1. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) is in the process of changing Tennessee’s ESSA Plan based on new strategic goals, U.S. Department of Education compliance findings, and post-pandemic needs.

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) last revised Tennessee’s Every Student Success Act (ESSA) State Plan in 2018 prior to the pandemic. TDOE was already in the process of making updates based on U.S. Department of Education compliance findings (USED), but they are now also making changes based on TDOE’s updated strategic goals and initiatives. Given it is unclear when USED will introduce major accountability revisions, this ESSA revision is a historic opportunity to rethink how we reevaluate schools. After conducting initial engagement with stakeholders, TDOE made revisions in three major categories:

  1. Substantial revisions were made to ensure alignment with program requirements for funding
  2. Substantial revisions were made without compliance issues 
  3. Non-Substantial or minor revisions made to update data, resources, technical assistance, etc.

TDOE will share the initial draft this month with the public and the final draft in late fall with  state leadership, and they expect to submit the full amendment to USED by November 2023.  Additionally, TDOE is launching a series of town hall meetings now through September 7th, and public comment is due September 15th to seek public input.

2. The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) released resources and final district allocations last month.

On July 7, 2023, TDOE sent a letter to districts that specified a host of allocation information, including state versus local shares and TISA allocations by category. Final statewide allocations were within .14% of the Spring 2022 estimate as TISA went through the legislative process, which is critical to ensure that districts have an accurate picture of their finances. Additionally, TDOE is required to provide supporting resources, including the TISA Guide and TISA Professional Development Training Series. This fall, they are also adding a TISA calculator and comparison tool to the State Report Card.

3. The Tennessee Education Savings Account (ESA) program rules were updated based on legislation passed during the 2023 session.

The Tennessee Education Savings Account (ESA) program, sometimes referred to as a voucher, allows eligible students to use state and local money toward education expenses. State Board Rule 0520-01-16 was revised to reflect legislation passed in 2023, expanding eligibility requirements to students in Hamilton County based on prior year enrollment. Additionally, rulemaking clarifies that students and families must waive accommodations under an individualized education program (IEP) and the development of an individual service plan (ISP) if they accept an ESA. 

4. TDOE presented Local Education Agencies’ (LEAs)  goals and strategies to increase educator diversity.

 Research indicates that a racially and ethnically diverse teacher workforce has many positive outcomes for all students. In Tennessee during the 21-22 school year, 44% of students were students of color, but only 13% were teachers of color, and over 8 out of 10 of Tennessee’s teachers were white. In 2021, the Tennessee State Board of Education (TN SBE) passed the Educator Diversity Policy. The policy states that Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must set goals and strategies to increase educator diversity to the LEA’s student diversity. LEAs must submit these requirements and a description of progress toward meeting the goal yearly.

Figure 1: All LEAs submitted progress on their educator diversity goals compared to only 61% of districts last year, suggesting an earlier and longer timeline and additional support were helpful (TDOE, 2023)

Year 1 (2021-22) Year 2 (2022-23)
Collection Method LEA completed survey; narrative responses InformTN; narrative responses 
Data of Collection May 12- May 31, 2022 January 3- March 6, 2023
Collection Requirements  Minimum of one goal Minimum of one goal and reflection of progress
Communication Email and department newsletters CORE hosted webinars, communication, and on-demand content-specific support
Completion Rate 61% 100%

During the Workshop Day, TDOE reported their annual findings to TN SBE. Despite only 61% of LEAs submitting during the first year of implementation, 100% of LEAs submitted progress on their educator diversity goals, suggesting an earlier and longer timeline and additional support were helpful.

The sample goals shared mostly addressed recruitment, and only one LEA discussed retention. The full data is not publicly available, but an in-depth review would provide better insight into educator diversity in Tennessee across districts.

5. TDOE approved introducing new pathways for obtaining a high school equivalency credential.

Despite a growing job market in Tennessee, the post-pandemic labor market still favors college-educated workers for current wages, employment outcomes, and ability to withstand unemployment during a recession. Roughly 430,000 Tennesseans do not have a high school credential. This disproportionately impacts English Learners, who have a 68% graduation rate, students with disabilities at 78%, and Latino students at 82% compared to our overall 90% graduation rate. Since 2016, Tennessee has offered the HiSet exam for people without a traditional high school diploma. As an alternate to the GED test, the HiSet exam is a more affordable exam for people to earn a High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma. 

During the State Board Workshop meeting, The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development recommended adding the Tests of Adult Basic Education (TABE), the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS), and the ACT WorkKeys to expand participant choice and attainment rates. All assessments, including the HiSet exam, are approved by the USDOE as tests suitable for determining measurable skill growth in adult education and recognized outside Tennessee. In Tennessee, most in-demand occupations that only require a high school diploma or equivalent are in the manufacturing field and the leisure and recreation career cluster. However, candidates and graduates in HSE programs are taking the first step in being exposed to more opportunities that could lead to increasing post-secondary education rates in Tennessee.

Equity Considerations

  1. The Teacher Diversity presentation mentioned a biennial report. When will the report be published, and where can stakeholders access it?
  2. How does the State promote access to the High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma, particularly to students with lower graduation rates like English Learners and students with disabilities? How are they supported based on their academic needs?  
  3. What outcome metrics outside of passing rates are used to track student success after they gain their HSE? 
  4. If additional pathways are added to achieve an HSE diploma, will the State publicly report pass rates by the different test options?