Bredesen Open Letter to Tennesseans: Raising the Bar for Student Achievement

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 | 03:52 pm

NASHVILLE - Governor Phil Bredesen's monthly column for September is an Open Letter to Tennesseans that focuses on the state's new, higher academic standards. Local school districts across the state are currently in the process of releasing student test scores to parents, and that process will continue through early October. Read the column below or online.


Dear fellow Tennessean:

Tennessee is raising the bar for student achievement with higher academic standards in the classroom. These new higher standards will help us make sure students are ready for college or career when they graduate high school. That means not only mastering the basics like reading and math, but also developing skills that colleges and employers value – like communications, problem solving and teamwork.
 
But higher standards also mean harder tests, and may result in lower test scores and grades for students in the near term. This is where our education reform efforts get hard and where students, parents, educators and communities need our full support to press forward.
 
In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing America’s top employers, gave Tennessee a failing grade for a lack of high standards in the classroom. We were giving graduates diplomas that implied they were ready for employment or college when many of them weren’t adequately prepared.
 
Rather than shy away from this report or contest its findings, we responded with a full-court press to raise the bar so a high school diploma means what it should: that graduates are ready for the job or college they’ll enter and their options aren’t limited because they weren’t provided the tools they need to succeed.
 
This effort is called the Tennessee Diploma Project. As part of this effort, Tennessee is one of 35 states working together with Achieve, an independent, bipartisan, non-profit organization that I co-chair that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments and strengthen accountability. Achieve and its national American Diploma Project network are dedicated to not just graduating students, but to ensuring they graduate college- and career-ready.
 
Early in our process we involved business and community leaders, educators, lawmakers and other stakeholders from across the state to build support for increasing the rigor of standards, graduation requirements, and developing tests that more accurately measure how well prepared students are for life after high school.
 
Last school year, Tennessee students in grades three through eight completed their first round of learning and testing under the state’s new and higher standards. Parents will begin to see the results of setting the bar higher when they begin to receive Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores based on this new proficiency levels this fall.
 
Again, this is where our reform efforts get hard, but we must not get discouraged. It’s important that students, parents, teachers and community members understand we must expect more to achieve more. Test scores sometimes dip when schools put in place higher standards. That doesn’t mean your child is going backward in knowledge. Reassure your child they’re capable of doing the hard work that’s needed to succeed.
 
In July, former U.S. Senator Bill Frist and I launched a campaign called “Expect More, Achieve More” to help prepare parents and communities about what to expect when student test results begin arriving in mailboxes across the state this fall. A project of the First to the Top Coalition, the Expect More, Achieve More coalition is a statewide alliance of more than 30 business, community and education groups committed to reform. Together, we’re working hard to arm parents with the knowledge they need to understand the results and then to engage their child and seek assistance in increasing their academic performance. You can learn more about this effort at www.ExpectMoreTN.org.
 
TCAP scores will be sent home in mid-to-late September and early October, notifying parents of their child’s knowledge in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies based on these higher standards. If your child is rated “Basic” or “Below Basic” in any subject, or if you find your child’s test scores or grades appear to be slipping, consider these steps: 
  • Don’t get discouraged. Remember all our students need the knowledge and skills that will equip them for the future, and we have to focus now to make sure Tennessee students are ready to succeed.
  • Ask for help. Call your child’s teacher or school and work together with them to put together a plan for helping your child succeed. Parental involvement is critical to helping a child achieve more. Your child needs your encouragement and support.
  • Know the facts. Understand why higher standards are important to your child’s future. Life is no longer about competing with just the people in the same hometown. Today, Tennessee students are competing with their peers across the globe. Thirty-five years ago, just 28 percent of U.S. jobs required training or education after high school. Today, 90 percent of jobs require some sort of training beyond high school.
A dip in test results in the near term may cause some people to question the merits of our efforts to raise the bar, but Tennessee is on the right path and the alternative – telling students that aren’t prepared for the demands of the real world that they are – is not a viable option for a state like Tennessee that is committed to the success of its citizens.
  
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