Over the last year, students in Tennessee have learned to cope with significant uncertainty and navigated learning in new ways. With the support of committed educators, families, and caregivers, many students have embraced change and continued to learn new skills — from math to music — sometimes beyond what they learned in classrooms prior to the pandemic. But we also know the pandemic has intensified deep inequities and fortified barriers to learning that existed even before COVID-19. Schools across the state conducted our annual statewide assessment of student learning (TNReady) this spring to help us understand the scope of unfinished learning – lessons that students missed or didn’t master during COVID-19 – and to identify which students, schools, and districts need additional resources. The release of state-level assessment data today is an important first step in moving forward and planning strategically for this school year and beyond.

We were pleased to see that 95% of students participated in testing, exceeding goals and expectations to inform where our students stand academically during this challenging period. We know that this was the direct result of the hard work and tremendous efforts put forth by our educators and families to support students. This initial round of statewide assessment data from the COVID-19 pandemic aligns with national trends, showing sobering declines in student achievement across all subjects and grade levels during a period of unprecedented challenges facing schools in Tennessee.

In English Language Arts (ELA), overall student proficiency dropped 6 points in comparison to 2019; in math, student proficiency fell 12 points over the same period. Only 3 in 10 students are meeting grade-level expectations in ELA, and this number reduces to 1 in 4 in mathematics. Low-income students, students of color, and those with disabilities experienced even sharper declines across each of the tested subject areas, widening achievement and opportunity gaps that have persisted for far too long.

While the data released today is disheartening, it also serves as a resounding call to action and bears witness to the great opportunity before our state and its school districts to make targeted investments and employ creative, data-informed strategies to improve outcomes for all students. With over $4 billion in state and federal aid to help our students recover, we must ensure our resources are allocated appropriately and used equitably to address unfinished learning and implement interventions that accelerate student growth and success.

The Education Trust in Tennessee is working alongside our partners in the TN Alliance for Equity in Education and stakeholders from across the state to ensure that we are uplifting community voices to address these long seated inequities in outcomes and map a better future for our students together. We invite you to join this conversation about the future for our students and our schools at one of our TN25 listening sessions and let your voice be heard. We look forward to continuing our work alongside our students and their families, educators, our partners, and policymakers alike to help chart a path forward that ensures these critical resources reach the students and schools who need them most.