With the others, I filed into the school gymnasium, my super zoom camera lens at the ready and a nervous smile on my face. Across the room, I caught a glimpse of my unsmiling daughter, and my apprehension grew about how this awards day program would play out for her.
My daughter does not love school, and the past few years have been an academic struggle for both of us--the tears, exhaustion, frustration, laborious tutoring sessions and below average grades. Several times we both felt ready to give up. As a mom, I hurt for her and I have propped her up with all the nurture and encouragement I can muster. As a veteran teacher, I found myself falling short. I enlisted help from her teachers, her principal and an excellent tutor. Together we worked diligently. It has been a continuous and challenging journey to say the least. I sat there waiting for the program to start. Wondering. Pondering. Reflecting. Hoping.
Then, I did what all working moms do--checked my phone one last time before the program. An email --“NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) student growth results”--caught my eye. The anxiety and uncertainly I had about my daughter's progress multiplied. This was the Nation’s Report Card! I was most curious to see Tennessee’s results because educators there had chosen to take a remarkable risk and implement the Common Core State Standards a year ahead of other states.
I had talked with teachers in Tennessee about the countless struggles they had worked through over the past few years. They told me of the angst they experienced as they grappled with their professional desire to exceed effectiveness, newly enacted assessments and evaluations, and the difficult task of implementing new, more rigorous standards. Teachers told me they were often exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, and sometimes ready to give up. At the same time, caustic blogs bombarded Common Core, TVAAS, evaluations, and new initiatives. Critics questioned whether drastic transition in both curriculum and accountability was going to improve education for Tennessee students.
I pictured those teachers and education leaders throughout Tennessee waiting apprehensively before scanning the NAEP results. Wondering. Pondering. Reflecting. Hoping. Had the struggle been worth it? Then I saw it. U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had specifically mentioned Tennessee as the state showing the most NAEP student growth in the nation. He noted that Tennessee has shown continuous growth over the past three years on the TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program).
After all the challenges of implementation and of policy changes, Tennessee has taken a giant leap forward in student growth. Using tools like TVAAS has helped teachers and administrators more effectively use the data available to focus not only on proficiency but also on growth. Teachers have worked together not only to implement new standards but also to help each other grow professionally. The Tennessee Department of Education has worked to provide support and accountability and to ensure student growth and effective teaching. Their methods and their progress have both been validated.
Although I live in North Carolina, I cannot help but beam with pride for Tennessee. You put students first, made bold choices and charged ahead of the nation. And you have shown us all that student growth is possible through change, and in spite of it. Thank you, Tennessee, Awesome job! Was it and will it continue to be a challenging journey? Most definitely. Was the anguish you experienced along the way worth it? Absolutely.
As the awards program in the school gymnasium ended, I glanced across the floor at my daughter. She was smiling about school for the first time in a very long time. After so many challenges, obstacles, tutors and endless homework help, she made her first B in Math and she almost made the Honor Roll. Oh yes, she also received an award. Okay, it was for perfect attendance, but it's a start. Awesome job!