There was interesting discussion Thursday about how Tennessee did on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”
The big question seems to be what’s to blame for the increase in the scores and if Tennessee will continue with those efforts.
After Governor Bill Haslam and education commissioner Kevin Huffman announced the test results at West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet, they traveled to John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis to once again remind Tennesseans that they set a goal in 2011 to be the fastest improving state by 2015.
They also lauded Shelby County for its reform efforts. Memphis has been the home of Tennessee’s Achievement School District and to a $90 million grant from the Gates Foundation for teacher effectiveness.
“You can’t have made progress without gains here in Shelby County,” Haslam said.
The governor, commissioner and Dorsey Hopson, Shelby’s superintendent, all noted that black students excelled faster than white students in the state.
Hopson told Chalkbeat that, despite the financial difficulties Shelby is experiencing, he is committed to continuing funding some of the district’s efforts that’s getting the credit for the NAEP scores, including the controversial teacher evaluation system.
Andy Spears, an education policy consultant based in Nashville, wrote for The Tennessee Report questioned whether we can attribute the growth to Tennessee’s “reform” efforts. More:
Despite some claims, though, it’s very difficult to say results on the 2013 NAEP are a direct result of reforms that took place in 2011 and 2012. States with more rigid teacher tenure and with collective bargaining for teachers scored higher overall than Tennessee (nevermind Ron Ramsey’s rant against both — they just don’t test out as significant indicators of student achievement in either a positive or negative way). And of course, it’s easier to grow when you have a long way to go — Tennessee has historically been among the lowest performing states on the NAEP.
Spears makes an interesting comparison to Kentucky which, he notes, “doesn’t use value-added data for teacher evaluations, has no charter schools, its teachers are awarded tenure after 4 years, and it hasn’t adopted any of the reforms Tennessee’s current leaders tell us are essential to improving scores.”
He does note, though, that Kentucky experienced a spike in the mid 90s and again between 2003-2009. Kentucky is known for one of the most widespread reform acts, known as KERA.
The Tennessean’s Joey Garrison had an interesting take on what the NAEP scores will mean for Tennessee’s politicians.
Results seem to mark a political win for Haslam, who has taken increasing heat from Democrats and others for overseeing major changes in education policy. This includes accelerating the use of teacher evaluations that tie performance to student test scores. Amid the fanfare Thursday, though, the governor stopped short of arguing that results prove the naysayers wrong.
“This isn’t about spiking the ball and saying we won the game,” Haslam said. “At the end of the day, what we’re all about is better outcomes for children.”
Garrison also has an interesting quote from Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association; “I wish it hadn’t come at the expense of teacher morale.”
The Commercial Appeal had some interesting commentary from local and statewide politicians.
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis issued a statement Thursday congratulating Tennessee teachers “for these extraordinary gains,” which he said bolster the opposition to private school vouchers.
“Public schools are winning without the help of vouchers, charters and for-profit schools. Taking money away from public schools will only undermine their success,” Kyle said.
But State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, rejected that premise: “This is a sign that the education reforms that we have been working on in Nashville are working and we need to push for more reforms, like opportunity scholarships, in Memphis, rather than less reform.”