(Memphis, TN, Thursday, December 13, 2018) – Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, states have a responsibility to create systems to meaningfully address underperforming schools to provide all students a strong, equitable education. Tennessee’s school improvement plan was chosen to be reviewed as part of a new report from the Collaborative for Student Success and HCM Strategists, showing the results of an independent peer review analysis of current school improvement efforts across the country.
The report, “Check State Plans: From Promise to Practice,” highlights best practices being used in states to improve the lowest-performing schools, as well as ways states could better support student achievement. This includes whether districts and schools are using evidence-based strategies that meet school needs, and whether they are taking full advantage of federal and state funding.
Tennessee’s plan received positive reviews, earning an “Exemplary” rating (the highest rating and only given in two states) in 1 out of 8 categories: vision; and a “Strong” rating in 4 other categories: rigorous review, continuous improvement and monitoring, evidence-based interventions and capacity building. Tennessee received an “Adequate” rating in all other categories.
The panel of experts believe that Tennessee is using a “State Leadership Approach”—meaning the state takes an active role in supporting district and school improvement plans— and it is clear that the state is requiring districts to rely on data, disaggregated by student groups, to identify needs, solutions, and interventions. These strengths will make it more likely that districts and schools will make sustained, long-term improvement
Strengths: Tennessee balanced the need to set a theory of action, establish a set of guiding strategies, and provide clear district guidance, while allowing districts flexibility to make decisions for their schools. The state provides useful information and guidance on school improvement practices; at the same time it respects the professional knowledge of district leaders.
Where the Plan Can Improve: The state has used the experience from previous ESEA implementations to inform its approach, but nevertheless additional complexity runs the danger of compliance being prioritized over faithful implementation and a culture of improvement. Much time and energy will need to be devoted to ensuring that the field is able to use the tools for real school improvement. In referencing Tennessee’s school improvement documentation, it is hard to get a sense of the whole from the many pieces.