NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is meeting most of its goals for implementing educational reforms tied to a $500 million federal Race to the Top award, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.
It found the state’s major challenge during the 2010-2011 school year was a delay in hiring management and support staff for several key programs.
At least in part, that was because of turnover that occurred with the election of Gov. Bill Haslam and his appointment of new education commissioner Kevin Huffman.
“Although the new Governor collaborated with (Tennessee Department of Education) staff prior to taking office, and both he and his new Commissioner are committed to education reform, the transition to new leadership was not seamless,” the report states.
Race to the Top funds are meant to improve public schools by raising educational standards, providing instruction and support to teachers and administrators, helping officials use data to track student progress and turning around the lowest-performing schools.
Accomplishments during its first year in Tennessee included training more than 4,000 educators on the new common core state standards.
The report also recognizes Tennessee for implementing a new evaluation system for measuring teachers’ success. That move has been controversial among teachers. Some claim the evaluation method, which relies on student achievement data and classroom observations, is unfair.
The state will continue to work with teachers to refine the system. It also plans to develop measures for evaluating teachers in subjects that are not measured on standardized tests, such as art or physical education, according to the report.
Another way the state is trying to improve teacher quality is through providing alternative paths for people to enter the profession. UTeach encourages students majoring in mathematics, science and computer science to become teachers. Teach Tennessee recruits professionals — particularly in hard-to-staff subjects like math, science and foreign languages — to enter teaching.
The state also plans to publish report cards that evaluate how well different training programs are preparing teachers-to-be.
Another accomplishment was awarding contracts to update the state’s student achievement tracking system to allow tracking both to continue through college and to alert teachers at an early stage of which students need added help to succeed.
Tennessee also is improving and expanding education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through the development of schools with a special focus on those subjects.
As for turning around low-performing schools, the state is still working to create an Achievement School District, although that has not happened as quickly as Tennessee thought it would.
Student proficiency in reading and mathematics at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels in the 2010-2011 school year was not significantly different than two years previously.