While changes to education policies have led to some improvements in Tennessee’s public schools, policymakers and educators must focus on maintaining standards and improving teaching, leadership, student support and course offerings to address students’ still-lagging academic performance, according to a new report from the State Collaborative On Reforming Education, or SCORE.

Policymakers, education leaders and press gathered in Nashville Monday to mark the release of the report, which is the fifth in an annual series.

SCORE is a nonpartisan organization founded by former Sen. Bill Frist, a Republican. The organization has encouraged Tennessee to change its teacher evaluations and state standards, among other education policies. It is now pushing the state to both follow through on implementing those policies and to focus on several new education priorities.

SCORE’s 2013-2014 State of Education in Tennessee says that state policymakers and educators must remain committed to rigorous standards and assessments (namely, the Common Core State Standards); focus on school leadership; expand access to great teaching; invest in technology; and support students from kindergarten through career. 

 The report’s findings were drawn from a series of “Community Conversations” about education, interviews with district and state education leaders, and feedback from SCORE’s steering and policy committees, which includes members of Tennessee’s House and Senate education committees, superintendents, a teacher representative, and education foundations. 

The report touts Tennessee students’  higher scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, and increased rates of proficient in Algebra II as evidence of improvements. But it also points out that Tennessee is still below the national average on NAEP. And on the ACT, only 18 percent of Tennessee students met college-ready benchmarks.  

“Let me be clear: Work remains to continue on the path that will help all students graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to be competitive with their peers across the state, country, and globe,” Frist said in a press release. “Now is not the time to lose a sense of urgency.”

The annual report steps through the background of policy changes in its five areas of focus (standards, teacher evaluations, school leadership, technology, and support for students). It also breaks down the state’s scores on state standardized tests and teachers’ value-added scores by district.

SCORE’s priorities for 2014 include creating a data-driven system of education; increasing high school students’ access to rigorous courses, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes; and expanding the state’s offerings in Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering, or STEM.

Improving school leadership through new principal evaluations was also on the agenda at Monday’s meeting.

SCORE’s focus on maintaining momentum comes as state lawmakers and others have pushed back against the state’s embrace of the Common Core State Standards, which are now used in 46 states and the District of Columbia.