By Dr. Jim McIntyre, Jr., Superintendent of Knox County Schools
Written as a guest column in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Sunday, September 19, 2010
This week, as individual student reports go home for state assessments that our children took last spring (including TCAP), we stand at an extraordinary moment in the history of public education in the state of Tennessee.
In the past two years, the Volunteer State has gone from among the lowest in the nation in the rigor of our academic standards to among the highest. We have enacted landmark education reform legislation that will support high quality instruction in every classroom in our state. Perhaps most notably, we won the federal Race to the Top competition, highlighting Tennessee as a national leader in public education reform and improvement.
But if we want all of our children to receive an outstanding public education, to be competitive in this increasingly global economy and to have the opportunity to be successful and fulfilled in their lives, then we must resolutely continue on this bold path of innovation in public education.
That will take courage, particularly in light of the fact that higher standards will likely mean scores on TCAP and other assessments that are not nearly as favorable as we are used to seeing. In fact, the scores may be downright shocking. Based on our new higher standards, many students who are used to scoring in the proficient and advanced ranges may now see scores that are identified as "basic" or even "below basic."
It seems to me that given what we have accomplished thus far, and the challenges ahead, Tennesseans will have two choices. The first is to look at the lower test scores and declare that "the sky is falling," that we have gone too far and that we really must back away for the more rigorous expectations, primarily because they make us look bad in the short-term. I hope and believe that is not the path we will take.
Rather, I believe we will choose the other option, which is to look at the lower test scores as a realistic assessment of where we actually stand against a meaningful, rigorous, nationally benchmarked academic standard. We will see our lower scores as a new baseline, and then focus on the necessity for improvement and the means by which we will achieve it.
In choosing this path, we will put the long-term success of our schools and our children ahead of any short-term discomfort we may feel from lower test scores. By so doing, we will affirm that the sky is not falling, but rather "the sky is the limit" for our schools and for our kids.
Our students' assessment scores will illustrate that we have much work to do in our state and our community to ensure that every child is truly academically proficient. But both the state of Tennessee and the Knox County Schools have developed detailed plans to improve the quality of instruction and enhance the level of student learning in our classrooms.
If your child's grades or scores appear lower than you are used to, please don't get discouraged. This doesn't mean your child is learning less under the new standards, in fact they are almost certainly learning more. It's just that we have done the right thing in Tennessee, and significantly raised our academic expectations. Please ask for more information, and talk to your teacher or principal about what we can do to help.
At this critical moment for Tennessee schools, we all need to steadfastly support our state's bold path of education reform. If we expect more of ourselves and our kids, then our students surely will achieve more. The result will be a brighter future for our community, for our state, and most importantly, for our children.
James P. McIntyre Jr. is the superintendent of the Knox County Schools. This summer he was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve on Tennessee's First to the Top Advisory Council.