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Bill Haslam: We’ve come a long way in K-12 education

Bill Haslam • Updated Oct 2, 2018 at 9:00 AM

We have taken bold steps to improve K-12 education in Tennessee in the last several years, and we have seen great success as a result. So it is important to look back at where we were not so long ago and how far we have come.

In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an “F” in truth-in-advertising in K-12. We were saying that the vast majority of our students were proficient when they weren’t, and it showed. Many of our students went to postsecondary education in need of remedial courses.

We took major steps to correct that. We established higher Tennessee standards and a better way to measure how students are performing. We tied our assessment of students to teachers’ evaluations and the evaluations to tenure so teachers could receive the professional support they might need to improve. We also lifted the cap on charter schools in Tennessee to give Tennessee parents more choices for their children.

With the hard work of our students, educators and stakeholders across the state, Tennessee has made great gains. One of the highlights of our administration was the day we learned Tennessee was the fastest improving state in the nation according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card. In fact, I consider that one of my best experiences as governor.

We have gained national recognition. Last December, Stanford University released a map of student growth in public school districts across the country where Tennessee stood out for its increase in student achievement. In May, a report by Education Next, gave Tennessee an “A” for the state’s academic standards. A report this year by Achieve, an organization focused on college and career readiness, has Tennessee among the top seven states in closing the “honesty gap” between state assessments and national benchmarks. Tennessee’s progress remained steady in the most recent NAEP results released this year, mirroring national results.

We have invested heavily in K-12 education. While we have cut state spending in many other areas, with reductions of more than $570 million in the state budget, we have increased funding in education. Since we’ve been in office, we have increased funds for K-12 by $1.5 billion, with $500 million for teacher salaries.

While we have experienced well-known issues in the delivery of our TNReady student assessment, we are committed to fixing that problem. Our unprecedented improvements in education are the result of high standards and an assessment that matches those standards. We do no want recent delivery issues to cause us to lose sight of why we have these tests in the first place. We know we have to get this right, and with input we have received from educators across our state, we will.

We maintain ambitious goals. We have a stated goal of ranking in the top half of all states on NAEP by 2019. We currently rank in the top half on two of the six NAEP tests. We want 75 percent of our third graders to be proficient by 2025. Last year, 37 percent of our third graders were on track or mastered on TNReady.

We want the average ACT score in Tennessee to be 21 by 2020. Our class of 2017 had an average of 20.1, a state record. We want the majority of high school graduates from the class of 2020 to earn a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree. About 30 percent of students from the class of 2012 have earned a credential or degree.

So while we have come a long way, our goals are still high. We know we can reach new heights simply because we know we have risen from low national standing to a state that is a leader in standards and improvements. The future of our state depends greatly on our success in K-12 education. Because of the strides we have made in K-12, we can say with confidence that Tennessee will lead in education.

Bill Haslam is Republican governor of Tennessee.

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