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    TN leads nation in math, reading gains

    Joey Garrison

    Dawn Golson-Sauders teaches at West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet. Tennessee is the only state that made math and reading gains in fourth and eighth grades from 2011 to 2013. / Samuel M. Simpkins / The Tennessean

    Tennessee claimed the title Thursday of fastest-improving state in academic growth after boasting the greatest leaps nationally in math and reading assessment scores by middle school students, a feat that drew glowing praise from the top U.S. education official.
    A celebration among state officials, Republican lawmakers and educators erupted Thursday inside a Mt. Juliet middle school auditorium after Gov. Bill Haslam — who has taken criticism for piloting controversial education reforms — unveiled historic results from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress report card.
    The report, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, highlighted Tennessee as one of only three public school jurisdictions — and the only state — that made math and reading gains in the fourth and eighth grades from 2011 to 2013.
    In fact, Tennessee’s overall growth in these areas marks the largest collective test score jump in the federal assessment’s history.
    “If you look, it really wasn’t even close,” said Haslam, a Republican, who called the announcement perhaps his most significant during his nearly three years in office. “We literally blew away the other states when it came to education results.”
    In reading and math, Tennessee soared in its national ranking, though it still remains far behind the nation’s top-performing states and among the lower half overall. Tennessee’s fourth-grade students catapulted from 46th to 37th nationwide in math and from 41st to 31st in reading. Eighth-graders went from 45th to 43rd in math and from 41st to 34th in reading.
    Other jurisdictions that improved in each area were the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Defense Schools.
    U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who characterized the nation’s overall NAEP performance as “encouraging but modest” progress, called Tennessee’s academic growth “remarkable.”
    “Tennessee has become a model for the nation in improving student achievement through collaboration ... ,” he said. He singled out the “courageous leadership” of state officials for directing the way.
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