Most Tennessee high school students lag in college readiness according to first TNReady results

The vast majority of Tennessee’s public high school students are not prepared for college, based on scores released Friday from Tennessee’s new standardized test.

Under the state’s tougher new grading scale, nearly three-quarters of students performed below grade level on each of the new tests. Specifically, only 30 percent of high school students tested last school year are on track or have mastered their grade level in English and reading, while 21 percent are considered college-ready in math.

The results closely mirror how Tennessee students score on the ACT college-entrance exam. In 2016, only 17 percent met all four college readiness benchmarks.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen emphasized that the drop in scores was because the state’s new TNReady test is harder and aligned to more rigorous standards, not because students and teachers aren’t working hard.

“We are confident that this process will lead more students to be ready for opportunities after high school,” she said at a morning news conference.

McQueen called this year’s scores “a challenging moment” but a necessary one in order to “set a new baseline” for Tennessee students.

“These results are an opportunity, and we want our teachers, families, and students to know we will all grow from here,” she said in a separate statement. “In past transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term — and students performed better on national assessments, including by making our state the fastest improving in the country.”

When Tennessee shifted to its Diploma Standards in 2009, passing rates on end-of-course tests were cut nearly in half. Those scores steadily rose, and McQueen predicted the same will happen with TNReady.

The state also released end-of-course test scores in science, which held steady from last year. Because science standards have not been updated, the state used the same test and grading scale as years past. The science test will be updated in 2019 when new standards go into effect.

McQueen said the distribution of teachers’ value-added scores, which are based on students growth, will remain steady, just as they did during the last testing transition. Teachers can choose this year whether to include value-added in their evaluation scores.

“You still have students growing even though achievement levels are based on a new baseline,” she said.