Tennessee, You Do Nobody Favors by Hiding How Many of Our Students Are Struggling

Last week I posted a blog about my wobbly hope in Tennessee’s education future, only to declare two hours later that my hope took a nosedive after receiving “good news” from the Tennessee Department of Education about our students’ latest standardized test scores.

Just because it glitters…

Don’t Fall for the ‘Good News’ Graph

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 9.09.33 AM

This is the first and only graphic state education officials pushed out for our consumption. “Look, y’all, we’re moving on up!”

If you are a visual learner your eyes will likely fixate on the height of the bars. If you are an optimist, your attention may be drawn to the growth between 2016 and 2017. If this type of reporting doesn’t interest you then you are subject to take the state’s word as bond.

The Whole Truth and Nothing Less

First, it’s always important to recognize and celebrate growth—and that’s clearly the aim of the state’s announcement. Thousands of teachers and leaders across Tennessee execute back-breaking work to ensure students get what they need and these efforts must be acknowledged.

But what are we sacrificing when we report out only part of the story? Who really gets hurt?

I want you to go on a journey with me through graphland where things are perfectly packaged and presented with a glossy finish. The graph presented above is well done, easy-to-understand and downright deceptive.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 9.08.51 AM

First, the graph (as seen above) only goes as high as 55%. Hold that thought for a moment.


Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 9.09.10 AM

Second, the reporting focuses solely on students scoring in two categories: On Track (Level 3) and Mastered (Level 4). Third, look at the graph in its entirety and check out the growth numbers. Again, all growth is important, but…

So, let’s talk about it.

I could be wrong, but I think most people expect measurements to range from 0 to 100. So if you’re looking at a graph and a bar goes halfway to the top, one automatically thinks 50% i.e., out of 100 students, 50 students made a passing grade.

But the state’s “good news” graph goes from 0 to 55 (using a really small font), accessorized with bright colors and bars that are seemingly headed toward the heavens. To put it in perspective, if the bars only go halfway in this graph, we’re talking only 27.5% of students.

Stay with me.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 9.09.21 AM

Take a look at this graphic showing growth from 2016 to 2017. So, in 2017, 21.5% of students (up less than a point from 2016) taking these high-stakes math exams are either on track or have mastered the standards.

This means more than three-fourths of Tennessee’s high school math students are not even on track! I don’t know about you, but to me this is feeling less and less like good news.


Remember, the graph only represents students who score in Levels 3 and 4, the highest performing students. But it’s the students they don’t show us that concern me. What’s not shown in this graph are the 78.5% of students who are scoring in Levels 1 (Below) and 2 (Approaching).

And that’s just in math. The percentage of students underperforming across the board is staggering:

  • English 66.6%
  • Math 78.5%
  • Science 49%
  • U.S. History 70.1%

Further, we have no data about the groups represented in these percentages. If tradition serves as a guide, we will discover Black, Brown, and low-income students disproportionately represented in Levels 1 and 2.

So spare us the smoke screens. The deception will create acrimony and distrust reversing the goodwill the state has produced in recent years. Celebrate the growth but amplify the deficits, to do the former without the latter is dishonest and our families deserve better.

Here’s to keeping hope alive.

4 thoughts on “Tennessee, You Do Nobody Favors by Hiding How Many of Our Students Are Struggling

  1. The smoke screens are such a joke. Enough already. Please tell the truth and be honest. That’s the only way we can get better. Such a shame. Queen Vesia, thanks for being our truth, eyes and third eye. Your greatness is needed during these times. I look forward to working with you more to help close the achievement gap. One love…

    Liked by 1 person

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