NASHVILLE -- Student proficiency levels in grades 3-8 rose this year in all but one of 24 categories covered under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced Tuesday.
It was the second straight year of increases in the percentage of students achieving proficiency or better in subjects ranging from reading and social studies to math and science.
Meanwhile, achievement also rose in four out of six subjects for high schoolers taking "end of course" exams, officials said. That included gains in math and science.
District-level results for TCAP and end of subject testing will be released next month.
Haslam said the improvements are a "testament" to teachers and students. He also credited changes in education as a result of Tennessee's winning a $500 million federal grant, which is improving instruction, and other factors.
"We are making efforts on a broad front," Haslam said during a news conference at West End Middle School in Nashville. "There is a renewed focus on teaching in Tennessee, and I think our teachers get a lot of credit for that."
But amid the celebratory back slapping by Haslam, Huffman and legislative leaders, officials said the state and local schools have plenty of work left to do.
For example, slightly over half of students in grades 3-8 were still less than proficient in reading and math, officials said.
According to the Department of Education, 49.9 percent of students in grades 3-8 are proficient or advanced in reading, the best since the new measures were implemented three years ago. That's up from last year's 47.5 percent.
Another 47.3 percent of students scored as proficient or better in math for their grade level. That's a gain from 41 percent in 2011. The end result was about 55,000 students achieved grade-level proficiency or better.
Seventh- and eighth-graders showed the most dramatic increases in math, according to officials.
Some 60.5 percent of the elementary and middle school students are proficient or advanced in science, up from 54.9 percent last year. That means an additional 38,000 students demonstrated a grade-level understanding of the subject.
And 82.9 percent are making the grade or better in social studies. That is up from 80.7 percent.
The one area showing no improvement over last year was eighth-grade reading.
Still, further improvement is needed, the governor said.
"It concerns me, and that's why we're pushing so hard to make the kind of changes we're making," Haslam said.
Huffman said the state's goal is to increase student proficiency by 3 to 5 percent annually.
Haslam called the target "very realistic," adding, "Obviously, I'd like to see more than that." But he noted it would be "hard for anybody to argue that Tennessee's not on the right path right now when it comes to education."
In high school students' case, more than half of pupils scored proficient or advanced in English I, English II, Algebra I, biology and history. That's the first time since the state toughened tests under the Tennessee Diploma Project.
The biggest gains were in Algebra I where proficiency levels soared some 30 percent in the past two years with 9,000 students scoring well versus the 2009-10 school year.
In Algebra I, proficiency levels rose from 46.9 percent of students to 55.4 percent. In Algebra II, despite the addition of 10,000 more students taking the course due to tougher graduation requirements, proficiency levels rose from 30.8 percent to 33.3 percent.
Some 55.8 percent of biology students were proficient or better versus 52 percent last year. For English II, proficiency rose to 58.1 percent of students compared to 46.9 percent last year.
Proficiency levels for students in English I and U.S. history dipped a few tenths of a percent.
Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford, a high school math teacher at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, said "the exciting one for me is the Algebra I score where there was such a big increase."
She said it is "always good news to have increased performance by our students, and I feel like it's good news for teachers who are feeling like they've had a tough year, so it's good to have some rewards and results."
Educators have fought with the Haslam administration over the fairness of new teacher evaluations the state is implementing.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.