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Why teachers should be proud of Tennessee’s education plan

As an educator in Tennessee, I am proud of our state’s hard work in developing a strong education accountability plan. The Tennessee Department of Education set a goal to make our state education system one of nation’s best. They sought to achieve this admiral distinction through several means. Our state has already achieved our ambition to be the fastest improving state in the nation according to NAEP scores. Tennessee’s education system was also highlighted on the national stage through a recently released report published by HCM Strategists and the Collaborative for Student Success, Promise to Practice,  where peer reviewers independently analyzed the progress states are making towards identifying and supporting the nation’s lowest performing schools.

Tennessee received an exemplary score  for having a “Coherent and Aligned Vision for Improving Outcomes.” The vision helps carry the entire initiative forward. The fact that other components of our plans are well-aligned to the vision, is proof that it was well-thought out, with each part designed to help us reach the goals for our students. State leadership also took an hands-on approach when deciding how to disseminate their vision. State Education Agency officials led the way by drafting the plan and outlining steps for implementation. Districts were then provided with resources to help support the structure of robust outcomes in the schools under their jurisdiction. The beauty of this model is that individual districts are still given the autonomy to make decisions according to their needs.

Our state received a rating of “strong” in four other areas of the plan reviewed in the report, including in our use of evidence-based interventions to help support targeted schools in making positive changes. While none of the areas investigated in the report were determined to be weak or needing improvement, there were some areas that received a rating of “adequate” that Tennessee should consider revisiting in the future. One of those ratings falls under engagement. All stakeholders must be able to understand the inner workings of the plan, and there were some areas that could lead to confusion amongst various stakeholders. Equally as important, is to make sure that all stakeholders, including community members, parents, educators, and students are involved in important decisions. There is always room for continuous improvement in our field, so we will gladly take that constructive criticism on Tennessee’s first roll out of a state plan under the new ESSA requirements.

One of the biggest impacts ESSA has had on states is added transparency when it comes to divulging information about school performance. If stakeholders cannot easily access the information about how schools are doing, how can they work towards improving the areas of weakness? Our principal made it a priority to share the link of the new state report card with our school and asked us to discuss the findings in their professional learning communities. The staff at our school celebrate how much easier this new format is to access, read, and understand. We can quickly identify areas of strength and weakness in our school’s performance. We are even using this information to strategize solutions to address past problems, while also thinking about ways to sustain our successes.

Overall, the Volunteer State is helping to pave the path to school improvement by providing an exemplary plan for our districts and schools to follow. Other states could benefit by learning from our example. Find out more about Tennessee’s rating in the Promise to Practice report here.

Dr. Rachel Peay Cornett is an Academic Interventionist at Brown’s Chapel Elementary. Here she teaches rising readers and future mathematicians in grades K-5. Rachel had been teaching for 13 years, previously having taught 1st grade. Dr. Cornett also teaches intervention pedagogy to preservice educators at a local university. She recently earned her educational leadership endorsement. She serves on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Early Literacy Council and has helped create statewide professional development about higher academic standards for students.