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Womick Redoubles Haslam Criticisms

Rick Womick isn’t backing down from provocative comments he made in a letter sent to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration a week ago.

The Rockvale Republican state representative told the Associated Press this week he’s sticking by his letter. In fact, he’s upped the rhetorical heat a bit, calling the reelection-seeking governor a “traitor to the party.”

“You had the head of our party targeting individual members because we don’t agree with him 100 percent of the time, that’s treason,” the former Air Force fighter pilot told the AP.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press first reported that, according to campaign finance reports, Advance Tennessee PAC, with connections to supporters of Haslam and Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House, Beth Harwell, was launched in July and spent $137,725 in five primary races against incumbent legislators who’ve opposed the administration.

Successfully fending off attacks from moderate challengers in the GOP primary were state Reps. Courtney Rogers of Goodlettsville, Mike Sparks of Smyrna, and  Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough.  Kingsport Rep. Tony Shipley, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee chairman, and Stacey Campfield, the notoriously controversial state senator from Knoxville, were both unseated.

Haslam laughed-off Womick’s warlike words. And he defended efforts to purge hostile Republicans from the General Assembly.

“I don’t know why my supporters should be precluded from doing what everybody else is doing, in terms of being engaged and trying to make certain good people are elected,” Haslam told reporters. He added that there are plenty of groups, such as teachers unions, who want to “engage in primaries,” and he doesn’t see his supporters actions as being any different.

Womick was one of 15 state legislators to sign a letter in late June that called for the resignation of Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s embattled education commissioner, on the grounds that he allegedly manipulated the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results when the department delayed their release by four days.

After the release of that letter, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper issued an opinion — requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet — that affirmed Huffman’s delay of the release of TCAP scores as acceptable under state and federal law.

Womick’s most recent letter to the administration accused the AG and Huffman of collusion on the opinion, and referred to it as “an orchestrated cover-up” and “Clintonesque.” Womick’s letter added that while many other legislators were unhappy with Haslam, to prevent further retaliation, he would not name them.

He also told the AP that in the future he expects a stronger legislative stance against Haslam, who is “making a lot of enemies very quickly.”

But Haslam said he plans to continue business as usual.

“For any governor, the job is to propose an idea and then to get at least 50 members of the House and 17 members of the Senate to vote in favor of it,” Haslam said. “I don’t think that’s changed.”

Haslam Announces 2013-14 Reward Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 21, 2014: 

NASHVILLE— Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced 168 schools as the 2013-14 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for academic achievement and the top 5 percent for annual growth.

The Reward Schools span 49 districts across Tennessee and include 90 schools that serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations.

“Tennessee teachers and students continue to show their dedication to teaching and learning,” Haslam said at an event held at Hazelwood Elementary in Clarksville, recognized for both its high overall achievement and strong growth. “Our Reward Schools are leading the state in progress and performance, and we are thrilled to recognize the extraordinary efforts of staff and students at these Tennessee schools.”

This year’s list recognizes 67 schools for overall academic achievement and 84 schools for annual value-added growth. The list also names 17 schools that earned both designations, rising to the top 5 percent for annual value-added growth while also ranking in the state’s top 5 percent for overall achievement.

These 10 percent of schools receive recognition for their success, and the department interviewed the 2013 Reward Schools to compile best practices for schools across the state. “Learning From The Best: Promising Practices from Tennessee’s 2013 Reward Schools” identifies themes and promising practices in leadership, instruction, and school climate. You can view the report online at http://tn.gov/education/data/doc/learning_from_reward_schools.pdf.

“We believe there are many lessons to be learned from these top performing schools. Every student deserves a school where they will be supported and challenged, and we are excited to share best practices that have proven successful,” Huffman said. “Because our accountability system recognizes growth and different starting points, we have enormous diversity in our Reward Schools.”

A complete list of 2014 Reward Schools is available here: http://www.tn.gov/education/data/accountability/schools_2014.shtml.

School-level achievement data is available here: http://tn.gov/education/data/tcap_2014_school.shtml.

TN Education Reforms Hailed in New U.S. Chamber Report

Changes in the state’s Department of Education since the Tennessee General Assembly voted to adopt the Common Core standards for education a few years ago are being highlighted in the summer issue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quarterly magazine, Free Enterprise.

According to the magazine, the USCoC recently completed a follow-up to their 2007 report, Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness, which indicates a “growing problem” of a less-than-sufficiently educated and skill-prepared labor force.

But Free Enterprise notes that Tennessee has been lauded by experts for its willingness to tackle the problem, most notably by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has praised state politicians and elected leaders for sticking to their “controversial but common sense decisions” in the face of pushback against reforms.

Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber, said in the article that the commitment to reform policies under both Gov. Bill Haslam and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, have given Tennessee’s students “the promise of opportunity and success beyond high school.”

Interviewed for the article, Bredesen told Free Enterprise, “Education reform has got to be about picking a course of action and sticking with it over a long period of time, not just letting it flow back and forth when you get a new governor.”

Changes in the way Tennessee teaches kids in public school and measures their performance  has more and more become an area of political controversy. In particular, the nationwide effort to implement the Common Core Standards in Tennessee has over the past year created some odd bedfellows among those who’re becoming reform-weary.

The Obama administration are big fans of Common Core, as are big-name Tennessee political figures like Gov. Haslam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and former U.S. Senator and GOP majority leader Bill Frist

On the other hand, skeptics and out-and-out opponents include both conservatives and liberals, teachers’ unions and anti-tax activists. There’s even a stand-up comedian working criticism of Common Core into his schtick. Conservatives fear that the standards complicate the ability to learn and will lead to liberally biased textbooks. On the left, there’s a worry that the curriculum and standardized evaluations will add to classroom pressures on both teachers and students, which isn’t conducive to enhancing a productive learning environment.

The Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national non-profit conservative political advocacy group is big in to the battle here in Tennessee. The state’s AFP arm announced this week  it’d spent about $500,000 in the past six weeks “bringing the issues with Common Core to light.” AFP claims its illumination of the issues impacted outcomes in several state primary elections last week.

In its 2014 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill, signed by Haslam, to halt implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, and do some price-comparisons on others in the meantime. The Volunteer state will continue to use the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program — or TCAP — until the 2015-16 school year.

The state’s largest labor group that represents teachers, the Tennessee Education Association, has claimed it’s lobbying efforts this past session resulted in lawmakers delaying the testing program, which is affiliated with Common Core. The Washington Post called the TEA’s effort’s “instrumental” in passing the delay.

Rep. Glen Casada is a vocal opponent of Common Core whose positions usually don’t line up with the wishes of teachers’ unions. He, too, has claimed responsibility for putting PARCC on the back-burner, and he also hopes that in the interim lawmakers will decide to scrap it altogether.

Casada sought to play up the downsides of Common Core up as much as possible in his Williamson County district’s primary race against a local school board member, Cherie Hammond, who was generally regarded as more politically centrist than the veteran House Republican caucus chairman. Casada won handily.

Casada told TNReport this week he’s not entirely convinced the gains the state’s posted in student performance of late can be attributed in any significant way to anything having to do with Common Core. For example, given that Common Core is still more-or-less in a rollout phase, it’d be a stretch to suggest last year’s big nationwide testing gains for Tennessee touted by both Gov. Haslam and Education Secretary Duncan had a whole lot to do with it, Casada said.

The Franklin lawmaker, who isn’t facing a general election opponent, said the state’s teachers and students posted testing gains that actually appeared to have emerged during a two-year “interim period” when Tennessee public schools got out from under No Child Left Behind and before Common Core Standards were being pushed in earnest.

Casada interprets that to mean, “When no large bureaucracy was guiding what teachers do, we excelled.”

Critics of Huffman Want Decision from Haslam

Despite a recent opinion by Tennessee’s attorney general offering legal cover to the state Department of Education for its decision to delay release of student test scores, critics of the agency’s embattled commissioner aren’t letting up on their demand that he be cut loose.

And they want Gov. Bill Haslam to make a decision sooner this summer rather than later in the fall after the general election, as he’s indicated he intends to do.

“I haven’t sat down and had that conversation with [any of the commissioners] about the next four years, because it’s not appropriate,” Haslam said on July 8. “I’m in the middle of a campaign right now, and we will — this fall, if I’m re-elected, we’ll sit down with all 23, and see if they want to continue, and if that works for us.”

Kevin Huffman has been a lightning rod for criticism from both the left and the right. But by the same token he’s got staunch defenders among both Republicans and Democrats as well. Two of his biggest fans have been Tennessee’s GOP governor and the Obama administration’s education chief, Arne Duncan.

Haslam has been emphasizing improvements in test scores that have come about under Huffman, including Tennessee’s status as the fastest improving education system in the nation. The fundamental test of his administration’s education efforts ought to be student performance, the governor said, and in his estimation kids in Tennessee’s publicly funded classrooms are “learning more than they ever have before.”

However, opposition to Haslam on education — in particular, his embrace of both Common Core and student-testing as a means of evaluating the job teachers are doing — runs deep both among educators and conservative politicians who fear the state is giving up control of its education system to outside forces.

Citing a “complete lack of trust” in the commissioner, as well as alleging the manipulation of test scores, a letter sent to Haslam on June 19 demanded Huffman be replaced. Fifteen Republican members of the Tennessee General Assembly — 13 lawmakers in the House and two senators, endorsed the letter, which declared that mistrust of Huffman stems from his “actions and general attitude,” and that he’s demonstrated a “failure to uphold and follow the laws of the state of Tennessee in this latest TCAP debacle we are currently witnessing.”

The letter also questioned whether or not Huffman had the authority to waive the inclusion of TCAP scores, considering that a bill passed by the General Assembly in the 2014 session granted Huffman waiver abilities, but specifically excluded waiving requirements related to “assessments and accountability.”

But state Attorney General Bob Cooper recently released an opinion, requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, that found Huffman in fact didn’t abuse his authority by waiving those requirements, that no state or federal law “would be violated by a delay in releasing TCAP test scores,” as long as the results were provided by June 30, which they were.

The attorney general’s opinion did little, though, to change the minds of Huffman’s detractors.

Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the attorney general’s office opinion, and said it didn’t really carry any legal weight. And anyway, “there are a lot of different issues” on which Hensley said he’s had problems with Commissioner Huffman.

Hensley, a member of the Senate Education Committee, indicated he stands by the letter’s main thrust. Huffman should “go somewhere else,” he said. “I just feel like the commissioner doesn’t listen to the superintendents and the teachers and the principles, and he doesn’t listen too much to the Legislature, either.”

Julie West, the president of Parents for Truth in Education, said that she thinks that Cooper’s opinion is just splitting hairs.

“The irony is Commissioner Huffman pushed for this, because he’s all about the testing, and when he doesn’t get the results he wants all of a sudden he wants to do away with that being factored in,” West said. “And let me say, if the Governor and the Commissioner were really as proud of TCAP scores as they want us to believe, it certainly would not have been announced during the Fourth of July.”

West said that she was not just in favor of Huffman’s resignation, but that he should be fired. West also said that part of the problem, and what was “more disturbing,” was that Cooper “seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be the attorney for the people of Tennessee, rather than a servant of the Governor.”

“I think that part of the issue is the people of Tennessee don’t have a voice in who the Commissioner of Education is, and don’t have a voice in who the Attorney General is,” West said. “And for that reason they don’t feel, or they seem to act in ways that don’t show a lot of concern for what we believe, and truthfully for what the law seems to be.”

West described her group as not of any particular political perspective, but just people who are not “tolerating” what’s happening to their kids under Common Core or Huffman’s education department.

And regardless of the attorney general’s view on the controversy over the TCAP scores, those on the left wing of Tennessee’s political spectrum still think Huffman needs to go, too. The Tennessee Democratic Party has regularly called for Huffman’s ouster, on the grounds that he is aloof and unresponsive to local teachers and education officials.

The governor owes it to the people of Tennessee to declare whether or not he plans to keep Huffman around, said Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron. That decision, Herron told TNReport, “is overdue, and should be both made and announced as soon as possible.”

“The commissioner has refused to listen to the teachers in public schools, and to the superintendents and schools boards who run those schools,” Herron said in a phone interview. “But the commissioner has united Tennesseans, from Tea Party Republicans to Tennessee Democrats, from 60 superintendents to thousands of teachers, who all agree it is past time for this commissioner to go back to Washington.”

Mary Mancini, a Democratic candidate for the Tennessee State Senate district being vacated by longtime state legislator, Sen. Douglas Henry, said that Haslam needs to either make his decision about Huffman, or “explain in non-political terms” why he has not made that decision yet, because she finds the education commissioner’s performance to be lacking.

“When looking at this job performance, it’s clear that [Huffman]’s just not working the way he should be; doing his job basically,” said Mancini. “He’s been difficult and unresponsive to legislators on both sides of the aisle. Somebody needs to hold him accountable, and both Republicans and Democrats have been trying to do that, and he’s been completely ignoring them, and unresponsive, and that’s not acceptable.”

And the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, believes that the TCAP delay is another in a line of issues with the state’s top education executive, said Jim Wrye, government relations manager for the TEA.

“The policies were placed in that it would be anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of a student’s grade, and that it wasn’t ready at the end of school just threw a huge wrench into what is one of the most important things — which are final grades — for students, and especially for teachers,” Wrye said.

Wrye, though admitting he’s not a lawyer, said that he found the AG’s opinion interesting  because “the idea that you could be exempted from student assessments was something that was prohibited in that flexibility bill. It was something we had discussed at length during the legislative session.”

In September 2013, 63 school superintendents from around the state signed a letter criticizing the education reform policies being implemented by the state’s top education office. And later in 2013, teachers’ unions across the Volunteer State cast votes of “no confidence” in Huffman.

However, Huffman has enjoyed some recent support, with a petition of support recently announced that, as of press time, features over 400 signatures from Tennesseans, including Kate Ezell, a consultant associated with the Tennessee Charter School Incubator as a funds-raiser from September 2011 to January 2013.

State Releases Report on Year 2 of the Teacher Evaluation System

Press release from the Tennessee Dept. of Education; December 9, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Education released a report today on the second year of the teacher evaluation system across the state as part of the process of continuous improvement.

The report details measurable improvements during the 2012-13 school year, including improved teacher perception of the evaluation system, a strong correlation between observation scores and student achievement indicators, and an increase of teachers who received individual growth metrics.

“Developing an effective model for evaluating educators is part of our system-wide effort to develop better conditions for teaching and learning in Tennessee,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “We are encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far, and the department will continue to use feedback from stakeholders and measurable outcomes in classrooms to improve evaluations year after year.”

While implementation of the teacher evaluation system in Year 2 was significantly improved from Year 1, the department recognizes opportunities to further refine and advance the evaluation system. As a result of feedback from the second year of implementation, the report details additional changes for the 2013–14 school year. These changes include a more comprehensive and rigorous certification exam for all evaluators, an increased number of evaluation coaches working in regional offices, and a new model for assessing growth for World Language teachers.

Much like the report the department issued in July 2012 on the first year of implementation, this report is part of a commitment to ensure that the evaluation system is studied and modified based on stakeholder input, external and internal study, and detailed data analyses.

The department is committed to continuing to study and improve the system each year to ensure teachers receive high-quality, timely feedback that supports excellent instruction and improved student outcomes.

TN Students Show Fastest Improvement on 2013 NAEP Nationwide

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; November 7, 2013:

MOUNT JULIET – Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Tennessee had the largest academic growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of any state, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation.

The NAEP results also show that Tennessee had the largest growth of any state in a single testing cycle since NAEP started nationwide assessments a decade ago.

“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,” Haslam said. “As a state we’ve come together to make education a top priority.”

The governor was joined for the announcement by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Wilson County Director of Schools Timothy Setterlund, Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher at Rose Park Magnet Middle School in Nashville, state legislators, business and community leaders, and students, faculty and staff of West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet where the event was held.

Commonly known as “the nation’s report card,” NAEP assesses students in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. All 50 states have taken NAEP since 2003, and the results are regarded across the country as the best way to compare educational outcomes across states. Tennessee students’ combined growth on all four tests in 2013 exceeded the growth of all other states. For data on Tennessee’s NAEP results, visit: http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2013.

The state improved in overall national ranking in each of the four tests. For fourth-grade students, Tennessee went from 46th in the nation in math to 37th and from 41st to 31st in reading. Tennessee also had very strong growth for African-American students, and the state saw gains in overall results while significantly increasing the participation of special education students on the test.

“This administration’s goal has been to be the fastest improving state in the nation by 2015,” Huffman said. “We’ve asked a lot of our teachers and students, and they have delivered; they deserve the thanks for this progress. Dramatically improving results for kids is hard work, but this is what hard work can do.”

Tennessee has also seen three years of continuous growth on its state assessments, also known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Since 2010, 91,000 more students are on grade level in math, and 52,000 more students are on grade level in science.

Rutherford Education Association Votes ‘No Confidence’ in Huffman

Press release from the Rutherford Education Association; October 1, 2013:

MURFREESBORO—Delegates of a recent Rutherford Education Association Representative Assembly took an unprecedented move to unanimously adopt a position of no confidence in Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman.

“Commissioner Huffman wants to make Tennessee the ‘fastest’ improving state in terms of education. It seems to me that if you want to go fast, you go by yourself, but if you want to go far, you go together,” said Rutherford Education Association President Emily Mitchell. “I wish Commissioner would include input from the outstanding educators we have in this great state so that students, teachers, parents and community members could go far together.”

REA’s vote comes after nearly 60 directors of schools signed a petition to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, urging him to put the brakes on Huffman’s education initiatives. Additionally, the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association took a similar vote of no confidence in Commissioner Huffman last month.

“Mr. Huffman has made it apparent while pushing his education initiatives that he does not respect or appreciate the students and teachers of Tennessee,” said Rock Springs Middle School teacher Dr. Melinda Pope. “As an educator, I have confidence in our teachers, students and parents. I will always have the students’ best interest at heart, as do all professionals. I just ask the leaders of this state to do so as well.”

“From a hasty implementation of a new evaluation system to the abolition of a proven state salary schedule, teachers fear public education is headed in the wrong direction,” Mitchell said. “Efforts to push education reform in Tennessee have already been dubbed “education deform” as record numbers of educators retire or leave the profession. This turnover often has a negative effect on the continuity of instruction in Rutherford County because the county has to constantly retain new teachers.”

Longtime public education advocate and award-winning educator Darrick Bowman of Siegel High School said he agrees with the vote of no confidence.

“Over the past two years teachers have not been treated as professionals, and I believe that there has been an attempt by many in this state to dismantle and discredit public education,” Bowman said. “Teachers agree that we need genuine reform. But the consistent betrayal of the classroom teacher, as well as the students we teach, coupled with virtually no input from classroom teachers regarding these vast changes must stop. That begins with a no-confidence vote in Commissioner Huffman.”

Lawmakers Taking Wait-and-See Approach to Common Core

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee on Friday wrapped up two days of hearings on the the new nationwide education-standards blueprint that’s been drawing attention around the country.

The committee, chaired by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, didn’t take any definitive action, but promised a formal written review of the Common Core Standards plan in Tennessee.

Common Core is all but certain to remain on the political radar going into the 2014 state legislative session as the Tennessee Department of Education and local school districts continue implementing various program elements.

“These hearings have met the goal that we set, and that was to bring us some enlightenment on the whole subject of the Common Core State Standards,” said Gresham at the close of Friday’s meeting. “It will be our job now to soberly reflect on what we have heard, and then put together a report that will go to the full Senate in January.”

Gov. Bill Haslam’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, defended Common Core and Tennessee’s participation in it. Applying standards to Tennessee students that are aligned with standards used to assess students across the country will work to their long-term advantage, he suggested.

“Tennessee students are as smart and as capable as students anywhere in the country, and…when we give them the right challenges and opportunities, they rise to those challenges,” Huffman said.

Tennessee, one of 45 states to take up the standards, adopted Common Core in 2010, and has been gradually shifting its education standards to full implementation over the past three years.

Those testifying included teachers, administrators, business leaders, politicians and representatives from nonprofit organizations. The issues discussed ranged from concerns about student privacy and “data mining” to concern over selection of appropriate reading materials.

A Republican state senator from Georgia, William Ligon of St. Simons Island, testified before the committee about his state’s experience with Common Core. Ligon said he’s been pushing Georgia to ditch the initiative because citizens don’t seem to have a lot of say in how it is carried out or what students are asked to learn through it.

One worry voiced frequently during the hearing was the prospect of added Common Core costs to local Tennessee school districts. Ligon argued Georgia taxpayers are very likely paying more for education as a result of the program, but there’s actually no official Common Core fiscal evaluation by the state government.

“(Common Core) was brought to Georgia without any review of the cost,” Ligon said. “In our hearings held last January in our state senate, I specifically asked our Department of Education, ‘Where is your cost analysis?’ And they had none.

“The only estimate of costs have come from nonprofits, such as the Pioneer Institute, and they concluded that Georgia would be spending about $225 million on professional development, $100 million for textbooks and $275 million on technology,” Ligon continued. “One of the things that we found was is that our cost to administer standardized tests went from $11 per student to $33 per student, if your school system had the technology and the broadband to administer these tests online.”

The written test could be purchased for $40 per student, if the school was unable to administer the tests online due to technological restrictions, Ligon said.

Huffman downplayed any potential cost increases. The Tennessee General Assembly appropriated $51 million in funds last year to provide aid for local school districts with “technology readiness,” he said, adding that technological advancements are needed to help Tennessee students achieve more, and be better prepared for secondary education and the workforce.

Huffman told reporters new assessment tests across the state will raise costs $1 million to $5 million more “than if we had to do TCAP covering the same subject areas.”

Haslam, Huffman Announce 2012-2013 Reward Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 19, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced 169 schools as the 2012-13 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for annual growth and the top 5 percent for academic achievement.

The Reward Schools span 52 districts across the state and include 70 schools that serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations.

“Tennessee continues to set the standard in education reform as we maintain our focus on high levels of achievement and continuous growth,” Haslam said at an event held at Percy Priest Elementary, recognized for its overall academic achievement. “Our Reward Schools have proven that all students can learn and grow even though their starting lines may be different, a critical part of our effort to prepare our students for the jobs available in the marketplace now and in the future. We are incredibly grateful for the teachers and staff at each of these schools and excited to recognize their efforts on behalf of Tennessee students.”

Tennessee has set out to become the fastest-improving educational system in the country by raising student performance each year. For the second year, the state has recognized Tennessee schools that have shown the most progress year-over-year alongside the schools with the highest achievement scores on statewide tests.

This year’s list recognizes 70 schools for overall academic achievement, and 83 schools for annual value-added growth. The list also names 16 schools that earned both designations, rising to the top 5 percent for annual value-added growth while also ranking in the state’s top 5 percent for overall achievement.

The 2012-13 Reward Schools made these impressive accomplishments during a year when Tennessee saw consistent gains on the statewide Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. As schools across the state made improvements and reached higher levels of proficiency, the 169 Reward Schools led the way.

Because Tennessee’s accountability system rewards growth and recognizes schools’ varying baselines, every school in the state can strive for the Reward Schools designation.

“We believe that all students deserve strong schools where they can grow to high levels of achievement,” Huffman said. “At the beginning of each year, every school in this state should know that they have a shot at becoming a Reward School.”

$8M in Race to the Top Funds Granted to Local School Districts

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education announced today it will grant $8 million in state Race to the Top funds to districts that agree to implement specific initiatives that advance the core purpose of Tennessee’s First to the Top plan.

The money will be awarded to 83 districts that have chosen to participate in the First to the Top Scope of Work Supplemental Fund. These districts serve more than half of all students in the state.

In order to opt in to the First to the Top Supplemental Fund, districts chose to implement at least one innovative program or strategy in three categories: Teacher evaluation, implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and student assignment. These areas reflect priorities of the state’s original Race to the Top grant, and the districts’ selections will take effect during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. For a complete list of district options and participating districts, please see the attached overview.

“We felt this Race to the Top money would best serve the students of Tennessee at the district level, and we’re excited to see so many districts take advantage of this opportunity,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “These funds will allow more resources to be spent on these critical areas across the state.”

Participating districts have chosen strategies like conducting the February writing assessments online in grades 3-11, using student surveys to count for 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score, and using two observers for at least one of a teacher’s mandatory observations.

Tennessee’s initial $501 million Race to the Top award divided the grant between districts and the state. The $8 million Scope of Work Supplemental Fund comes directly from the state’s Race to the Top portion.

The 2013-14 school year marks the last of the state’s four-year First to the Top grant. Additional information about the First to the Top program is available online here.

For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.

Details on the Supplemental Fund Overview and Participants can be found here.