ESSA Compared to Tennessee Policy

December 2016 update: As part of the department's draft ESSA plan, we have provided a crosswalk that outlines where various programs included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act are referenced, as well as page numbers for specific topics that are included in the federal template. To view the crosswalk, click here.

In Tennessee, we have laid a firm foundation for our students’ future by raising standards to a more rigorous level that will prepare them for college and careers; establishing fully aligned assessments to ensure all of our students are developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills; and by using evaluation and accountability systems based on multiple factors.

While some details are still being determined at the federal level through the regulatory process and additional guidance, here are some of the topline provisions of the new law for K-12 education and how Tennessee’s current policies compare:





All states are required to have challenging academic standards, but the federal government cannot be involved in setting those.

Through Public Chapter 423 (2015), Tennessee has established an extensive and thorough standards review process to ensure our state sets rigorous standards that will prepare students to be successful in higher education and the workforce. Thousands of Tennessee teachers and stakeholders reviewed our standards for math and English language arts over the past year. Higher standards in Tennessee are a primary reason why we have improved on TCAP every year since 2010 and have seen historic growth on NAEP. 


The new law maintains annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science three times between grades 3 and 12. States must test all of their students, and if participation rates drop below 95 percent, the federal department of education may take enforcement action against the state.

Through TCAP, which includes TNReady for math and English language arts, we are ensuring that teachers and parents have a tool to mark the progress and performance of their children every year. The TCAP suite of assessments also includes annual science and social studies tests. While this solid foundation has led to encouraging growth in our students, the department is gathering feedback on how to strengthen the current system and practice.


The bill lets states decide how to determine educator effectiveness.

Tennessee has a strong, reliable, and comprehensive evaluation measure in place through the Tennessee-specific TVAAS system. Student outcomes play a role – but principal evaluation and other qualitative data always make up half or more of the overall score. Tennessee is also expanding the availability of portfolio growth models for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Based on the recent Tennessee Educator Survey, more teachers than ever before say the teacher evaluation system is improving their teaching.  Over two-thirds say the process has helped them improve their teaching, up 14 percentage points since 2014 and 30 percentage points since 2012.

District accountability

At a high level, state-designed accountability systems must include:

  • Academic achievement on annual reading and math assessments
  • Another state-determined indicator for student growth
  • High school graduation rates
  • English language proficiency
  • At least one indicator of school success or student support

Districts are currently measured on their abilities to raise overall student achievement levels, demonstrate student growth, and close gaps between groups of students, including English learners. The state uses data from the TCAP assessments as well as high school graduation rates and soon will incorporate ACT data.

Given the recent changes the department has made to its district accountability system and the various components required by ESSA, the department will gather feedback on both the current district accountability system, which factors should be incorporated, and how accountability can be strengthened to best support students’ success.

Identifying low-performing schools and student subgroups

States are required to identify their bottom 5 percent of schools, defined by academic and non-academic factors, as well as schools where students in subgroups are underperforming and high schools that are failing to graduate at least a third of their students.


We are identifying our lowest performing schools with the goal of creating intentional efforts to improve student outcomes. We list both Priority Schools, which are the bottom 5 percent of schools based on academic achievement, and Focus Schools, which are the 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students. Our system to identify Priority Schools incorporates most of the required factors, with the exception of a measure of school quality and student success, which we will work with stakeholders to define.

Achievement targets

Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) are not part of ESSA, but states must establish ambitious, state-designed interim and long-term goals for all students and each subgroup. Those goals must be tied to academic achievement, graduation rates, and English language proficiency.

The state has a strong foundation for this work through the existing AMO process, through which we have set rigorous but realistic state performance goals and worked with districts to establish local targets, with the goal of reducing the number of students who are not proficient and closing achievement gaps. The state will work with stakeholders to transition to the new law and to determine appropriate goals for English language proficiency.

English language learners (ELs)

Accountability for ELs has been moved from Title III to Title I, which puts a stronger emphasis on ensuring this group of students is served well and allows the state to determine interventions.

We will work with the education and advocacy communities to determine how to appropriately account for ELs as part of our accountability system. 

Reporting requirements

States are still required to publish annual report cards on districts’ performance and must include a variety of components. The new law also maintains requirements to report on students' performance in various subgroups, including economically disadvantaged students, students from major racial and ethnic groups, children with disabilities, and English learners. States must meaningfully differentiate public schools on an annual basis.

Districts and schools are held accountable each year through the state-developed Report Card, which is driven by our data. The Report Card also includes data on subgroup performance and allows for comparisons among different groups of students.

Interventions and school turnarounds

In the bottom 5 percent of schools, school districts must design and implement evidence-based turnaround plans in conjunction with community input. If a school has not improved over the course of no more than four years, the state must intervene.

The department is gathering feedback on the right school turnaround approach that best supports and equips local leaders and empowers them to come up with innovative, evidence-based plans for turning around their schools.

Currently, the state and districts are using a mix of approaches, including the Achievement School District and district iZones, along with locally led intervention efforts. The state has supported both the ASD and iZones, and we will continue to support districts and learn from what is working. We also have existing federal funding that supports turnaround efforts in 16 Priority Schools across the state.