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States From Our Research Center

Educational Opportunities and Performance in Tennessee

January 21, 2020 | Updated: September 02, 2020 5 min read
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Based on a comprehensive analysis of data, the Quality Counts report card answers a key question: Where does my state rank for educational opportunities and performance?

States are graded and ranked in three categories: Chance for Success (January), School Finance (June), and K-12 Achievement (September). A state’s overall grade, published in September, is the average of its scores on the three separate indices tracked for the report card.

State Overview

This year, Tennessee finishes 39th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 72.4 out of 100 points and a grade of C-minus. The nation as a whole posts a grade of C.

Diving into the findings for the three graded indices, Tennessee earns a C in the Chance-for-Success category and ranks 40th. The average state earns a C-plus. In School Finance, Tennessee receives a D-plus and ranks 42nd. For the K-12 Achievement Index, it finishes 12th with a grade of C. The average state earns a grade of C in both School Finance and K-12 Achievement. More details on results in these categories are reported below.

This highlights report features data in three categories: Chance for Success, School Finance, and K-12 Achievement.

Chance for Success: Gauging Educational Opportunities

The EdWeek Research Center developed the Chance-for-Success Index to better understand the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes across an individual’s lifetime. Based on an original state-by-state analysis, this index combines information from 13 indicators that span a person’s life from cradle to career. Those indicators fall into three sub-sections: early foundations, school years, and adult outcomes.

The index evaluates each state using a range of measuring sticks, including:

  • How educated are parents?
  • What share of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool?
  • Are K-12 students proficient in reading and math?
  • What’s the high school graduation rate?
  • What percentage of adults have steady employment?

Diving into the findings, Tennessee earns a C in the Chance-for-Success category and ranks 40th. The average state earns a C-plus.

Early Foundations: Are Kids Getting Off to a Good Start?

For early foundations, which examines factors that help children get off to a good start, Tennessee earns a B-minus and ranks 42nd. The average state posts a B.

School Years: How Are Students Faring in School?

Tennessee receives a C for the school years, a sub-category focusing on metrics related to pre-K enrollment through postsecondary participation. It finishes 35th in the nation in this area. By comparison, the nation as a whole earns a C-plus.

Adult Outcomes: Are Adults Finding Opportunities for Success?

In the area of adult outcomes, based on postsecondary educational attainment and workforce indicators, Tennessee’s grade is a C-minus. It ranks 42nd in the nation. The national average is a C-plus.

School Finance: Grading the States on Spending and Equity

This year, Tennessee finishes 42nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 67.6 out of 100 points and a grade of D-plus. The nation as a whole posts a grade of C.

The school finance analysis examines two critical aspects of school spending. Of the eight indicators in this category, four assess school spending patterns, while the remaining metrics gauge equity in the distribution of funding across the districts within each state.

Spending: How Much Are States Devoting to Education?

The spending metrics shed light on major questions, such as:

  • What does the state spend per-pupil when adjusted for regional cost differences?
  • What percent of students are in districts with per-pupil spending at or above the U.S. average?
  • What share of total taxable resources are spent on education?

Across the spending indicators, Tennessee finishes with an F compared with a national average of D. Tennessee ranks 46th in the nation in this area.

Equity: How Are Funds Distributed Across Districts?

For each state, topics covered by the equity analysis include:

  • To what degree does funding for property-poor districts differ from that of their wealthier counterparts?
  • How different are the spending levels of the highest- and lowest-spending districts?

On the equity measures, Tennessee receives an A-minus, which places it second in the national rankings. The nation as a whole earns a B-plus.

K-12 Achievement

The K-12 Achievement Index examines 18 distinct achievement measures related to reading and math performance, high school graduation rates, and the results of Advanced Placement exams. The index assigns equal weight to current levels of performance and changes over time. It also places an emphasis on equity, by examining both poverty-based gaps and progress in closing those gaps.

Indicators in the index can be broken down into three sub-categories: status, change, and equity.

The index provides information on key questions, such as:

  • What percentage of 4th and 8th graders are proficient in reading and math?
  • How has student achievement changed over time?
  • How large are gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers? Have those gaps narrowed over time?

Status: How Are Students Performing Today?

Measures in the status sub-category evaluate a state’s current performance. Tennessee receives a D-plus in this area and ranks 32nd in the nation. The average state earns a C-minus.

Change: Has State Achievement Improved Over Time?

The change sub-category examines a state’s improvement over time. In this area, Tennessee posts a C and ranks ninth. The national average is a D-plus.

Equity: How Large Are Poverty-Based Gaps?

In the equity sub-section, states are graded based on disparities between low-income students and their more affluent peers. Tennessee’s grade on those poverty-gap measures stands at a B-plus. Nationally, it ranks 10th in this area. The nation as a whole receives a B-minus.

Coronavirus Learning Loss Risk Index: How Might The Pandemic Affect Students?

The September installment of Quality Counts 2020 also focuses on the factors that might have placed students at greater risk for learning loss as the coronavirus pandemic forced school closures and remote learning. The EdWeek Research Center’s Coronavirus Learning Loss Risk Index measures educational opportunities during the pandemic using eight indicators of instructional support and home technology access, including an evaluation of disparities associated with household educational attainment. Based on the analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from May 14 through May 19, students in Tennessee are at medium risk of learning loss when compared to other states.

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