NOTE: Below is a guest post by Dr. Sharon Roberts, Chief Operating Officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).
There has been a lot of discussion recently about how to improve our schools and increase student achievement, and it can often be tough to cut through the chatter and identify the smartest solutions. But right now, Tennessee has a clear path forward that is easy to see.
Superintendents from 114 of the state’s 141 school districts have signed letters asking their state legislators not to change Tennessee’s academic standards during this legislative session. The letters echo the findings of SCORE’s 2014-15 State of Education in Tennessee report, which identified moving ahead with updated assessments and stability for the standards as the top priority for the coming year.
It’s not often that we see this much alignment from such a diverse group – representing small rural districts, large cities, and communities of sizes in between. The leaders that signed these letters represent districts that educate about 85 percent of all Tennessee public school students. When we have this many voices speaking together, it is important to respectfully listen to what they are saying. The great majority of Tennessee school district leaders – the people who witness every day how our academic standards are working in classrooms – want to keep those standards unchanged this year and let the current process to review and refine our standards play out.
On the heels of these superintendents and directors of schools speaking out, we heard from community college presidents who agree. They know that in recent years about 68 percent of students entering community college have needed to take remedial classes to get prepared for college-level work and that a stronger foundation in K-12 means success in post high school credentialing and work. They are working diligently to help Tennessee achieve the bold goals of the Drive to 55. That’s why they, too, asked policymakers to maintain the existing standards that are helping strengthen students’ skills.
Superintendents, college presidents, and educators we talk to across the state agree that providing a stable environment to move ahead is the best thing we can do for Tennessee students this year.
The urge to take bold action during the legislative session can be strong, especially when it comes to setting our kids up for success. But this year, educators and many others believe that the strongest leadership our leaders can provide is to hold off on major changes and give our teachers, students, and parents some stability while they implement the student-focused policies that have already been put in place.
While there is no need for legislative action, I do urge other Tennesseans – especially teachers – to take action by taking the time to review our English language arts and math standards and provide feedback on what’s working and what can be improved. That’s the best way to ensure our state standards will work in Tennessee classrooms. You can visit www.tn.gov/standardsreview to see what the standards look like and offer your own thoughts.
The decisions we make today will impact an entire generation of Tennesseans. We all want to make sure that our students are on the path to success in college, careers, and wherever life takes them. Right now, our policymakers can keep students on that path by rejecting proposals to start over or to go back and committing to gathering thoughtful input and building on the strong foundation that is already in place, and that is paying dividends for our students.
Dr. Sharon Roberts oversees SCORE’s organizational operations and project management to further the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic plan. She is also heavily involved in SCORE’s outreach program, targeting and engaging stakeholders across the state. Prior to joining SCORE, Dr. Roberts entire career was spent as an educator, beginning as a special education teacher in the Grainger County School System, spending 21 years in Knox County School system as a teacher, instructional coach, principal and assistant superintendent, and then becoming Director of the Lebanon (TN) Special School District.