Tennessee Graduation Rate Exceeds National Average… For Some

A GradNation report released last week offers a report card on graduation rates across the country. GradNation’s goal is to “increase the on-time graduation rate to 90% by the class of 2020″ and provides data and best practice opportunities to help states reach this goal.

Graduation rate is one those things we’ve come to depend on when assessing the health of a school. This would be fine if there were no instances of attempting to the game system by hiding students in alternative schools or employing “creative” tactics during testing.

The authors of this report acknowledge the skepticism, but make the point that while there is some truth to the skepticisms, for the most part, graduation rates are still a good way to see one slice of how students are doing.

According to the report, Tennessee has a graduation rate of 87.9% which is above the national average of 83.2%. This would be promising if we hadn’t just discovered hundreds of students graduating without the proper number of credits. While this little tidbit of information doesn’t alter the graduation rate, it does influence its credibility.

Still, with improved standards courtesy of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Tennessee is poised to realize a 90% graduation rate by 2020. Or is it?

The subgroup breakdown tells a different story (doesn’t it always?).

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The gaps between white and black students, white and Hispanic students, low socioeconomic and non, and students with disabilities and students without disabilities are astounding. How is it possible to celebrate a state graduation rate that beats the national average while only 80% of its black students and 70% of students with disabilities are so disturbingly below the mark? No celebrating here, but hope lies ahead.

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One of the components of Tennessee’s strategic plan Tennessee Succeeds is aptly titled All Means All created specifically to address inequities. The state department of education is to be commended for acknowledging the importance of closing achievement gaps by making it a priority. Because what gets measured gets done, right?

Thankfully, we’ve learned hard lessons from No Child Left Behind where subgroups were measured to death, so today states are doing everything possible to neutralize the effects of the well-meaning but off-putting education policy. And by most accounts, Tennessee is at the head of the class thanks to Race to the Top reforms and a solid ESSA plan.

Tennessee’s graduation rate is headed in the right direction and possibly moving on a faster clip than most states. Most significantly, there is a real possibility that the finish line will include all students. Fingers crossed.

See Tennessee’s GradNation report here.

Education in Tennessee is Up and Coming But That Doesn’t Help Today’s Students

Last week, Education Week released its 2017 Quality Counts national report card on education and Tennessee scores below the national average in every indicator. 

The good news is that we have repaired that which was perennially broken while significantly ramping up standards and expectations. The bad news is we’re missing those that fall into the gap between what was and what will be. 

According to this report, overall, Tennessee schools are operating at a C-just below the national average and rank 36th out of 50. It’s certainly nothing to cheer about, but there are reasons to believe the best is yet to come. 

Chance for Success

This category gives me pause. Education Week grades the educational influence a state has over the lifetime of its residents. Tennessee falls below the national average in each sub-category.

How we fared: 

Early Foundations– C+ ranking 39th

School Years (PreK-12)–  C- ranking 39th

Adult Outcomes (post-secondary educational attainment and workforce performance)– C- ranking 42nd

School Finance

I’m going to make this short and sweet; we received an F (46th!) in spending and a B in equity measures. 

Tennessee’s $9,499.10 per pupil expenditure ranks near the bottom and our larger school systems are rightfully begging for more. The Nashville School Board voted last summer to sue the State of Tennessee for more funding to adequately serve the district’s growing English Language population, the largest in the state. Metro Schools joins Shelby County (Memphis) and Hamilton County (Chattanooga) in suing the state for a bigger slice of the Basic Education Program (BEP) formula. 

Tennessee is no stranger to the courts after enduring years of a funding equity battle known as the “Small Schools Lawsuit,” the impetus for the creation of the extremely complex BEP formula. The funding distribution formula received a B and ranks 5th in the nation. 

Still, we need more money while ensuring each district’s portion adequately serves its diverse student populations. 

K-12 Achievement 


This category measures 18 areas of achievement such as reading and math, high school graduation rates, and Advanced Placement scores and breaks it down into three sub-categories. 


Status measures TN’s current performance: D- (36th)

Change measures TN’s improvement over a period of time: C+ (3rd)

Equity measures achievement gap between free and reduced meal students and non-FARM students: B (29th)


Hard Work Ahead

As mentioned above, Tennessee’s future is bright. Great decisions have been made in recent years that will yield tremendous dividends in the future. However, today’s students stand to miss the benefits. 

Yet, I believe Tennessee is working hard to align the new Tennessee Succeeds strategic plan with the Every Student Succeeds Act. We will get there. Together.