A new, independent report shows almost half of last year’s sixth-grade students have a 50 percent chance of scoring a 21 on the ACT college exam, enough to earn them a Tennessee HOPE Scholarship.
The report — compiled by the Tennessee Department of Education in conjunction with private firm SAS Institute Inc. — is based on data from Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) projections. The report also finds that 55 percent of last year’s sixth-graders have at least a 50 percent chance of scoring 19 on the ACT in math, being able to enroll in freshman-level math courses.
DOE Commissioner Tim Webb said in a statement that the findings underscore the importance of TVAAS data use as Tennessee raises its academic standards. Implementation of the Tennessee Diploma Project will ramp up curriculum standards statewide in the next few years, and will ratchet up requirements for students.
“It’s an advantage for us to have both proactive and reflective materials as we move forward with raising our standards with the Tennessee Diploma Project,” Webb said. “We do not want to leave any child behind especially as we start a new set of curriculum and assessments this school year.”
The report also includes some hefty recommendations, many of which can be implemented with resources the state already has in place, according to DOE spokesperson Rachel Woods.
Andy Spears, director of policy and outreach for Tennessee’s Stand for Children, said he’d like to see grant funding used to implement some of the recommendations in state school systems. Two of the report’s recommendations target practices to improve teaching, like pairing first-time teachers with mentors and assigning students to teachers who have demonstrated abilities with appropriate academic achievement levels.
“Our concern is, what is the department going to do to help districts make this possible?” Spears said. “A widely worded grant could fund four to five years of a statewide mentoring program.”
Spears specifically cited the Race to the Top stimulus dollars as a good source of the funding. The Race to the Top money, which has received national press following U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s statement last week that states will jeopardize their access to the money if they don’t embrace educational innovations such as charter schools, represents about $5 billion out of the total stimulus dollars approved for public education nationwide.
Duncan stated publicly in February that Tennessee was a likely state to receive some of these funds, and Woods said the state will probably apply to use the money for efforts connected to the Tennessee Diploma Project and TVAAS data use — two initiatives Duncan has highlighted as impressive Tennessee efforts. The application for the Race to the Top funding won’t be complete until the end of the summer, though, and the state is only beginning to plan specific requests to include in the application.
Teacher mentoring and teacher quality efforts could be funded through the use of grants other than Race to the Top, Woods said.
Click here to read the full report. 
|Academic Preparedness in TN.pdf ||598.88 KB|