Press Releases

McQueen Announces Task Force on Student Testing, Assessment

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; March 2, 2015:

NASHVILLE — Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today announced the formation of a special Tennessee Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment to study and identify best practices in testing at the school level and how those assessments align with required state tests.

“We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place. So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels,” McQueen said. “Proper assessment tools are vital in making sure we are supporting our schools, teachers, parents, and students with clear information about what students are learning and mastering. We want to highlight those districts that are finding the right approach and balance on this important topic, and to identify any areas for discussion and improvement.”

The new task force includes a broad spectrum of education leaders, teachers, and stakeholders. The first meeting of the task force will convene in late March, and will focus on the results of a district assessment survey.

“Assessments can be powerful tools in ensuring the work we’re doing in education is effective and that we are gaining a return on our taxpayer investments,” Senate Education Committee Chairman and task force member Dolores Gresham said. “I’m excited to be a part of this important work.”

The task force will issue a report on its findings this summer.

The task force will include the following members:

  • Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
  • Sara Heyburn, Executive Director, State Board of Education
  • Dolores Gresham, Chairman, Senate Education Committee
  • John Forgety, Chairman, House Education Committee
  • Harry Brooks, Chairman, House Education Committee
  • Mike Winstead, Director of Schools, Maryville City
  • Wanda Shelton, Director of Schools, Lincoln County
  • Mary Reel, Director of Schools, Milan Special Schools
  • Nancy Ashe, Assistant Director of Schools, Lebanon Special Schools
  • Beth Unfried, Director of Elementary Schools, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
  • Sharon McNary, Principal, Richland Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Philip Eller, Teacher, Cedar Grove Elementary, Rutherford County Schools
  • Becky McBride, Teacher, Brighton High, Tipton County School
  • Valerie Love, Teacher, Dobyns-Bennett High, Kingsport City Schools
  • Susan Lodal, President, Tennessee School Boards Association
  • Jasmine Carlisle, 11TH-grade Student, Mt. Juliet High, Wilson County Schools
  • Virginia Babb, Member, Knox County Parent-Teacher Association

Ex officio members

  • Kathleen Airhart, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Stephen Smith, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Emily Freitag, Assistant Commissioner, Curriculum and Instruction, Tennessee Department of
  • EducationNakia Towns, Assistant Commissioner, Data and Research, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Eva Boster, Teacher Ambassador, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Alyssa Van Camp, Director of Policy, State Collaborative on Reforming Education
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.

Education News

Haslam Seeking Waiver from ‘No Child Left Behind’

Gov. Bill Haslam asked the federal government Friday to let Tennessee opt out of national education standards and replace them with benchmarks set by the state.

The governor asked the Department of Education to allow the state to replace the gauges set by No Child Left Behind, the education reform passed under former President George W. Bush, with state-driven indicators. The state is crafting its own standards under Race to the Top, an Obama administration education initiative.

“This is a case of the federal government should trust the state to do what’s best for the state,” Haslam told reporters on a conference call Friday. “Applying for a waiver is not about making excuses in Tennessee. It’s actually just the opposite.”

Under No Child Left Behind, more than half of Tennessee schools are deemed as failing this year. However, 80 percent of those schools still saw improvements in reading, math, or both, according to state Education Commissioner David Huffman.

“If we do not get a waiver and if Congress fails to act, we will be back here in a year announcing that the vast majority of schools in the state failed to meet (adequate yearly progress). We can grow student achievement levels by 5 percent, by 10 percent across the board and that would still be true,” said Huffman, who contends current standards are distracting the state from focusing on other reforms.

This year, 78 Tennessee school districts and 806 schools failed to meet the annual progress measures set by the U.S. Department of Education.

Under the current guidelines, that could mean roughly 140 schools could be eligible for a state government takeover in 2015 and as many as 1,500 schools two years later. Last year, 13 schools’ performance qualified them to be taken over by the state.

“While No Child Left Behind has been very invaluable, we feel like it maybe outlived its usefulness in its current form,” Haslam said.

“It needs to be overhauled, we don’t see the action from Congress to do that any time soon and then finally, we think states really do know what we should do. We think we proved that in our Race to the Top application,” he continued.

Haslam’s predecessor, Phil Bredesen, led the state’s reforms to qualify it for the Race to the Top grant. But he contended at the end of his term that the federal government is often prone to authority-overreach in matters of public education.

“Our K-12 system operates with a lot of reference to and rules promulgated by the Department of Education, and the Department of Education pays about 10 percent of the bill and has no responsibility for educating the kids or any of those kinds of things, and that’s kind of a creepy invasion of that,” he told TNReport in December.

The U.S. Department of Education offered up in June that it would work with states that have problems measuring up to No Child Left Behind, assuming Congress doesn’t get around to reshaping the act before adjourning in August.

While Tennessee has a long way to go in turning around education outcomes, changing the state’s expectations so they make sense closer to home is a good first step, said Jamie Woodson, the former state senator who helped promote the Race to the Top education reform ideas. She’s since become CEO of SCORE, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

“A challenge that Tennessee faces is fitting this bold reform plan within a meaningful federal accountability framework,” she said.

Asking the federal government to change how it holds Tennessee accountable on education constitutes Haslam’s most visible attempt at telling Washington what to do.

Haslam has called for federal disaster relief after floods swept through the state earlier this year, and joined other governors in pushing back against higher fuel economy standards and asking for more flexibility in the Medicaid insurance program for the poor.

He has leaned on Attorney General Bob Cooper to challenge the national health care act and, along with other states, seek to police illegal immigration. But Haslam has avoided officially calling for the federal government to act on those issues. is an independent, not-for-profit news organization supported by donors like you!

Press Releases

Women, Girls Reminded Of Increasing Impact Of HIV/AIDS

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Health, March 9, 2010:

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is March 10

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today about one in four Americans living with HIV is a woman, and a new woman in the United States is diagnosed with HIV every 35 minutes. These sobering facts are the foundation of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The Tennessee Department of Health is participating in this annual health observance March 10 by reminding women and girls about preventing HIV and the importance of getting tested.

“It is vitally important that all women and girls in Tennessee who are sexually active get tested for HIV,” said Veronica Gunn, MD, MPH, FAAP, chief medical officer for the Department of Health. “By knowing their status, women can take steps to protect themselves from HIV, to receive treatment, or prevent passing it on to others, including their children.”

All women need to know about the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. HIV can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, a disease that weakens the body’s ability to fight infection and certain cancers. Having unprotected sex is the main way HIV is spread; 80 percent of new HIV infections in American women and girls result from sex with an infected male partner. HIV is also spread through injection drug use or from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Women and girls of color, particularly African American women and girls, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25 to 34. In Tennessee, there were 1,071 new cases of HIV diagnosed in 2008. Of that number, 285 cases were in women, and 75 percent of the cases in women were among African Americans.

A person may feel perfectly healthy for several years after becoming infected with HIV, and may be at risk for passing the virus on to others. The only way to know for certain if an individual is infected with HIV is to be tested. While there is still no cure for HIV, people with HIV and AIDS are living longer and stronger lives thanks to a number of new treatments.

The Tennessee Department of Health offers confidential HIV testing at all county health department clinics. TDOH clinics also offer counseling with a trained health care provider on ways to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. Find a list of county health department clinics online at Other sties that offer HIV tests can be found online at Mobile phone users can send a text message with their ZIP code to “KNOWIT” (566948), and within seconds will receive a text message identifying a testing site near them.

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a nationwide initiative coordinated by the Office of Women’s Health to raise awareness of the increasing impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. To learn more, visit