Texas Should Pay Attention to Tennessee’s Education Results

The Tennessee Department of Education recently released its state assessment results and they’re worth paying attention to for Texas policymakers.  

Across the state, various groups have been calling for a suspension of the STAAR exam. The most frequent justification for the suspension, and the resulting halt in the state’s academic accountability system (known as the A through F Ratings System), is the pandemic.  

Because of the pandemic, some groups argue that Texas should relax its emphasis on accountability and measurement to allow schools and students to recover from the Covid crisis. This is, in part, due to concerns that Texas students will perform much worse on STAAR than last year. 

The data from Tennessee calls this strongly into question. Here’s a look at what the Tennessee Department of Education results found: 

  • English Language Arts: 
    • A 6-point gain in elementary school proficiency, the highest proficiency TN has seen in the last five years.
    • A 6-point gain in middle school proficiency from 2021, matching their pre-pandemic achievement.
    • A 7-point gain in high school proficiency, the highest proficiency TN has seen in the last five years.
  • Math: 
    • A 4-point gain in Elementary School proficiency, which reflects a 33% gap closure from the pandemic.  
    •  A 6-point gain in Middle School proficiency from 2021, which reflects a more than 50% gap closure from the pandemic.
    • A 4-point gain in High School proficiency, which reflects a 50% gap closure from the pandemic.
  • Science: 
    • A 2% increase in score. 
    • All grade levels had more students Exceeding Expectations.  
  • Social Studies: 
    • Fewer students were in the lower performance bands (Below and Approaching), while more students were in the higher performance bands (Met and Exceeded Expectations).

These gains in Tennessee are most important because they’re very, very good news for students, educators, and superintendents in the state. They’ve committed themselves to recovering from the pandemic, and they’ve managed to be successful at doing so.  

These gains in Tennessee are also important because they can inform the decisions about COVID learning loss and assessments that legislators may make in the coming session.

The data from Tennessee makes clear that educational recovery and measurement are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they’re symbiotic. Without measurement, how would we know when student performance improves and understand why in one classroom but not another? How would we know which districts succeed at virtual education and why? How would we know which districts struggled both before and after the pandemic and require additional support?  

Standardized assessment results show how a valid, transparent and comparable statewide public education tool can help policymakers adequately resource the needs of schools as they recover from the pandemic or herald the successes of those who are doing it well.

In Tennessee, they remained committed to a strong system of assessments. They kept measuring and now they have good news to share. If Texas doesn’t measure, we will never know if it’s good news or bad news for Texas kids.