CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Gov. Bill Haslam, first lady Chrissy Haslam and state education Commissioner Kevin Huffman visited Cleveland Middle School on Friday to thank teachers, administrators and students for helping to make Tennessee the nation's fastest-improving state in academic growth.
"It is a significant step forward due to a lot of incredible work by teachers and educational leaders of our state," Haslam said. "People who are in the education world nationally are looking at Tennessee with their jaws wide open, because this news is such a big accomplishment."
Huffman said the "primary reason we are here is that we have asked a lot of our students and our teachers and we know that teachers are working a lot harder than they had to work a few years ago."
Teachers are the front line, Huffman said, and he wanted to thank them for their efforts.
"We're doing the right things, I believe," said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools. "Our teachers work extremely hard. Our administrators and definitely our students are doing some great things."
Tennessee recently came out on top of measured gains in math and reading rankings, according to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as "the nation's report card." The state, which in recent years has scored in the 40s in national rankings, has moved into the 30s.
"That being said, none of are satisfied," Haslam said. "None of us wants to be 35th out of 50 states at anything."
The state's academic growth cannot be tied directly to any one thing, but instead is a combination of a number of factors including the adoption of Common Core standards three years ago, Huffman said.
Ringstaff said Cleveland City Schools has embraced the Common Core standards and set aside the politicization of those standards.
"We don't get into the squabble of where it came from ... and those kinds of things," he said. "What we do is focus on what's best for students, and there's no doubt in [our] minds that the Common Core set of standards has set a very strict bar of where we need to go, and it's a very high set of standards."
Huffman said linking teacher licensure to student achievement also is a part of the equation for the state's academic growth. The measure, which has been criticized by educators, was given a lot of thought before it was implemented, he said.
"We can't go backwards from things that we've been doing, right at the moment in time when we're seeing the most growth of any state in the country," Huffman said.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.