Throughout the US, education officials are trying to put their best face on a national report that shows America’s fourth and eighth graders aren’t improving as quickly at math and reading as teachers, administrators, parents and politicians would like.
But not in Tennessee.
The biannual National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, shows Tennessee’s students improved significantly in both grades and in both subjects, the only state in the country to hold that distinction. The District of Columbia and the Department of Defense schools also showed improvement in all four testing areas.
Tennessee’s progress during the 2012-2013 testing cycle represents the most dramatic improvement in scores since all 50 states began taking the NAEP in 2003.
Tennessee’s fourth graders increased their math scores by an average of seven points and their reading scores improved by five points. Among eighth graders, math scores improved by four points and reading scores increased by six points.
Nationally, math scores rose only one point in both fourth and eighth grade, eighth graders improved two points in reading and fourth grade readers saw no measurable improvement.
Tennessee’s fourth graders went from a #46 national ranking in math to a #37 ranking. They also improved their national ranking in reading from 41st to 31st.
The state also showed significant progress in closing the achievement gap between white and African American students, particularly in the eighth grade. Black eighth graders in Tennessee schools saw a four-point improvement in reading scores in 2013 and a ten-point improvement in math.
“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,” Governor Bill Haslam said in response to the results. “As a state we’ve come together to make education a top priority.”
While the progress was significant, the report showed there’s still a great deal of room for improvement. In all four testing areas, fewer than half of the state’s students were able to test at or above the proficient level. According to the report, a proficient level is reached when the student demonstrates “competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.”