Special Report


January 04, 2005 3 min read
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Standards and Accountability: Tennessee has clear and specific standards in English, science, and social studies/history at the elementary and middle school levels, and in mathematics in all grade spans.

It is also closer than many other states to having standards-based exams in every core subject in every grade span. The state has standards-based tests in English, math, and science for elementary, middle, and high schools. It has standards-based tests in social studies/history in elementary and middle schools only.

The state’s grade dips because Tennessee relies heavily on multiple-choice items to measure student knowledge, with the exception of extended-response questions on English exams.

Tennessee publishes test data on school report cards and uses that information to help rate schools. The state provides help to schools that are rated low-performing. Schools that consistently earn low ratings face sanctions, such as school closure, reconstitution as charter schools, or loss of state money.

The state rewards high-performing or improving schools through its Incentive Awards Program.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Tennessee requires teachers to pass basic-skills and subject-specific-pedagogy tests to earn their licenses.

Future high school teachers also must pass subject-matter tests, but prospective middle school teachers seeking K-8 licenses do not have to pass tests in the subjects they plan to teach. However, the state plans to phase out those K-8 licenses in a few years.

While prospective high school teachers must major in the subjects they will teach, not all middle school teachers must complete a minimum amount of coursework in a particular subject.

Participants in any one of the state’s three alternative-route programs for teachers do not have to take tests or have majors or minors in their subjects before entering the classroom.

Once in the classroom, new teachers compile work samples and evidence of student growth, which are evaluated by state-trained assessors, to earn professional licenses. Assessors also conduct classroom observations of the teachers.

But Tennessee does not require and underwrite mentoring for its beginning teachers. It does, though, identify low-performing teacher education programs, based on the passing rates of their graduates on teacher-licensing exams.

School Climate: Reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey about levels of student engagement and parent involvement in schools all place Tennessee right around or below the national average.

But the state is one of the top-ranking states in the percentage of 4th graders who attend schools where physical conflicts are considered not a problem or only a minor problem by school officials.

The average elementary school class size, as reported by teachers on the federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, stands at 19.7 pupils, which is 1.5 students below the national average. But class-size information is not included on school report cards.

Tennessee has a limited open-enrollment policy, and its charter school law is considered weak by the Center for Education Reform.

Equity: Tennessee ranks 33rd among the 50 states for inequality in the distribution of education revenue based on property wealth. The state’s wealth-neutrality score, which measures that relationship, shows a moderate relationship between education revenue and local property wealth in the state.

Tennessee has a positive wealth-neutrality score, meaning that, on average, wealthy districts receive more state and local funds for education than property-poor districts do.

Tennessee ranks 45th on the McLoone Index, and it has a coefficient of variation of 10.7 percent, indicating moderate discrepancies in per-pupil spending across districts.

Spending: Just under 1 percent of students in Tennessee attend schools in districts that spend at least the national average.

The state ranks 36th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on the spending index, which takes into account the percentage of students in districts spending at or above the national average and how far the rest of the state’s students fall below that benchmark.

In the 2001-02 school year, Tennessee spent $6,530 per pupil, or about 85 percent of the national average, $7,734. The state is well below average in its commitment of total taxable resources to education, at 2.9 percent. The national average is 3.8 percent.

In March 2024, Education Week announced the end of the Quality Counts report after 25 years of serving as a comprehensive K-12 education scorecard. In response to new challenges and a shifting landscape, we are refocusing our efforts on research and analysis to better serve the K-12 community. For more information, please go here for the full context or learn more about the EdWeek Research Center.


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