Tennessee Hopes School Report Cards Will Empower Parents

Kevin Huffman, Tennessee's Education Commissioner, hopes that report cards detailing the performance of the state's public schools will provide information that will be used by parents to bring about change in their local school districts. Huffman, who is a strong advocate for school choice, thinks that the kind of information provided by the report cards could serve as a powerful tool for parents and guardians making decisions about their kids' education.

School choice issues are likely to draw a lot of attention in the coming year as the state lawmakers once again gear up to debate legislation related to charter schools and voucher programs. The lawmakers will likely pick sides along ideological lines, with Democrats throwing their support behind traditional public schools — as they have in the previous years — while Republicans will likely be pushing for introduction of more school choice options, something they believe will be more beneficial for both parents and students.

Meanwhile, Huffman, who was hired by Tennessee Governor bill Haslam last year, hopes that once the parents are able to make more informed choices about education, they will use their voice to bring about change in their local schools if they feel that the schools are underperforming.

Parent and former J.T. Moore Middle School PTO President Carey Morgan agrees that the information contained in the report card can be a good starting point in the school choice decision.

"Use those numbers as a starting point, but go and ask questions," Morgan said.

"I think (the scores) are a piece to the puzzle," she added. "I don't think I would solely rely on those."

Previously, the state released student achievement data only on the state and district level — but this year, for the first time, the data is available for every public school in Tennessee. Overall, 2012 proved to be a good year for state's schools, which have shown a significant improvement, especially on the state-mandated assessment exams taken in the spring.

This is especially impressive in light of the fact that the state exams were recently modified to be more rigorous. The scores dipped almost across the board the first time the new, harder tests were administered. The results ticked back up after the second year, however.

Morgan is concerned, though, that "numbers don't always tell you the whole story." A school's overall score incorporates results from students who score very high as well as those who score very low on standardized tests, she said. "But if you go and visit … you get a better feel for what that school offers."

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