Tennessee Introduces A-F Letter Grades for Schools, Emphasizing Proficiency

Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds has chosen a school grading system that prioritizes proficiency over growth when assigning A-F letter grades to Tennessee’s public schools. This decision marks a departure from the feedback received from Tennesseans, who expressed a desire to maintain a focus on growth in the state’s grading system. Reynolds’ plan aligns with the model supported by ExcelinEd, an education advocacy group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Although improvement will still be considered, achievement will carry more weight than under the previous formula. The grades will be released in mid-December, a month later than initially planned, to allow for data verification.

The calculation for the school grades will now include test scores for science and social studies, although not as prominently as math and English language arts. Chronic absenteeism data will no longer be factored in, but schools will be assessed based on how well they help their lowest-performing quartile of students improve. High schools’ letter grades will also consider college and career readiness, with measures such as ACT scores, postsecondary credits, or industry credentials. This shift in focus from growth to proficiency may lead to fewer A’s and lower overall grades for schools serving lower-income students in rural and urban areas.

There are concerns that this change could negatively impact schools and teachers, particularly those in high-poverty areas. Teachers at schools with low grades may choose to leave, exacerbating the challenges faced by these schools. Education advocates worry that the new system may advantage schools with more affluent students, while schools in high-poverty areas will struggle to earn high grades. However, Reynolds sees the letter grades as a tool to provide information to families and school communities, rather than a means to incentivize improvement.

Despite the concerns, there is hope that schools receiving low grades will receive additional resources to support their improvement efforts. Gini Pupo-Walker, the director of the Education Trust in Tennessee, looks forward to learning more about how the state plans to support struggling schools and ensure the success of all students.

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