as well as how well students are being prepared for life after graduation.
As outlined in our ESSA plan, we are being intentional about better supporting those students who have been historically underserved, like English learners, including through better equipping all educators to serve all students through a variety of initiatives. For English learners in particular, we are providing educators with new trainings, literacy guidance, and additional funding – more than $22 million.
And we’ll ensure that every low-achieving school has an evidence-based, tailored intervention that supports growth.
We must deeply align to high expectations. We have set high expectations in our standards, and our role is to help districts and educators dig deeply into those standards and to be a support as teachers align their practice to those. Overall, we are creating more opportunities for teachers to engage with the standards and resources to help educators with their instructional skills, particularly in literacy – an area we have struggled as a state.
We are also providing new text sets for pre-K to third grade that will help educators to enhance instruction, and we are better preparing future teachers by strengthening literacy standards and offering new tailored training for literacy faculty in our educator prep programs.
We also want to continue to expand the resources available to prepare for TNReady, including introducing a new classroom assessment builder with practice questions teachers can pull from to design their own assessments and releasing as many items as possible from the prior year’s test.
We must provide authentic pathways to success after high school. Every student should be able to choose their path in life. They should not have their options limited merely because their school doesn’t offer the same types of courses as a school in a different county or different part of the district. Our students have an incredible opportunity with Tennessee Promise to seamlessly access higher education. But access means nothing if they aren’t able to be successful.
We are introducing a new indicator called the Ready Graduate metric that will look at how students in each school are being prepared for college, careers, and the military across a variety of data points.
We want students to have a variety of opportunities in high school to be exposed to quality early college and career training. That will help them to discover what it is they want to do before they’ve started spending time and money on a specific career track. We’ll seek to scale-up what we already offer as a state and encourage districts to consider offering more work-based learning options or AP courses to help their students fully prepare.
And we are continuing to ensure opportunities like our historic ACT retake option for high school seniors are accessible for every student.
The goal of our work in K-12 education is to make sure students are ready for life after high school – whatever that may be. We have done an incredible job as a state in providing access to higher education through Tennessee Promise. Now we have to make sure students are Promise Ready. I’m excited at what I already see underway across our 146 school districts in Tennessee, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we accomplish together in our year ahead.