Drop in Test Scores Now Met with Increased Educational Options


January 10, 2023 1:59PM

In October, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) released the 2022 data for the Nation’s Report Card, and the outcome of school closures and forced virtual learning was clear. The test scores showed the “Largest score declines in NAEP mathematics at grades 4 and 8 since initial assessments in 1990.” No state was spared from the academic drops and unfortunately, Memphis-Shelby County Schools saw some of the sharpest declines in the country and the greatest decline of any of the 26 big city-districts the NAEP tracks.

Just over a month later, the Tennessee Department of Education released the States Report Card, which showed just as unfortunate numbers. Only 33.8 percent of Tennessee students met or exceeded the expectations in math and English, meaning two-thirds of students are falling behind academically. In Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and Memphis-Shelby County Schools (SCS), the percentage of students meeting those benchmarks falls short of the state’s already lagging numbers. There were stark differences in grade levels, with students in 9th through 12th grade suffering the lowest academic achievement. Only 20.4 percent of high school students in MNPS met expectations in English and math, and that same metric dipped to 15.8 percent for SCS.

Thankfully, students in these districts have recently been given an educational opportunity for them to go to a school that meets their individual needs. Shortly before the 2022/2023 school year began, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the Education Savings Account (ESA) program constitutional, paving the way for students to attend the school of their choice. Even with students already registered with district schools, hundreds of students and families applied for the program. After years of waiting due to legal challenges, families and students were eager to escape their failing schools and get an education that fit their needs. And in late November, the program won again in court when the remaining legal challenges were dismissed by a three-judge panel. Students in MNPS and SCS will now have access to educational opportunities outside of their district school which has continually failed them and taxpayers.

With research on the effects of school choice showing both academic and financial benefits, state leaders should look to offer the ESA program to every student in the state. Lawmakers can look to Arizona, which recently passed the most expansive school choice program in the nation, offering all families their hard-earned tax dollars in order to send their child to the school that suits them the best. In addition to students attending schools that fit them the best, the effects of new competition in the education system provide benefits to those students who stay in their local public schools. Research on the topic found this competition brought a gain of around 4 months of learning to reading attainment. Months of education attainment gains are something that is so sorely needed after public schools closed their doors due to the pandemic and the monumental learning loss that came with it.

With national and state assessments showing what so many parents already knew – students were and are severely academically affected by school closures – there is no better time than now for state lawmakers to expand educational choice programs. Students shouldn’t only be offered an educational opportunity that meets their unique needs simply because of the county they live in. By expanding educational choice programs to all Tennessee students, the Volunteer state can begin to improve learning and be a leader in education freedom.