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State leads nation in academic progress

Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Nov 8, 2013 at 9:15 AM

Tennessee’s students are the fastest improving in the nation.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Tennessee had the largest academic growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress of any state, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation.

Haslam and other state and local officials turned out for a fanfare event at West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet.

The NAEP results also show that Tennessee had the largest growth of any state in a single testing cycle since NAEP started nationwide assessments a decade ago.

“These historic gains are a result of years of hard work by a lot of people across Tennessee: our teachers, students, principals, superintendents, parents, lawmakers, school board members, business leaders, and many others,” Haslam said. “As a state we’ve come together to make education a top priority.”

The announcement marks the early fulmination of a goal Haslam and State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman set early in the administration’s term in office.

“We set the goal to be the fastest improving state in the country,” said Haslam.

They had hoped to reach the goal by 2015.

“We’re going to have to come up with another goal now,” said Huffman.

Haslam also gave credit to former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who joined Haslam for the announcement.

“The state of Tennessee was making great strides prior to my administration coming into office,” said Haslam.

Bredesen was equally complimentary to his successor.

“This administration has done a wonderful job of putting its own stamp on things,” said Bredesen.

He also said, though, that as much as he enjoyed being there for “the victory laps,” the credit belongs elsewhere.

“This really is a victory for the teachers in Tennessee,” said Bredesen.

“We’ve asked a lot of our teachers and students, and they have delivered; they deserve the thanks for this progress,” said Huffman. “Dramatically improving results for kids is hard work, but this is what hard work can do.”

Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher at Rose Park Magnet Middle School in Nashville, took to the podium to discuss how education has changed in her classroom.

She said she changed from being the “holder” of knowledge to being a facilitator for higher-level thinking.

“For me, it has meant a change of mindset,” said Woodard.

She said that instead of thinking about all the reasons why a student may not learn something – living in poverty, caring for a younger sibling, etc. – she expects every child to learn everything.

“I walk into the classroom every day believing all of them can be victorious,” said Woodard.

The numbers

Commonly known as “the nation’s report card,” NAEP assesses students in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math.

All 50 states have taken NAEP since 2003, and the results are regarded across the country as the best way to compare educational outcomes across states.

Tennessee students’ combined growth on all four tests in 2013 exceeded the growth of all other states.

The state improved in overall national ranking in each of the four tests.  For fourth-grade students, Tennessee went from 46th in the nation in math to 37th and from 41st to 31st in reading. 

Tennessee also had very strong growth for African-American students, and the state saw gains in overall results while significantly increasing the participation of special education students on the test.

Tennessee has also seen three years of continuous growth on its state assessments, also known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.

Since 2010, 91,000 more students are on grade level in math, and 52,000 more students are on grade level in science.

For data on Tennessee’s NAEP results, visit: nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2013.

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