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ACT Gains Demonstrate Teachers Working Hard, Reforms Working, says Guv

If you ask Bill Haslam to interpret the significance of recent Tennessee ACT scores that show the most impressive statewide gains in a decade, he’ll tell you it shows teachers are doing a great job.

That, and it’s more evidence much-resisted education reforms initiated and implemented by his administration are creating positive results. Despite difficult workplace transitions, Teachers are adapting adeptly, and deserve praise, he said Wednesday.

“I think it’s further verification that we have great teaching going on in Tennessee schools, and we’re seeing the results of that,” the governor said following an event at Antioch High School to promote a new state program offering free community college to any graduating senior in the state.

Tennessee saw a gain of three-tenths of a percentage point in its ACT composite scores for all the state’s public and private school students, according to a news release from the state Department of Education.

The governor noted Tennessee is one of only 12 states that require ACT testing for all students — meaning the sampling wasn’t biased toward college-bound students.

This year’s increase is also the biggest jump since Tennessee “began testing all students in 2010,” according to the department.

The ACT gains, coupled with Tennessee’s designation last fall as the country’s most improved state on the so-called “Nation’s Report Card,” have Haslam confident his reforms are working.

Results like that “don’t just happen,” he said.

The Department of Education’s news release indicated “gains correlate with recent academic growth in high school on the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP.” It adds that while academic improvement was evident across socioeconomic lines, the results “point to the continued need to close achievement gaps” among minority student.

Skeptics of the Haslam administration’s emphasis on wide-scale standardized testing — and his reforms in general — aren’t buying that the results mean Tennessee is on a sustainably productive path in public education.

“It’s great to see an improvement. But we need to be cautious about placing too much emphasis on those test scores,” said Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association.

If the Haslam administration believes higher ACT and NAEP scores tell a complete story, many teachers “would disagree with that,” said Gray. Test scores don’t necessarily mean a better-educated student, she said.

“We know the students are being tested all year long, and they’re becoming better test takers because they’re being tested,” Gray said. “So, it’s important to me that we look at multiple measures of students’ achievement, to determine if the students really are achieving at a higher level.”

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Press Releases

TN Recognized for “Noteworthy” Gains in Student ACT Scores

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

NASHVILLE—Tennessee’s composite ACT score showed its largest gain in more than a decade, and increased more than it has since the state began testing all students in 2010, according to scores released today by ACT. Officials with ACT called the 0.3 gain “noteworthy.”

“Tennessee’s average ACT composite score growth of 0.3 is statistically significant and indicative of real academic progress,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions. “A gain of this size is unusual and impressive – particularly for a state that administers the test to all students.”

Tennessee’s composite ACT score for public school students rose from 19.0 to 19.3. For all students, which includes those who attend private school, the average composite score increased from 19.5 to 19.8.

These gains correlate with recent academic growth in high school on the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. For instance, proficiency in Algebra II grew nearly 6 percentage points over 2013, and more than 17 percentage points since the state began testing students three years ago. Nearly 50 percent of Algebra II students are on grade level, up from 31 percent in 2011. More than 13,000 additional Tennessee students are on grade level in Algebra II than when we first administered the test in 2011.

“These ACT scores show us that the work students and teachers are doing across the state is paying off, and will lead to real improvements for Tennesseans,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “Offering two free years of college to the state’s high school graduates through our Tennessee Promise initiative is only successful if students finish high school ready for college. We must continue to make certain that happens.”

Richard Bayer, assistant provost and director of enrollment services for the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said this year’s ACT scores are encouraging.

“As an enrollment officer who views academic achievement levels on a regular basis, a 0.3 jump would be a very significant increase in measuring the academic performance level of an incoming freshman class,” Bayer said. “As a state, we should view the score jump as very significant and a testimony to our upward trajectory in preparing more students to be college ready for degree completion.”

Tennessee is one of 12 states that require all students to take the ACT. While the composite ACT score showed that all students grew, the 2014 results point to the continued need to close achievement gaps for certain groups of minority students; the average ACT composite score for Hispanic students was 18.0, and the average for black students was 16.4.

“Gains on the ACT—especially when they are historic for our state—are always encouraging,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “The hard work of teachers to implement higher academic standards is having an impact. But the reality remains that only 16 percent of our students graduate from high school prepared to take college courses without remediation. We must continue to press forward with improvements to our education system so we can ensure that our students are ready to take advantage of the opportunities that await them.”