Takeaways from 2019 TNReady Scores

September is here, and for my oldest daughter that means the first season of fall baseball. She and her teammates are still too young to keep stats for their games (we’re focused on keeping the glove between the ball and our faces) but it made me think of how we evaluate performance. 

In Major League Baseball if a player raises his batting average by 10 points, then he’s clearly hitting better than before and that is a good thing that should be commended. However, if despite that rise the batter is still in the bottom half of the league, or still below the dreaded Mendoza Line, he and others would do well to recognize that there is still much more work to be done to improve his performance. (Non-baseball fans stick with me here)

So too with the latest round of TNReady scores, released by the TN Department of Education last month. Headlines were dominated by the improved scores in math statewide, with higher percentages of students proficient in 3-8 Math, Algebra I, and Algebra II. More students learning at higher levels is unequivocally good and hundreds of teachers and school leaders should be commended. However…

If you flip the numbers around, you remember just how many kids are not being served well, and are struggling in our schools. Almost 60 percent of 3-8 graders are not proficient in math. In high school, 72.6 percent of students are not proficient in Algebra I or II.

And in reading, that most fundamental of subjects, there was little to no growth to speak of statewide. As Chalkbeat reports:

[T]he percent of elementary and middle school students in grades 3-8 who met state proficiency standards in English dipped slightly from 33.9% to 33.7%. Improvement in the critical third-grade group remained stagnant with 36.9% of the state’s third-graders considered to be proficient readers compared to 36.8% in 2018. 

The reality is even worse in our two largest school districts. Only 25 percent of students in Davidson County are on grade level in 3-8 reading. In Shelby County, it’s only 20 percent on grade level. Combine that with the fact that only 12 percent of Shelby County high schoolers are proficient in Algebra I and II. 

So yes, growth is good. But we can’t be satisfied if the end result still leaves 4 out of every 5 (or more) students behind.

There is hope on the horizon. For thousands of families in Shelby and Davidson counties, the Education Savings Account program remains on-track to launch for the 2020-21 school year, giving them access to independent schools that could better meet a student’s needs.

The real challenge is to not let such a status quo dishearten our work. Rather, let us allow these TNReady results to energize and inspire our efforts to do even better on behalf of Tennessee’s students. Every one of them deserves access to a great education – let’s keep working to give it to them.