Tennessee Schools to Release A-F Grades: Here’s What You Need to Know

Subscribe to

Starting this week, Tennessee will assign each of its public schools an A-F letter grade for the first time since the 2016 law was enacted.

The aim, according to Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds, is to provide families, educators, communities, and policymakers with an understanding of the performance of their local schools.

She believes that using a letter-grade system, which families are already familiar with from student report cards, is the best way to achieve this.

However, the policy has faced controversy since it was first discussed by lawmakers nearly ten years ago, and local school leaders are concerned that the grades may confuse parents and harm school communities.

They argue that a single grade is overly simplistic and cannot fully capture the quality of learning and support that a school provides, especially in communities where students face additional challenges before even entering the classroom.

Local concerns intensified when the state education department recently revised its grading formula in a manner that will make it more difficult for certain schools to achieve an A or B grade.

Related: Tennessee urgently overhauls its A-F school grades. Educators express discontent. ]

Here is what you need to know about the upcoming school letter grades, which will be released by the state on Thursday.

What will the grades measure precisely?

As mandated by state law, the grades must consider student performance and improvement based on annual state tests. High schools will also be evaluated on college and career readiness, taking into account measures such as ACT scores, postsecondary credits, or industry credentials.

How will the grades be calculated?

According to the recent presentation by the department to the State Board of Education, the formula gives the most weight to student proficiency. Growth, or the improvement of a school’s students from one year to the next, is the next important factor. Another criterion aims to assess how well schools assist their lowest-performing quartile of students in improvement.

The formula takes into account test scores for English language arts, math, and science for elementary schools, while middle and high schools are evaluated in all four core subject areas. However, certain subjects carry more weight than others.

The state has not yet publicly disclosed the thresholds for each letter grade based on its data calculations.

Will the grades have an impact?

Yes, beyond the perception of a school’s quality by the public. Beginning in the 2024-25 school year, under Tennessee’s new K-12 education funding formula, school districts or charter authorizers could face hearings before the state Board of Education if their schools are rated D or F.

In the end, administrators may be required to submit a corrective action plan or undergo a state audit of spending and academic programs at the school.

School ratings can also affect real estate prices in the vicinity of a school, as well as teacher and student morale. Research has revealed that ratings provided by third-party websites tend to be biased and can steer families toward schools serving more affluent, white, and Asian students.

Why is Tennessee implementing school grades?

Lawmakers who supported the law argued that A-F school grades would serve as a practical tool for parents navigating an increasingly complex school choice system.

Notable supporters included ExcelinEd, an advocacy group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as well as other organizations favoring taxpayer-funded vouchers for families to send their children to private schools. (Gov. Bill Lee recently proposed expanding Tennessee’s voucher program statewide, which currently operates in three counties and has fewer than 2,000 participants. Private schools receiving vouchers will not be assigned grades this year.)

School letter-grading policies were also advocated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization composed mainly of conservative state lawmakers. The group’s funding comes from foundations, trade groups, and some corporations, according to research by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Why is it only now that schools in Tennessee are receiving their first grades despite the law passing in 2016?

The initial release of grades was scheduled for 2018 but was repeatedly delayed due to technical issues and disruptions caused by the pandemic.

This year, shortly after assuming her role as Tennessee’s education commissioner, Reynolds made it a priority to introduce A-F grades and initiated a process to revise the grading formula. The revised formula will utilize results from tests that have already been administered. The purpose of the revision, according to Reynolds, was to generate grades that reflect meaningful differences in school performance and are understandable to Tennesseans.

How has the formula changed, and what impact will the revisions have on the final grades?

Previously, Tennessee’s grading formula placed greater emphasis on growth, which refers to the progress schools made in helping their students meet specific academic standards within a year.

The new formula places more weight on achievement, or proficiency. Achievement measures how much students in a school know and whether enough of them meet grade-level standards on state tests.

These changes are likely to lead to fewer A’s and generally lower grades than previously anticipated for many schools, particularly those serving students from lower-income families in rural and urban communities.

On a broader scale, this transition marks a change in direction for Tennessee, which was an early adopter of using growth data to assess the performance of its students, teachers, and schools. Educators have generally embraced this model as the most effective approach to evaluating the quality of learning in their classrooms and schools.

Do other states assign A-F letter grades to schools?

As of late 2021, 11 states incorporated such grading measures into their accountability systems, as reported by the Education Commission of the States.

However, several states, including Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, and Utah, have subsequently reversed these policies. In Texas, a judge recently barred the state education agency from issuing grades after several districts filed lawsuits. The districts claimed that the agency had unjustly recalibrated its formula and had communicated those changes too late.

Where will Tennessee’s grades be published?

As of last week, state officials had not yet revealed their exact plan for releasing the grades this week. is actively monitoring and reporting on this matter.

In the end, the department intends to publish all grades, along with school