Tennessee is getting a big pat on the back from the country's top education officials. Science scores are in from the National Assessment of Education Progress, and the state leap-frogged ahead to become "most-improved" since 2011.
Just a few years ago, Tennessee had "embarrassingly low" scores, according to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. But in the most recent assessment, Tennessee students excelled. Tennessee was also the only state where both elementary and middle school students scored above the national average.
Governor Bill Haslam, who appeared on a conference call with the U.S. Secretary of Education, said he credits a decision from before he took office to make the state's annual standardized testing more difficult. That resulted in lower scores in the short term.
"We have a lot of teachers who bought into this idea that we have to make certain our students are college-ready, and our old way of assessing that was not accurate," Haslam said.
There was panic, initially, says science teacher Angie Tisdale of Freedom Intermediate School in Franklin. Evaluations were also going to be tied to testing for the first time.
"It was a wake up call to some other teachers who were OK doing what they had done in the past," she said. "It maybe made them look for new and innovative approaches."
Tisdale says younger teachers started turning to veterans for classroom management tips. Older teachers leaned on newcomers for technology help. She says the national test results just confirm that the state did the right thing.
Governor Haslam will be on something of a victory lap Thursday, with events in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis. He'll be joined by astronaut and Mt. Juliet native Barry Wilmore.