NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee students made gains in the majority of the state's 31 grade and subject-level tests, although some didn't fare too well in reading, according to results released Tuesday.
The biggest increases in the 2013-14 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results were in high school, where students made gains on five of seven tests, Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said at a news conference.
Student scores held steady in grades three through eight, with slight gains in most areas, the results showed.
Students continue to lag behind in reading, where 49.5 percent of students in grades three to eight students are proficient, compared with 50.3 percent last year. In 2010, students in those grades were 44.8 percent proficient in reading, and the percentage gradually improved until 2013, before taking a slight drop.
David Mansouri, executive vice president of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, said recent focus groups the organization held across the state with educators and administrators actually revealed student improvement in reading.
He said that means it's time to "analyze why teachers are telling us they're seeing that improvement, and why we may not be seeing that improvement on the assessment."
As for the gains at the high school level, Haslam said the success justifies the need for higher education initiatives such as his Tennessee Promise program, which will cover community college tuition for any high school graduate in the state.
The free tuition offer is part of Haslam's "Drive to 55" plan to improve the state's graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025. The goal is to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.
"It's about preparing them for the challenges they'll face in higher education," the governor said.
To help students stay competitive, the Republican governor said the state should continue implementing higher education standards — such as Common Core — that are intended to provide students with stronger critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills.
During the recent legislative session, lawmakers passed a measure to delay the testing component of Tennessee's Common Core standards for a year, mainly because of criticism that the tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers need more study.
Under the legislation, the Education Department will put out a "request for proposals" for alternative testing. The state's current testing program, TCAP, will continue in the interim.
"This is very hard work, but we can't ever say that it's too hard," Haslam said Tuesday. "In today's competitive world, high standards are just the price of admission. And so while we have to acknowledge that it's hard work, we can't ever say this is too hard for Tennesseans if we're going to compete on the world stage."