Tennessee Schools Receive A-F Letter Grades for the First Time

The Tennessee Department of Education has released the calculation to generate A-F letter grades for schools, in alignment with state law. The letter grades are intended to measure how the state’s K-12 schools are serving students and helping them succeed academically.

The letter grades are based on up to four separate indicators: overall success rate for achievement, overall growth, growth for the lowest performing 25% of students in the school, and a college and career readiness indicator. The calculation differs for elementary and middle schools, and high schools.

Schools receive a sub-score for each indicator, ranging from levels 1-5, and each sub-score is multiplied by assigned weights to generate an aggregate score. The aggregate score is then cross walked to determine the school’s letter grade.

Tennessee Schools Receive A-F Letter Grades for the First Time
Tennessee Schools Receive A-F Letter Grades for the First Time

The letter grades are part of Tennessee’s state accountability system, which was established by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015. The state accountability system also includes other measures, such as chronic absenteeism, graduation rate, and readiness for postsecondary opportunities.

Why are the letter grades important and controversial?

The letter grades are meant to provide parents and families with a simple and clear rating system for school performance. The letter grades are also expected to motivate schools to improve their academic outcomes and close achievement gaps.

However, the letter grades have also faced criticism and opposition from some educators, school boards, and legislators. Some of the concerns include:

  • The letter grades are based on standardized test scores, which may not reflect the full range of student learning and growth.
  • The letter grades may stigmatize low-performing schools and students, and create a negative perception of public education.
  • The letter grades may not account for the diverse needs and challenges of different schools and communities, such as poverty, language barriers, and special education.
  • The letter grades may not be consistent or comparable across different years, due to changes in testing administration, standards, and expectations.

How did the letter grades come about and what are the next steps?

The letter grades were mandated by a state law passed in 2016, which required the department to develop a school letter grading system beginning in the 2017-18 school year. However, the implementation of the letter grades was delayed by testing administration issues and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department engaged with various stakeholders across the state to solicit feedback and input on the calculation of the letter grades. The department held 10 public town halls, five working group meetings, and received nearly 300 public comments on the topic.

The department presented the calculation to the State Board of Education on November 2, 2023. The board approved the calculation, which will be used for the first time this year. The letter grades will be based on the results of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), which will be administered from April 17 to May 2, 2023.

The department will release the letter grades for each school in the fall of 2023, along with other accountability data. The letter grades will be available on the department’s website and on the state report card.

The letter grades are subject to change, as the department plans to review and refine the calculation based on feedback and data analysis. The department also intends to align the letter grades with the state’s new academic standards and assessments, which will be implemented in the 2024-25 school year.

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