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Education NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

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.”

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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.”

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Press Releases

TN Announces New Priority, Focus Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 20, 2014:

NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education today announced the newest round of Priority and Focus Schools, as well as school-level TCAP results.

Tennessee’s accountability system identifies three types of schools, as required by the U.S. Department of Education: Priority, Focus, and Reward Schools. Priority and Focus Schools are named every three years, and the first designation was in 2012. Priority Schools are the 5 percent of schools across the state with the lowest overall performance. Focus Schools are 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, regardless of overall performance. A complete list of 2014 Reward Schools (those with the highest overall performance or growth) will be released on Thursday, Aug. 21.

All three school-level accountability lists are preliminary, pending final approval by the State Board of Education on Aug. 26.

With the announcement of this year’s Priority Schools also comes an investment from the state of more than $7 million to support districts in turning around these lowest performing schools. Most of this money will go toward a competitive planning grant for districts that have Priority Schools. These districts will have one year to plan before their schools receive mandatory intervention, such as inclusion in the Achievement School District or a district-led “Innovation Zone.” The state is also building an intensive, regional support team to help Focus Schools close achievement gaps.

“For the past several years, our state has been focused both on improving overall performance of all kids in Tennessee, while closing achievement gaps between historically low-performing groups of students and their peers; our school accountability system aligns with these goals,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “We’ve also made a significant financial investment in our lowest performing, or Priority Schools, and we’re starting to see signs of hope that this investment is paying off.”

After being named Priority and Focus Schools in 2012, the previously targeted schools made gains such as:

  • Since being named Priority Schools in 2012, the 13 Shelby County schools in the district’s Innovation Zone have significantly outpaced the state’s growth in math and reading.
  • The majority of Priority schools across the state outpaced the average state growth in elementary, middle, and high schools.
  • Nearly 80 percent of Focus Schools had a smaller achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers than the state as a whole, after two years of work.

Huffman said he was pleased with the results from the first cohort, and hoped to see the newest round of Priority and Focus Schools continue to move students forward.

“This is hard work, but results from the first round of Priority and Focus Schools show us that it’s doable. We’ve seen signs of hope and that’s why we believe it is critical to continue investing in these schools,” Huffman said. “We know it is unacceptable to have entire schools where less than 20 percent of the students are proficient in reading and math, and we must, therefore, work aggressively to help turn them around.”

To see a full list of Focus and Priority Schools visit: http://tn.gov/education/data/accountability/schools_2014.shtml.

To see district-level Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores, visit: http://tn.gov/education/data/tcap_2014_school.shtml.

To see value-added growth scores for districts and schools, visit: https://tvaas.sas.com/welcome.html?as=b&aj=b.

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Education Featured

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.”

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Education Featured NewsTracker

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.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

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.”

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Obama Edu. Chief Praises TN Teacher Eval Reforms

Tennessee’s effort to revamp the way public school teachers are graded on classroom performance earned a high-profile national testimonial Monday.

In a column for The Huffington Post, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote that the “Tennessee Story” and the Volunteer State’s improvements in student test-scores represents “Exhibit A” in the Obama administration’s defense of the Race to the Top reforms launched in 2009.

Duncan wrote:

During the first two years of the Race to the Top grant, from 2010 to 2012, an additional 55,000 students in Tennessee were at or above grade level in math and 38,000 additional students were at or above grade level in science. But Tennessee’s story also shows that reforming antiquated practices for evaluating teachers is hard, ongoing work — work that is far from finished.

Indeed, student achievement rose virtually across the board this year based on scores on the TCAP, or Tennessee Comprehensive Achievement Program, test given to students in 3rd through 8th grade, a result that, as the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted, prompted much “celebratory back slapping” by Gov. Bill Haslam and his education team.

Duncan acknowledged “initial blowback” to the Tennessee system, which puts more emphasis on test scores, requires more frequent evaluations and was first used in the 2011-12 school year. Continued poor performance, judged on a five-point scale, can lead to dismissal, and the evaluations are used in deciding whether to award tenure.

The state’s response to that criticism is another reason for accolades, added Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools chief executive, who devoted fully one-third of his HuffPo column to recent efforts by state officials to adapt and evolve the evaluation system based on feedback.

“It is vital that school leaders and administrators continue to solicit feedback, learn from their mistakes, and make improvements,” he wrote.

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Education NewsTracker

DOE: TCAP Officials’ Resignations Have Nothing To Do With Test Score Mixup

The state Department of Education says the resignation of two testing division officials is “completely separate” from a mistake the department made in downgrading two school districts four years ago.

The director and assistant director of the DOE’s division that administers the student achievement tests known as TCAP resigned Friday. One of the officials worked for the department in 2007 when the state misinterpreted student test scores for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Bedford County Schools, setting the wheels in motion for the districts to be taken over by the state under the federal No Child Left Behind education law, though the matter never reached that point.

“The departure of Dan Long and Stan Curtis had nothing to do with the 2007 calculation error, they are two completely separate issues,” spokesman Kelli Gauthier said in an email to TNReport.

Long directed the education department’s Assessment, Evaluation and Research Division. His annual salary was $82,752. Curtis, who started in 2010, was assistant director and made $81,000 a year.

Gauthier said No Child Left Behind standards were changed in 2007, allowing the state to dock a school district for failing to improve in either reading or math two years in a row, a benchmark called “adequate yearly progress” under the law. But before and after 2007, schools could only be flagged if they failed to make progress in successive years in the same subject area.

Metro schools, for example, missed the mark on reading test scores in 2006, improved in reading in 2007 but fell behind in math, and so the system was downgraded.

“Metro, along with Bedford County, kind of got caught in that weird interim period and got put on the list,” she said.

The Department of Education didn’t investigate or correct the record until this year, according to Gauthier, who said the state has since reset the school districts’ standing under No Child Left Behind.

The state is awaiting word from the U.S. Department of Education as to whether it can throw out the No Child Left Behind standards and measure its academic progress using state-created benchmarks instead.

Gauthier declined to comment on why the two officials left the department. Attempts to reach Long and Curtis for comment were unsuccessful. The state has launched a nationwide search for their replacements.

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Education

TCAP Scores Hint at Statewide Education Improvements

Gov. Bill Haslam and his Education Department chief, Kevin Huffman, on Thursday lauded the latest Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results showing students improving in key areas of educational achievement.

According to early results from TCAP, Tennessee students in grades 3-8 improved in math and reading by 7 percent and 3.7 percent respectively over last year.

“The growth trends were pretty consistent across the state,” Huffman told reporters after a brief ceremony at Murfreesboro’s Northfield Elementary School honoring teachers who’d seen significant improvements in their classrooms.

Murfreesboro City Schools’ was one of 18 Tennessee districts that posted a 20 percent or better test-score improvement in math and reading.

Detailed district-by-district results are expected to be released today, Huffman said.

“We’re all at the state level incredibly proud of Tennessee teachers, for the hard work that they have put in,” said Huffman. “When standards were raised two years ago, I think it was a hard pill for teachers to swallow — because across the state many kids who had been deemed proficient suddenly were told (they) weren’t proficient anymore under these new higher standards. It would have been easy to complain about it or not embrace it, and instead what people did was they doubled-down and worked harder and did incredible work in the classroom to drive results higher.”

“We owe our teachers a serious debt of gratitude for their hard work over the past year getting these results,” he said.

Huffman said state officials will analyze the results carefully to look for trends and indications of what has and has not been working in classrooms across Tennessee.

The governor applauded teachers’ efforts as well — however, he noted that Tennessee needs to continue improving significantly both to meet federal “No Child Left Behind” standards and ultimately to make Tennessee the “number one state in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.”

“We’re not at all satisfied with where we are at. But when you make a significant gain like 7 percent in math, you want to recognize it,” Haslam said.

Haslam earlier this week indicated he’d like Tennessee to receive a “waiver” from Washington’s “No Child Left Behind” mandates. The governor suggested he isn’t advocating lowering academic standards, but rather wants the states to “grade themselves” on whether their students are meeting educational objectives.

“With 80 percent of the schools projected to not be in compliance (with NCLB), we need to have some way to react to that, rather than to just say every school is not meeting the criteria,” Haslam said Thursday. “We are having ongoing discussion…not to lower standards, but to say within the world of ‘No Child Left Behind’ — if it stays in effect — how are we going to operate without just saying no school is meeting it. If nobody is meeting the criteria at all, the criteria is not going to mean anything.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has suggested 82 percent of schools across the country are in danger of “failing” under “No Child Left Behind.”

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