By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam says a goal to improve Tennessee students’ proficiency scores by 20 percent over the next five years would provide evidence that the state’s education overhaul is working.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said at budget hearings in Knoxville last week that his agency wants to meet that goal.
“We want Tennessee to be the fastest-improving state in the country in education results,” Huffman said. “We think that we have a plan to do that, and we think that we have the capacity to do that.”
Huffman said Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores currently show 40 percent of third-graders rank as proficient in reading, while just 29 percent of seventh-graders achieve proficient scores in math.
“We’re also attempting to decrease gaps between groups of students while we increase overall student achievement,” he said. “We’re attempting to close the achievement gaps that exist in this state between white children and minority children, between poor children and non-poor students, and students with disabilities.”
The state has been implementing more data-driven approaches to education as part of federal Race to the Top grants and through Haslam’s own policies since being sworn into office in January. They include an overhaul of teacher evaluations and making tenure more difficult to obtain.
Haslam told The Associated Press after the budget hearing that achieving high goals would justify the upheaval in the education system.
“Obviously, Tennessee has undergone a lot of reform and we’re still in the middle of it,” he said. “And I think people eventually want to see if the results are going to show up in Tennessee.”
“I think it’s about using the data that we have, to have specific plans to what we are going to do different so we don’t stay at the bottom,” he said.
Tennessee this month submitted a request for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements as it charts its own course for improving education standards. Huffman said he hopes to hear back from the U.S. Department of Education soon because some state laws would have to be changed to remove references to federal accountability standards.
“They have made no promises,” he said. “We have made them aware that it’s very important to us to hear back before the end of the calendar year.”